Beyond The Forecast: Does this year’s late first freeze mean we’ll be waiting longer for snow?

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Happy Monday! Our fall in southwest and central Virginia has been pretty mild so far and many of us are still waiting on the first freeze of the season. That’s the case in Roanoke and Lynchburg, where the mercury in the thermometer at the official climate sites has not dropped to 32 degrees yet.

We expect a freeze later this week after a Tuesday cold front sends in a reinforcing batch of cold air. Assuming the Star and Hill Cities do drop to 32 or below, it would be one of the latest first freezes on record for both communities.

That begs the question: Does a late freeze mean that we’ll be waiting longer for snow? I crunched the numbers for the top five latest freezes and cross-referenced them with first snowfall records.

The following data is for Roanoke, but it’s reasonable to assume that our other climate sites would be very similar to these dates. On average, Roanoke gets its first freeze on October 23 and its first measurable snow (0.1″ or more) on December 13.

As you can see, a late first freeze doesn’t really help us predict when the first snow will come.

In 1956, 2002 and 2017, we only had to wait a month or less for the first measurable snow of the season. But in 2004 and 2016, our late freezes corresponded to a first snow in January.

Okay, let’s look at the flip side of the coin. Do we see the first snow of the season sooner if we drop to freezing earlier in the season?

Again, we’re examining the top five for earliest freezes and cross-referencing with the first measurable snow of each season. Once again, no big takeaways.

We only had to wait until November for snow after early freezes in 1968 and 1974, but we waited two months for snow in 2003 and nearly three in 1965 and 1993.

While some would assume that earlier blasts of cold air would mean earlier batches of the white stuff, it appears the sample size may be too small to predict the first snow after an early or late freeze.

While we can’t necessarily tell you exactly WHEN to expect snow in Southwest and Central Virginia, we do have a pretty good guess of HOW MUCH we’ll receive this winter. If you haven’t already, check out our 2020-2021 winter forecast, which breaks down the seasonal snowfall forecast zone-by-zone.

You can always get specific forecast details for your zone, whether it’s the Roanoke Valley, Southside, Highlands or elsewhere around Southwest and Central Virginia, anytime at Know your zone!

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-- Justin McKee

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