Where Does It Snow?

So where in the world does it snow? Why are some places more snowy than others, and why are some times more snowy than others?

There’s a nice data set (for a short period of time…) and a decent animated JPEG of it here:


They also have a Quicktime Movie here:


The most dramatic thing about this, to my eye, is just the extent to which snow is a Northern Hemisphere phenomenon. You need land, and lots of it, near the poles, to get lots of snow. AT the poles, you can get some frozen ocean surface and then snow… but I’d assert that ice is a mineral, so it’s still ‘land’ of a sort. Just land that floats on the ocean. Snow comes when the sun leaves. It ‘follows the sun’, seasonally, and I’d assert on longer cycles as well.

Sidebar on Minerals: Water is one of only a few minerals that exist in all three phases on the earth surface. Sulphur is another one, vapor comes from volcanoes and deposits as solids, yet can be melted on some hot surfaces… so in a way we can have ‘sulphur snow’ too ;-) So, given that, I’d have trouble saying that a sulphur deposit was not ‘land’, so calling an ice deposit ‘land’ isn’t quite that odd. Also the fact that many times ‘land’ is over a puddle of water (like the places in Karst topography where a water chamber has eroded in the limestone leaving a ‘land bridge’ over the water – eventually to collapse and make a ‘sink hole’) so one can’t exclude mineral bridges OVER water from ‘land’… At any rate, it’s an interesting definitional ‘edge case’. In this case, I’d call the water ‘honorary land’ when frozen as it makes for a simpler rule: Snow only sticks on land, not on the ocean.

Back at the snow:

I’m going to fish out a few frames of it for a ‘closer look’. In an ideal world we’d have such data from about 1600 A.D. to date. In reality we have very poor data for snow cover. Even this data has a giant hole over the North Pole that drifts southward mid winter as it depends on sunlight to measure snow and, well, there isn’t much sun at the North Pole when it’s most covered in snow…

Note also that this is COVER not VOLUME. For heat flow we care about the volume of frozen water (actually the mass, but as water isn’t very compressible volume is a decent proxy), and as a proxy for volume, cover has some issues. I’ll not go into them now, but just remember that while cover being pushed more equatorward, it can mean that the same volume of snow was just spread more south and less moisture made it toward the pole. We would need to measure snow mass as well as coverage to get that answer.

OK, enough caveats. On with the snow…

High Cold Places

I once wrote a poem “High Cold Places”. The first line is: “To stand alone, in high cold places” (IIRC, the next line is “Hair and clothes fluttering with the heartbeat”…) While the poem is in a box somewhere, the fact is I have a great fondness of High Cold Places. And that is where we find snow.

Up in the mountains, even toward the equator. Closer to sea level as you get closer to the poles. (Eventually reaching sea level, but melting in the ocean, sticking on land). While we do need moisture to make snow (off of those non-freezing oceans), the reason it is snow and not rain is the cold. No cold, no snow…

So the “warmers” are all atwitter about Global Warming causing added snow due to evaporating more water. Uh, no. The water, if things were warmer, would show up as more RAIN, higher up and further poleward. When it falls as snow, that’s from more cold “up there”…

So what has the snow been like the last decade (for when we have pictures)?

We’ll look at 2000, 2005, and 2011. 2005 was semi-randomly picked as ‘near the middle’. It would be nice to have a ‘blink comparator’ of all the various years and see if there’s a year over year trend, but that will have to fall to someone else to do. At any rate, to my eye it looks like snow cover generally increases over the decade. There’s a bit of a drop back from 2007 to 2011 in the Andes (perhaps from all that cold water that showed up off the coast cutting available water ;-) but overall it looks like more snow, more equatorward and at lower elevations over the decade. I picked February and July as the comparison months as those looked like the most snowy in the two hemispheres when watching the ‘movie’. Though in 2007 it was January that was most snowy in North America and in 2006 it looks like March was snowier. (Though sometimes it looks like the snow ‘wobbles’ with more in Asia and less in N.A. or more in N.A. and less in Asia. A polar cold wobble.)

Snow cover July 2000

Snow cover July 2000

Snow cover February 2000

Snow cover February 2000

We have a little snow in the Andes and New Zealand, with some hints in places like Australia, but generally “not much” even in mid winter in the Southern Hemisphere outside of Antarctica. The Northern Hemisphere has a bit of a moth eaten look to North America and Asia. What happens as the movie runs forward? It looks to me like we get snowier.

Snow cover July 2005

Snow cover July 2005

Snow cover February 2005

Snow cover February 2005

Snow cover July 20011

Snow cover July 2011

Snow cover February 2011

Snow cover February 2011

The Andes have a more complete cover. “Moth eaten” in the Northern Hemisphere has given way to ‘solid cover’ even down near the Gulf of Mexico. Iberia picks up more cover too, while Persia gets an occasional bit of cover and there is even some showing up in that Turkey / Levant area. The small patch ‘toward the Himalaya’ in China spreads out into a much wider ‘dusting’ toward the heart of China.

All in all, places are getting more snow. As they are not getting higher, I’m left to conclude they are getting colder.

What is ‘higher’?

Or maybe not… What is “higher” anyway? Is it just distance above the water, or is it ‘closeness to space’?

As the sun gets hotter (back in the 1990-2000 era) we get a LOT more UV. UV heats the upper atmosphere and it expands. The height of the atmosphere gets taller. (There isn’t any doubt about this. NASA even has had times it has said that more UV makes taller air and brings down satellites sooner. From a discussion in comments here: http://wattsupwiththat.com/2011/09/20/uv-low-during-recent-solar-minimum/ )

So our typical mountain is just sitting there poking up a constant height and the air goes and gets ‘taller’ during high solar activity and ‘shorter’ during times of low activity (like now). That puts the ‘high cold places’ in a higher thinner and colder strata of the atmosphere. Hmmm….

