Not Our Worst Winter...Yet

It's okay to say that it's been a bad winter.

There's been plenty of snow: Central Park has had 16 days of measurable snowfall since Dec. 8, according to Adrienne Leptich of the National Weather Service. As of Tuesday, that snow had added up to 57.1 inches.

It's been cold: Our most frigid day, Jan. 22, reached a high of 17 degrees — more than 20 degrees below the average high for that day. The low that day was a mere five degrees, also well below average. These temperatures do not include the wind chill.

There's been a shortage of salt: Before Tuesday morning's snowfall, the city's Department of Sanitation said it had used about 460,000 tons of salt, the most in recent memory. The number of snow events this winter has exhausted supplies of road salt and forced property owners to find other ways, like the magic of beet juice, to treat sidewalks and driveways. 

And it's been inconvenient: this winter has seen the most flight cancellations in at least 25 years.

But however it may feel, you can't say this season has been our worst...yet. That prize goes to the winter of 1995-1996, which dumped a total snowfall of 75.6 inches. It's the snowiest winter on record since the National Weather Service began its tallies in 1868-1869. Those tallies peg this current season as the seventh-snowiest so far.

David Robinson, a New Jersey State climatologist and Rutgers professor, said there are two notable points about the winter of '95-'96. First, every month from November through April had above average snowfall.

"That was a beginning to end snowy winter. It just seemed to want to snow," he said.

Second, the winter of '95-'96 had at least one major "signature" snow event. A January blizzard brought about 20 inches to the New York City metro area. Not so this year.

"We've had a number of moderate, really disruptive snow falls," said Robinson. "But we haven't had that one big signature storm."

But, for the snow-fatigued, Robinson notes that this winter might fall reasonably high on a "weariness index," if there actually were such a thing.

This winter has seen a number of storms, many of which were timed inconveniently in the overnight or early morning hours. Morning commutes have been messy. Suburban districts have called off school six or seven times. (New York City has had one snow day.)

"Winters like this when time and time again when people are having to look at the weather forecast — have to deal with the elements when it comes to travel, when it comes to any kind of planning — it becomes taxing."

That level of fatigue, Robinson said, does not come every winter. Also, he noted, winter's not over yet.