Will the Main Line Region Ever Get Another Snow Day?

It's been over 700 days since the Philadelphia area has seen more than an inch of snow. Is it time to write off winter storms for good?

Remember traipsing through snowdrifts as tall as your chest, snowball fights out in the yard followed by hot cocoa or the way all the sound in the world seemed to dampen during a blizzard? It’s been over 700 days since the Main Line and Philadelphia area experienced more than an inch of precipitation in a single snow day. In fact, the region received no more 0.3″ of snow total during all of 2023.

It’s starting to feel as if snow days will become a thing of the past, though there’s certainly some who wouldn’t mind that. While it might not rekindle a sense of childhood nostalgia, it would mean no more kids home from school, no more shoveling and no more extra traffic.

It’s easy to look at the trend we’ve all seen occurring before us these past couple years and write off snow as a Philadelphia area phenomenon entirely, but the data seems to point otherwise. ABC-6 meteorologist Adam Joseph says, “Our future children in the city will still see winters with big snowstorms. They just may need to wait longer in between each of them.”

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Naturally, climate change is a massive factor in the lack of snow during previous years, but unlike the name global warming would suggest, the curve is more erratic than a steady temperature increase. Even so, our winters are undoubtedly becoming warmer.

Nostalgia might also have you believe we used to experience heavy snowstorms every winter, but that’s just not the case. Using a 30-year average, the Delaware Valley receives about 23″ of snow a winter season, not an insignificant figure. And with warmer winters, we’re seeing larger storms that hold more moisture.

That accounts for all the flooding we’ve seen over the past several years. Just count how many times the Schuylkill has overflowed its banks.

 

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Now with that being said, when cold air is available or links up with these larger storms we are seeing due to climate changes, you can get some large snow totals,” Joseph notes. “They are maybe happening less, but they are still happening. Three of our top five snowstorms have occurred since 2009. Our top two snowiest winters were 2009-2010 and 2013-2014.”

Perhaps the perception of having more frequent, but smaller snowstorms back in the day compared to fewer large storms today has given rise to the theory that the Main Line simply won’t receive snow anymore, but that’s just not true. Even in a worst-case climate change scenario, our winter climate by 2070 would compare to what Northeast Arkansas sees today, which is around 3.5″ of snow a year on average.

Still, if we can expect large infrequent blizzards, why haven’t we seen significant snowfall since January 2022?

Last winter we were in a La Niña winter. That has to do with the waters in the equatorial Pacific being colder than normal,” Joseph explains. “This sets an overall pattern with warmer than average temperatures on the East Coast due to high pressure positioned in the Southeast U.S. Last winter was a triple dip La Niña…meaning the third winter in a row.”

La Niña and El Niño can’t be blamed entirely; there are plenty of other factors that can tweak the overall pattern like NAO (North Atlantic oscillation), PNA (Pacific-North American pattern) and AO (Arctic oscillation). Any small changes in these scales could create grand effects for our local weather.

 

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This winter being a moderate El Niño means a very wet, stormy winter like we have been seeing, but overall more wet than white….though any little tweak in the other indices could lead to a large snowstorm,” Joseph observes.

With the moderate El Niño, Joseph believes this is the year we’ll break our snow drought. All that needs to happen is for a cold front to line up with a negative NAO and a positive PNO. Thus the odds for multiple chances of measurable snow may very well be in our favor.

Despite the fact that we’ve had a warm winter, and what’s likely to be a short one due to climate change, there will be plenty of chances for freezing temperatures to link up with a large, moisture-laden storm.

In fact, we might be lucky enough—or unlucky enough depending on your perspective—to see the end of our drought next week. ABC-6 Accuweather forcast says snow is possible Tuesday, January 16, while Weather Underground projects 5.1″ that day alone.

So stock up on hot chocolate and perhaps prepare to have the kids home from school as the Delaware Valley crosses its fingers for a classic snow day.

Related: Where to Go Skiing Near the Main Line This Winter

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!