Where’s the snow?! Drought hasn’t lasted this long into January since 2016

Below-average snowfall is more common during Niña winters

Snow drought as of mid-January 2023

ROANOKE, Va. – The brutal cold spell we had around Christmas was a wasted opportunity for most snow lovers. In fact, most of the winter has been so far.

Our current snow drought is something we haven’t seen lasting through mid-January since 2016.

During that winter, however, we picked up one-to-two feet of snow after mid-January. That’s not too out of the ordinary: on average, 62% of our winter snowfall comes after mid-January.

The difference between the winter of 2016 and the current winter is the phase of the El Niño Southern Oscillation. We’re still in a La Niña, which is when the waters off the coast of Peru are colder than normal.

This map shows how much warmer or colder than average temperatures at the surface of the sea are for the months surrounding the end of November. The blue section west of South America is much colder than average, and that disparity keeps the snow away. (Climate Prediction Center)

These ocean patterns alter the storm track across the Continental U.S., favoring the northern and western U.S. for more storminess while often leaving the Eastern U.S. warmer than average.

Typical La Niña results during the winter

Locally, 74% of La Niña winters feature below-average snowfall.

How winters have panned out during La Niña

Meanwhile on the West Coast, the central Sierra Nevada is far exceeding its normal amount of snow. Relentless storminess on the West Coast has dumped more than 22 feet of snow on UC-Berkeley’s station in the mountains. That’s as much snow as Roanoke has seen in the last 18 years.

Comparing our snow to the snow observed at UC Berkeley's Central Sierra Snow lab

We still have plenty of winter to go, so it’s not time to throw in the snow-less white towel just yet.

Any snow we see Friday will mostly be geared toward the west-facing slopes, which will be good for local ski resorts.

Click here to get our latest forecast article.

About the Authors:

Meteorologist Chris Michaels is an American Meteorological Society (AMS) Certified Broadcaster, forecasting weather conditions in southwest Virginia on WSLS 10 News from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m. weekdays on Virginia Today.

Marshall Downing presents the weather Saturday and Sunday evenings at 6:00 PM and 11:00 PM, and you can see him during the week at 12:00 PM and 5:30 PM.