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Snow World - What a Year for Snow in Unusual Places

By Joe D'Aleo
Thursday, April 3, 2008

IT STARTED IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE WINTER OF 2007

A rare winter snowstorm dusted South Africa’s commercial capital Johannesburg early on Wednesday June 26 closing mountain passes and claiming at least one life. ‘SNOWBURG’ trumpeted the headline of Johannesburg’s Star newspaper. Gleeful children built snowmen in Johannesburg’s Zoo Lake Park, while families could be seen carrying snowballs back to their cars, fast melting souvenirs of the city’s first significant snowfall, the first real snowfall in more than a generation.

On July 9th 2007, thousands of Argentines cheered in the streets of Buenos Aires got covered by snow. The Argentinean capital was white again after nearly a century.

Last time it snowed there was June 22nd 1918. It snowed for the first time in history in some towns of the Santa Fe Province. The snow event followed a bitterly cold month of May that saw subfreezing temperatures, the coldest in 40 years in Buenos Aires. That cold wave contributed to an energy crisis and dozens of deaths. This 2007 May figured among the coldest in recent decades also in Uruguay and Southern Brazil.

Then came summer but the cold didn’t give up entirely, January 10 saw snow in southern Argentina hilly areas, the equivalent of a July snow in Denver.

In Australia which experienced its coldest June on record, Australian ski resorts enjoyed the best season in seventeen years with snow dumping across New South Wales and Victoria. Summer there too was cool and ended very early with snow by late February (the equivalent of our August). We have barely had a summer this year,” said Gary Grant, New South Wales Perisher Blue’s general manager of marketing. “It’s felt as though it’s remained cold since the end of the 2007 season, apart from a few warm days, there air has always had a nip in it.” 

In September, Antarctica set a new record for ice extent in the satellite era and ironically stayed at record high levels through much of this past summer. Currently the ice extent is running 60% ahead of last year at this time.

THEN CAME THE NORTHERN WINTER

The trend for record snows in some unusual areas continued but even some normally snowy areas had all time records snowfall. In the United States the heavy snow band ran from the Pacific Northwest through the Central Rockies across the Plains and Upper Midwest, Great Lakes into northern New England. The snow was even heavier in southern Canada.

In the Oregon Cascades, the snow was so heavy, roofs were collapsing. In Steamboat Springs, CO, over 100 inches fell in every winter month for the first time ever and set a new record for seasonal snowfall with 450 inches with weeks more to go. Rendevous Bowl which has a 33 year average of 320 inches, had 566 inches as of March 25.

Madison, Wisconsin blew away there all-time snow record 100.4 inches of snowing exceeding their old record by 33%! New seasonal snowfall records were set in Michigan in places like Ann Arbor , in Ohio where Youngstown had well over 100 inches, 52” above normal and for the winter (December through February for Burlington, VT and Concord, NH 

Caribou, Maine as of March 21st set a new record for seasonal snowfall with 184.5 inches. This seasonal snowfall total is the greatest amount ever, since records began in 1939. The previous record of 181.1 inches was set in the 1954-1955 snowfall season.184.5 inches equals 15 feet, four and one-half inches. In southern Canada, cities like Toronto, Montreal, Quebec City have either set all-time records or are about to. Snow continues to fall in Canada well into April.

North America was not alone. The most snow elsewhere occurred in the most unusual places like we found in the Southern Hemisphere.

Record snow and cold hit China hard. Snow storms hit 19 provinces in southern and central China, the worst in 50 years, have killed more than 129 people and forced nearly 1.8 million people to relocate, inflicting economic losses of about 15 billion U.S. dollars. One of the biggest storms hit just before the Chinese New Year when millions were traveling. It trapped many people for many days. More than 160 counties and cities in central China suffered blackouts and water shortages. A total of 17.3 million hectares of forests, about one-tenth of China’s forest resources, were damaged by the unprecedented snow, worst in at least five decades, with forests, bamboo and seedlings in some parts of the country seriously destroyed.

Also it was reported that heavy snow and extreme cold left 1.65 million people snowblind and frostbitten, 500,000 livestock and wildlife dead and 3.1 million others on verge of starvation in Tibetan prefectures of northwestern Qinghai Province. Since October, continuous low temperature had gripped the province. The temperature plunged to minus 36.3 degrees centigrade, the record lowest in January in the province, said the provincial meteorological bureau.

A rare snowstorm swept the Middle East blanketing parts of the Holy Land in white, shutting schools and sending excited children into the streets for snowball fights. Jerusalem’s Old City was coated in white. A few ultra-Orthodox Jews, wearing plastic bags over their hats to keep them dry, prayed at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Snow falls in Jerusalem once or twice each winter, but temperatures rarely drop low enough for it to stick. The Israeli weather service said up to 8 inches of snow fell in the city.

Men in long Arab robes pelted each other with snowballs in the Jordanian capital, Amman, and the West Bank city of Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian government, came to a standstill. Heavy snow also was reported in the Golan Heights and the northern Israeli town of Safed, and throughout the West Bank. In Ramallah, residents were surprised to see snow when they awoke. For some, it was their first time.  

In Amman, where a foot of snow fell, children used inflatable tubes as sleds. Some roads were temporarily closed. Snow covered most mountain villages and blocked roads in Lebanon. The storm disrupted power supplies in most Lebanese towns and villages, exacerbating existing power cuts. Parts of the Beirut-Damascus highway were closed. Temperatures in Syria dipped below freezing and snow blanketed the hills overlooking the capital, Damascus.

Northern parts of Saudi Arabia were also covered with snow with schools, mosques and administrative bodies paralyzed, local media reported. The oil-rich kingdom was hit with subzero temperatures and snow storms with freezing winds of up to 50 km/h (30mp/h). Some regions experienced problems with water supplies as pipes have frozen, and livestock died from the cold.

The heaviest snowfall in more than a decade left at least 21 people dead in Iran - some buried under avalanches, some frozen to death and others killed in traffic accidents, state media reported Monday. As much as 22 inches of snow has fallen in areas of northern and central Iran since Saturday, said meteorologist Ali Abedini. The storm forced schools and government offices to close, blocking major roads and leading to the cancellation of all domestic and international flights.

Over 100 people died due to freezing weather in various provinces of Afghanistan in the past few days, the country's Ariana TV channel reported. Continual heavy snowfall cut off thousands of people living in isolated communities in the mountainous country, making deliveries of medicine and essential goods almost impossible. Several people were killed in avalanches and accidents on the snow-covered roads.

 

Even Iraq experienced winter with snow for the first time in 100 years in Baghdad.

 

In Mid-February, it was Greece’s turn. A raging snow storm blanketed most of Greece plunging the country into sub-zero temperatures. In Athens, up to 6 inches of snow fell. Attica, Evia, the Cyclades islands and Crete were hardest hit by the snow, with snow chains required throughout most of the National Highway.  Travel was made more troublesome by a blanket of ice that formed from partially-melted snow beneath the new snowfall.

 

THE HAVE AND HAVE NOTS

Of course, not all areas got the snows, western Europe had little or no snow and the eastern United States south of central New York and New England also were left out. The winter was virtually snowless in New York City making up for the 4 years in a row earlier this decade when they experienced 40 inches or more for the first time ever.

The steadiness of the storm tracks and trough and ridge positions is characteristic of stronger La Ninas and solar minimum years, both the case this year.

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