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Missing: A Snowy Times Square


Times Square during a snowstorm in 2021. (Photo: John Minchillo/AP)

This winter in New York City has been record-breaking, but not in the way one might expect.

It had been 328 days since it last snowed in the city, when, on Feb. 1, Central Park finally recorded 0.4 inches of snow. The record for latest measurable snowfall — defined as snowfall over a tenth of an inch — had, therefore, officially been broken.

Jan. 29, 1973, was the previous record for the latest measurable snowfall. Richard Nixon was president, gas was $0.39 per gallon, and eggs were $0.78 per dozen. By Jan. 30, 2023, there had yet to be a tenth of an inch of snow on the streets of New York City.

The record for most consecutive days without snow —332 days set on Dec. 15, 2020 — was almost broken.

In a Jan. 29 article in The New York Times by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura, New Yorkers discussed their hesitancy to celebrate this lack of winter weather. “Ms. Reuben, 66, can’t help but feel somewhat uneasy. ‘If it’s a harbinger for climate change, then it’s not a happy thing.’”

Freytas-Tamura writes that Reuben echoed many other residents, stating, “despite the small joys of not having to shovel snow or hike through streets covered in ash-colored slush, the mild weather felt eerie.” She describes how it is hard to rejoice when you know the cause is not coming from a good place.

The question of climate change always arises when a discussion pertaining to weather-related events comes up. Andrew Kruczkiewicz, a researcher with Columbia University’s Climate School and International Research Institute for Climate and Society, said, “We do see these shifts, decade by decade trends in snowfall. So, I think asking questions about the links to climate change, yes, we need to do that. We also need to look at natural variability and the role that plays.”

While climate change may be related to the lack of snow in the City, weather patterns are also in play. A climate phenomenon known as La Niña is currently occurring over the Pacific Ocean.

Infographic depicting a La Niña weather event. (Photo: National Ocean Service)

During La Niña events, trade winds are more intense than usual, pushing more warm water toward Asia. Off the west coast of the Americas, upwelling increases, bringing cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface. The cold water in the Pacific pushes the jet stream northward. This tends to lead to drought in the southern U.S. and heavy rains and flooding in the Pacific Northwest and Canada. New York City gets caught in the warmer/wetter region.

The current La Niña began in 2020. A La Niña episode occurring for three consecutive years is uncommon — it has only happened three other times since 1950 — and it has led to increasingly warmer winters in the city.

However, it’s not just the city that’s been affected. In upstate New York, the city of Syracuse is also experiencing a lack of snow. The city typically averages 120 inches per winter. This year, however, it has seen 25 inches in total. That is three feet less than the typical average.

On the other hand, a city west of Syracuse and New York City can’t stop getting snow. Buffalo, New York, has had one of its worst winters in the past 50 years, experiencing deadly blizzards and stay-at-home orders. In November, the city was hit by hurricane-force winds and four feet of blinding lake-effect snow that caused whiteout conditions that froze emergency response efforts. Experts say Buffalo was caught in a cold/wet pocket of La Niña, which led to the intense snowfall.

This winter will go down in the record books, but thanks to meteorology, there is an explanation for the missing snow.

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