By Mary Gilbert and Abigail Holmes, CNN
(CNN) — Several major Northeast cities are enduring record-long waits for significant snowfall that has left them missing feet of snow over the last two winters.
Six cities from Richmond, Virginia, to New York City have waited for more than 650 days to see an inch of snow fall in a day. Historically snowier cities, like Boston, have waited nearly as long to see 3 inches.
Even if in the long run these record-long snowless streaks are emblematic of what winter is more likely to look like in a warming world, this year’s El Niño winter could at least be the temporary antidote for the snow drought currently plaguing the Northeast megalopolis.
A snow drought nearly two years in the making
Warmer temperatures and imperfect storm tracks are behind the lack of snow in the Northeast.
Storms can produce snow, but their exact track is crucial – a shift east or west could be the difference between snow or rain. Snow also can’t reach the ground unless there is plenty of cold air, even with an ideal storm track.
Both ingredients were missing in New York City, which on Saturday is set to endure the 657th consecutive day without an inch of snow, its longest such wait on record.
Many storms last winter tracked north and west of the New York City metro, leaving the area stuck on storms’ warmer side where precipitation fell as rain instead, James Tomasia, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in New York City told CNN.
Truly cold and prolonged air was also hard to come by last winter for much of the season across the Northeast. It was one of the warmest winters on record in both Philadelphia and in New York City. New York also had its warmest January on record.
New York’s unprecedented streak was in jeopardy twice earlier this year. For two consecutive days in late February, 0.9 inches of snow fell in Central Park. But those two days were paltry and made up the majority of the snow in what was New York’s least-snowy winter on record.
The lack of snow is adding up. New York City records almost 30 inches of snow in a typical winter, but has now missed out on around three feet of its normal snowfall the past two winters – despite recording nearly 18 inches in the winter of 2021-2022.
Like New York, it’s been a record long wait for an inch of snow in Philadelphia, Baltimore and the Washington, DC, area at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. Washington’s Regan National Airport is enduring its fifth-longest stretch of days without an inch of snow.
All of these cities are missing multiple feet of their typical snowfall since the winter of 2021-2022.
Even cities that are less snowy on average are suffering from a lack of snow. Richmond, Virginia, became a prime example after only receiving a mere trace last winter compared to its typical nearly nine inches.
But like all streaks, these are made to be broken.
The snow drought is “unlikely to continue through the whole season” since, historically, recording this little snow is “rare,” Alex Staarmann, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey, told CNN.
El Niño could be the key ingredient to break the snow drought
Snowfall amounts across portions of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic may get a boost from El Niño this winter.
The mid-Atlantic, especially, is one part of the country that could hit the snowfall jackpot this winter because of El Niño. El Niño – a natural ocean and weather pattern in the tropical Pacific – affects the position of the jet stream and the overall track of storms across the US.
“El Niño generally favors a snowier pattern for the area, and thus, it’s more probable to see decent snow,” Staarmann explained.
Storms that affect the mid-Atlantic’s snow chances during an El Niño winter typically take a track along the spine of the Appalachians or push off the coast and become nor’easters.
These nor’easters can get “juiced up” by abundant tropical moisture during El Niño and deliver “two to three big snowstorms” on average, Jon Gottschalck, chief of the Operational Prediction Branch of NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, previously told CNN.
This could bring above-average snowfall to places like Washington, D.C., Baltimore and even Philadelphia, where less than an inch fell last winter.
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