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Weather and Snow in New England

"If you don’t like the weather...," get in your car and drive two hours. A variation on Mark Twain’s famous quote, but it tells a lot about New England. Snowstorms come and snowstorms go, sometimes leaving three feet of snow in one region and a dusting of flurries in another. Heavy rain in the valleys mixed with sleet or freezing rain can mean powder snow in the mountains. If we are experiencing a temperature inversion, cold air is trapped in the valleys bringing warmer air aloft; this means rain on the highest summits and freezing rain in the valleys. This is just the opposite of most mountain weather, where you can expect a 3° C drop in temperature for every thousand feet of elevation gain. Predicting weather here for the whole region, as most TV weather stations attempt to do, can often be misleading, for local variations can be dramatic and significant for the skier. Once the storm has passed, the skier needs to calculate where he or she will go to find the best snow.

Storms in New England can come from any direction, but the most common ones come in from the west or northeast. Western storms can blanket most of Vermont, but still manage to miss New Hampshire. Coastal storms can immobilize southern and central New Hampshire and barely cause a wispy cloud to pass through Vermont or the northern Whites. Again the prepared skier needs to investigate carefully and not make assumptions that it is snowing equally everywhere.

Low pressure centers that travel up the St. Lawrence Valley usually bring rain to New England and snow to Canada. The most powerful storms involve secondary lows on the coast that can intensify the primary low pressure system moving in from the west. These combine, by bringing down cold air from Canada and moisture up from the sea, to produce the classic New England snow storm.

One phenomena worth noting is the effect on local snowfall caused by wind moving across open bodies of water picking up moisture and depositing it in the mountains. This is called a “lake effect”. Buffalo, New York, due to its position near the Great Lakes, receives an inordinate amount of snow because of the lake effect. In our region, Lake Champlain can produce moderate snow fall east of the Green Mountains, most notably at Mount Mansfield, but it can also bring snow to Jay Peak and Camel’s Hump. A forecast of flurries for Vermont can produce six to eight inches of snow at these areas.

You need to be an investigative reporter; call your friends or ski areas in various parts of the Twin States, find out how much new snow has fallen, temperature, and a twenty-four hour forecast. Add up the inches of snow and below freezing temperature and choose the area that has the most and the coldest snow. Remember that New England weather can change dramatically. It can go from minus thirty degrees Fahrenheit to plus forty degrees in only a few hours. Rain can change to snow and back to rain again. Rain can form frozen armor over powder snow, or percolate through it and, after cold air and wind return, the snow can dry out, becoming loose and powdery.

Last Updated: 10/21/12