The winter that wasn’t: Recapping the 2019-20 ‘dud’ snow season
I realize the first day of May is an odd time to discuss snow and wintry weather. (Measurable, accumulating snow becomes very rare in New Jersey beyond mid-April.) However, our State Climatologist Dr. Dave Robinson and his staff at the NJ State Climate Office at Rutgers University just released their snowfall analysis for this winter. They call it a "dud." I'm naming it "the winter that wasn't."
During a "normal" winter season, New Jersey's total snowfall ranges from about 15 inches in Cape May County to 62 inches in Sussex County. (For that record, that's a pretty big range for such a small state!)
For the 2019-2020 snow season, snowfall totals ranged from a piddly 0.4 inches in South Jersey to a still-way-below-normal 39.2 inches to the far north.
Disclaimer... I actually wrote the software that produces this map every year, when I worked at Rutgers a few years ago.
Of course, that 39.2" number is a clear outlier, observed at the highest elevation in the state at High Point, Sussex County. According to Robinson, the state as a whole averaged 4.7 inches of snow for the winter. That is 19.2" below the 1981-2010 average of 23.9". And ranks as our 3rd least snowy winter since detailed record-keeping began in 1895.
New Jersey's Least Snowiest Winters
1.) 1972-73... 4.0"
2.) 1918-19... 4.3"
3.) 2019-20... 4.7"
4.) 2001-02... 5.9"
5.) 1997-98... 6.5"
As plow drivers, ski resort operators, and overall snow lovers lamented, almost every major winter storm missed us this year.
More importantly, unseasonably warm temperatures meant a season of rain rather than snow. Dr. Robinson reports that New Jersey's temperatures averaged about 4.5 degrees warmer than normal for December-January-February. So not only is it the 3rd least snowy winter, it's also the 7th warmest on record for the Garden State.
The climate center reported only four "events" this winter with at least one 2-inch snowfall report in NJ.
Winter 2019-20 2+ Inch Snow Events
1.) December 1-3, 2019... Top snowfall 15.7" at Highland Lakes, Sussex Co.
2.) December 10-11, 2019... Top snowfall 3.1" at Highland Lakes, Sussex Co.
3.) January 18, 2020... Top snowfall 3.0" at Hillsdale, Bergen Co. and Rockaway, Morris Co.
4.) February 2, 2020... Top snowfall 2.7" at Bethlehem, Hunterdon Co.
For comparison, the state saw 13 such snow events in 2018-19, 16 in 2017-18, and 17 in 2016-17.
This is not the first time I've declared a "winter that wasn't". 2015-16 was another almost below-normal snow season. But there was one big exception — remember The Blizzard of 2016? That monster storm dropped an entire season's worth of snow (literally 30+ inches) in one shot. If not for that, 2015-16 would also rank among the least snowy winters in the Garden State, just like 2019-20.
One final, important note: Every single long-range forecast for the winter season turned out to be a total bust. This is exactly why I believe seasonal forecasting is mostly a bunch of baloney, and will never publish a long-term outlook. There are just too many variables to offer a confident and specific enough forecast for the state. Sure, there are signs and signals suggesting whether a season will trend cooler or warmer, wetter or drier. But all it takes it one or two big storms (or big busts) to make a big difference.
This year, they were all busts. Onward to spring and summer!