Winter third snowiest, April rainiest on record
ADDISON COUNTY — Ultimately, Vermont snowfall in the winter of 2010-2011 did not set a record, according to data at the Burlington office of the National Weather Service.
This year’s snowfall total in Burlington — figures aren’t kept for Addison County — stood at 128.4 inches as of Tuesday, in third place behind the Nos. 1 and 2 winters in recorded history, the 145.4 inches that fell in 1970-71 and the 132 inches that blanketed Burlington in 1886-87.
In mid-March, when about 124 inches had already fallen, it looked like this winter would make a run at the all-time most.
“We faded a little bit,” said National Weather Service (NWS) forecaster Brooke Tabor this week of the annual snowfall.
But at the same time, Mother Nature picked up the pace in a related precipitation department: Yes, it will come as no surprise that April set a record for rainfall.
In Burlington, the NWS measured 7.88 inches of rain in April, breaking the previous record by 1.33 inches.
Tabor said an average of 2.88 inches of rain falls on Burlington in April, meaning last month’s total was five inches above the norm.
He noted that in a 24-hour period on April 26 and 27, 2.85 inches of rain soaked the Queen City, while a similar downpour drenched much of the surrounding Champlain Valley.
“It was almost normal for the whole month in that one-day period,” Tabor said.
Translating the snowfall into precipitation, Burlington’s year-to-date total as of April 30 was 15.73 inches or precipitation, 6.44 inches above typical, he said.
Tabor fingered an unusually volatile jet stream as the culprit for all the snow; the jet stream is the always-blowing west-to-east airflow. This winter, he said, it was fueled by a more-active-than-usual duel between cold polar air from the north, and warm, moister-than-typical sub-tropical air from the south. He described the ongoing clashes between the air masses as a “battle zone.”
The jet stream was still doing Vermont no favors in April, Tabor said.
“The same kind of features are still in play, with sort of a battle zone between receding winter cold arctic air masses … and warm air that wants to build up from (the south),” he said.
Storms feed on that ongoing civil war, Tabor said.
“That huge temperature contrast is helping to create a favorable environment for heavy precipitation events,” he said.
Further complicating weather for Vermont has been the jet stream’s stubborn insistence in blowing right over the state. Typically, Tabor said, the jet stream varies its path, moving further north and south.
When it drifts northward, warmer, sunnier southern weather moves up under it to Vermont. When the jet stream chooses a more southerly route, cooler weather settles in from the north.
Most often, Tabor said, “This time of year it’s lifting north across our region.”
Not so this spring.
“Lately it’s been right over us and steering these storm systems right across our region,” he said.
The NWS is not forecasting immediate relief. Tabor said the next week-and-a-half looks like it will bring more cool, wet weather.
“The outlook is more of what we’ve seen lately … through at least the middle of May,” he said. “This pattern is going to stay pretty persistent.”
HIGH WATER REMAINS
Lakefront property owners probably want to remain on alert. NWS foresees Lake Champlain rising from the 102.64 feet above sea level mark on Tuesday to around 103 feet by this weekend, and then remaining at historically high levels or a while. Flood stage is 100 feet above sea level.
“It’s still going to be above flood stage through the majority of May, as we see it now,” Tabor said.
On Wednesday afternoon the Vermont Agency of Transportation said that due to the historic levels of Lake Champlain and numerous rivers and streams at flood level it had closed several state highways around the state. At that time they included Route 125 near Chimney Point between Route 17 and Town Line Road, which first closed late last week. Also, the state had closed Route 73 in Brandon along the Otter Creek.
Motorists are advised to avoid roads that are under water.
Can the NWS offer the sunscreen industry any hope?
“We’ll see some sun this weekend, some sunny breaks,” Tabor said. “And toward the middle of next week we can see some breaks in the overcast, and the temperatures will respond to near normal.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].