2.1 Characteristics of major snowstorms in the United States, 1949-2000

Monday, 20 June 2005: 1:30 PM
North & Center Ballroom (Hilton DeSoto)
Stanley Changnon, Changnon Climatologist, Mahomet, IL; and D. Changnon

An extensive new database containing records of very damaging snowstorms, those causing more than $1 million in property losses, across the United States during the 1949-2000 period was the basis for a study to define the spatial and temporal dimensions of the nation's snowstorm activity. In this 52-year period 155 snowstorms occurred and caused losses totaling $21.6 billion. The northeastern U.S. had the maximum of storm occurrences (79 storms), total losses ($7.3 billion), and loss per storm, or intensity. Two-thirds of all U.S. losses occurred in the Northeast, Southeast, and Central climate regions, and storm occurrences and losses were least in the western U.S. The incidence of storms peaked in the 1976-1985 period and had no up or down trend during 1949-2000. However, national losses had a significant upward time trend, as did storm sizes and intensity. States with the greatest number of storms were New York (62) and Pennsylvania (58) with only 2 storms in Montana, Idaho, and Utah. Storm losses in the northeastern and southeastern U.S. had U-shaped time distributions with flat time trends for 1949-2000, but western regions and the Deep South had distinct upward trends in losses, storm intensity, and storm size. More than 90 percent of all storm losses in the western U.S. occurred since 1980. These findings indicate that rapidly growing population and property at risk have been major factors in increasing losses as well as atmospheric changes leading to greater storm intensity and size over time.
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