Trends in twentieth-century US extreme snowfall seasons

Kenneth E. Kunkel, Michael A. Palecki, Leslie Ensor, David Easterling, Kenneth G. Hubbard, David Robinson, Kelly Redmond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Temporal variability in the occurrence of the most extreme snowfall years, both those with abundant snowfall amounts and those lacking snowfall, was examined using a set of 440 quality-controlled, homogenous U.S. snowfall records. The frequencies with which winter-centered annual snowfall totals exceeded the 90th and 10th percentile thresholds at individual stations were calculated from 1900-01 to 2006-07 for the conterminous United States, and for 9 standard climate regions. The area-weighted conterminous U.S. results do not show a statistically significant trend in the occurrence of either high or low snowfall years for the 107-yr period, but there are regional trends. Large decreases in the frequency of low-extreme snowfall years in the west north-central and east north-central United States are balanced by large increases in the frequency of low-extreme snowfall years in the Northeast, Southeast, and Northwest. During the latter portion of the period, from 1950-51 to 2006-07, trends are much more consistent, with the United States as a whole and the central and northwest U.S. regions in particular showing significant declines in high-extreme snowfall years, and four regions showing significant increases in the frequency of low-extreme snowfall years (i.e., Northeast, Southeast, south, and Northwest). In almost all regions of the United States, temperature during November-March is more highly correlated than precipitation to the occurrence of extreme snowfall years. El Niño events are strongly associated with an increase in low-extreme snowfall years over the United States as a whole, and in the northwest, northeast, and central regions. A reduction in low-extreme snowfall years in the Southwest is also associated with El Niño. The impacts of La Niña events are strongest in the south and Southeast, favoring fewer high-extreme snowfall years, and, in the case of the south, more low-extreme snowfall years occur. The Northwest also has a significant reduction in the chance of a low-extreme snowfall year during La Niña. A combination of trends in temperature in the United States and changes in the frequency of ENSO modes influences the frequency of extreme snowfall years in the United States.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6204-6216
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number23
StatePublished - Dec 2009


  • ISWS

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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