Snow No-Show in N.Y.C. Feels Nice — but Also a Little Unsettling
New York City is set to break its record for latest-ever “first measurable snow” of the winter and is also approaching its longest stretch without snow.
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By Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura
New Yorkers know that every year won’t bring a white Christmas, but by late January, the city has usually seen enough powder for sleds and snowball fights to make an appearance.
That is not the case this winter. It has been 50 years since the city has waited this long for the first measurable snowfall of the season. It’s a record-tying absence that has made many residents at turns grateful, wistful and worried.
Rachel Reuben, a private chef, is quietly pleased she hasn’t seen measurable snow — which is defined as snow sticking above a tenth of an inch — in New York City over the past 325 days.
According to meteorologists, the city is nearing two snow-related milestones. New York City will most likely set a record on Monday for its latest-ever first measurable snow of the winter, beating Jan. 29, 1973.
Less than a week later, New York City could eclipse its longest streak of consecutive days without measurable snow. The record currently stands at the 332 days set on Dec. 15, 2020.
The last time it snowed was March 22. But even as she enjoys the snow-free 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,” Ms. Reuben said on an unusually balmy Saturday as she walked her dogs in Central Park.
She echoed many New Yorkers who had said that despite the small joys of not having to shovel snow or hike through streets covered in ash-colored slush, the mild weather felt eerie.
New York City usually sees snow by mid-December, but this snow no-show means New York has fallen more than a month behind its average pace.
New York and other major cities along the I-95 corridor are experiencing some of their least snowy seasons of the last half century. Conditions were already in place for a relatively warm start to the winter, meteorologists say: The region has been warmer than usual, thanks in part to La Niña — a recurring climate pattern originating in the Pacific Ocean that is now on its third consecutive year.
“We’ve had warm winters in the past, but we’re seeing a lot more of what I like to call the yo-yoing of winters,” Chris Stachelski, who oversees the east coast for the National Weather Service, said.
“We’re seeing more extremes where it’s flipping from very snowy to not very snowy,” he said, adding that even though there were less snowy winters in the past, the pendulum swings have become more frequent now. “That’s where you could argue that there might be some definite influence from the overall global weather patterns going on.”
This winter’s extreme variation can be seen in a single stretch of upstate New York. Syracuse is one of America’s snowiest cities, averaging more than 120 inches annually, but it has received just 25 inches of snow this winter, putting it three feet behind the norm for the season. Nearby Rochester has received fewer than 15 inches, compared with a typical 50 inches by this time.
Yet to the west of both cities lies a pocket of intense snow: Buffalo is having one of its snowiest winters of the past 50 years. Around half of this season’s snow was dropped during a single, deadly blizzard.
Mr. Stachelski explained that the extreme divergence seen among different parts of New York had to do with storm tracks.
“Normally we get a lot of our snow storms from storms that come offshore, coastal storms, nor’easters, and occasionally smaller amounts come from what we call Alberta clippers,” he said. “And we really haven’t had either of those this winter that would lead to snow.”
Bill Morache, 35, said he missed the snow. Mr. Morache, an architectural historian who lives in Morningside Heights, is originally from New Hampshire, a state that periodically receives a lot of snow. He has been in the neighborhood for about a decade and has been looking at old photos and reminiscing about having to dig his car out from under the snow.
“It is real,” he said of climate change. “You can see it happening.”
Jonathan Van Sleet, a construction worker form who lives in Queens, said he was “bummed” about not seeing snow this year. He grew up making snowmen and had fond childhood memories that he would like to share with his children.
“Usually when it snows, it’s the special event where the kids get excited,” he said as he was out with his wife, Ana, who said she preferred not having to deal with shoveling snow. “But this year we’ve kind of been relegated to the typical activities, like indoor play dates and trying to find things to do.”
Still, some New Yorkers are taking the lack of snow as a possible sign that the city will be whipped by a snowstorm in February, which, despite being the shortest month, almost always feels as if it were the depths of winter.
“Everybody keeps saying, ‘You know, what if we’re not going to get that big storm from this year?’ And I’m like, ‘Wait for February,’” said Anna Muller, 30, who works for a company that stores people’s clothes. “I feel like February always throws a curveball.”
Mr. Stachelski, the meteorologist, also cautioned against coming to conclusions too soon.
“It’s still too early to stick a fork in winter,” he said. “There has definitely been some winters around here in the last 20 or 30 years where there’s been not much snow in the beginning of the winter, and then at the end, it’s bad.”
Snowfall so far this winter in New York City
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