Winter snow drought


  • Don Wiesnet


The winter of 1980–81 can be best described as a ‘snow drought.’ Donald R. Wiesnet and Michael Matson of NOAA's National Earth Satellite Service, who have been monitoring snow cover by using satellite measurements, report that the December–February snow cover in North America averaged only 13.9 million square kilometers, which is four standard deviations below the 10-year mean (15.5 million km2). January 1981 snow cover (14.1 million km2) was the all-time lowest January since the satellite records began (1966). February, with only 14.2 million km2, was the lowest February of record. As a result, Wiesnet and Matson are estimating that the December–March total will also be the lowest of record.

Figures for Eurasia are also below average, but not as dramatically as those of North America. When added together, snow cover on both continental land masses is the lowest (40.6 million km2) it has been since 1970.