Then there’s that Polar Vortex that dumps chunks of stratospheric air down on our heads in winter. As a given mass of air is dumped into a thinner atmospheric height, it ought to be spread out more (can’t go up, can’t stop the vortex or planetary air flow, only way is out…) and we get the ‘loopy jet stream’ with stronger Rossby Waves (my thesis). Those waves show up as “polar air” or, for those of us in North America, a Canada Express… That October Snow we had in New England this year… Oh, and Arizona too…

In effect, the squishing of those polar air lenses effectively moves land areas to a more ‘poleward’ regime. We effectively get closer to ‘high cold polar’ places, without moving an inch… So we get more snow… It arrives earlier and leaves later, just like one would expect at higher altitudes and higher latitudes. Since a lot of water has to evaporate from the oceans to make them cold, we’ve got plenty of water vapor supply to make snow. Even in the Bering Sea where the waters are quite cold (just not nearly as cold as the Arctic air, so can still evaporate into the ocean air and fall as snow as it hits that Arctic Air).

In Conclusion

We get snow in high cold places, in poleward locations. It ‘sticks’ on ‘land’. As the sun goes quiet, we get a LOT less UV, so the air height becomes less. This effectively puts high places closer to space. “Higher” measured from the top instead of the bottom. It effectively moves places more poleward, measured from the front of the polar cold air lens instead of from the equator. As things get colder, we will have more arctic freezing. That will effectively produce even more ‘land’ as the waters freeze and form surfaces of frozen water where snow can ‘stick’. The end result of all this will be MUCH more total area of land covered in snow in the Northern Hemisphere. The Southern Hemisphere will also get more cold, but due to the shortage of land area will not get nearly so much more snow cover (largely limited to a few mountain areas). There could still be more snow FALL in places like Brazil, it just doesn’t have as much chance to stick around.

This snow is NOT due to a ‘warmer ocean’ (in fact, the central Pacific has gone quite cold the last few years), it’s due to colder air over land, lower down and nearer the equator.

So expect a very White Christmas this year in the Northern Hemisphere. As long as the sun is in a low activity regime, we’re going to be more snowy. Also, as this cycle ought to peak about 2014 with ‘not much’, I’m fairly confident we can say that 2015-2020 are going to be very very snowy indeed… Time to think about that condo in Florida ;-) Also realize that talk of Climate KAOS (Smart, eh? :-) is just silly. This is nowhere near as bad as things have been in the past. The Little Ice Age was far worse, and even the L.I.A. was not as bad as things can be in terms of snow and cold; it was little after all. We are nowhere near unusual weather at all.

For now, just watch the news about that Alaska / Bering Sea Blizzard that’s walloping the entire North West of North America and watch that “loopy jet stream” bringing a Canada Express to the Midwest and East. (And European ski areas too http://unofficialnetworks.com/europe-snow-201112-september-18th-2011-chamonix-france-42981/ with a nice snow picture from France in September 2011.) That, IMHO, is the direct result of a ‘sleepy sun’ making the atmosphere ‘less tall’ and putting more of us in “High Cold Places”, even if we didn’t move an inch…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
This entry was posted in AGW and Weather News Events, AGW Science and Background and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Where Does It Snow?

  1. Your bit of humor suggests that the [OCCUPIED] protesters are trying to portray themselves as the “Agent 99%” — but have no connection with the old don AdamSmith. They’re out of CONTROL.

    One of the things that has annoyed me is the downplaying of the Modern Solar Maximum and its effects in the last three cycles of the 20th century. That consistently high level of activity through much of 40 years is tossed off as “no increasing trend.” But all three of these were head and shoulders beyond previous norms.

    It’s like setting a pot of water on high flame, and saying that the temperature of the water must be increasing from some other source since the flame isn’t getting bigger.

    I suspect that much of the climate catastrophist hype would evaporate with any of:
    (1) good fair temperature records, especially outside the US
    (2) good fair proxies of historical temperatures
    (3) accurate reconstructions (from images and art) of sea ice cover in the 1930s/1940s.

    In the meantime, we get something like what you’re describing: snowed.

    ===|==============/Keith DeHavelle

  2. xyzlatin says:

    A very interesting post.

  3. E.M.Smith says:

    An interesting snippet about snow on Hawaii in this last Summer:


    Just another bit of evidence for ‘cold level lower now’… as the sea level temps in Hawaii just don’t change much, nor does the humidity level year over year.

  4. adrianvance says:

    All of this “anthropogenic global warming” stuff is predicated on the false concept that carbon dioxide, CO2, is controlling the atmosphere. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

    CO2 is a “trace gas” in air, insignificant by definition, 1/7th the absorber of IR, heat energy, from sunlight as water vapor which has 80 times as many molecules captures 560 times as much heat for 99.8% of all “global warming.” CO2 does only 0.2% of it.

    Carbon combustion generates 80% of our energy. Control and taxing of carbon would give the elected ruling class more power and money than anything since the Magna Carta of 1215 AD.

    The Two Minute Conservative at http://adrianvance.blogspot.com has political analysis, science and humor. Now in the top 3% on Kindle.

  5. P.G. Sharrow says:

    The more you “crush” make it less deep, the insulation, the poorer it’s resistance to heat flow. I have been saying this is a HVAC problem for years! ;-)
    TSI changes little over time but UV can change as much as 20%. Solar wind also changes greatly which thins the atmosphere as well.
    Up in Prince William Sound near Anchorage, Alaska the tree line was 500 to 600 feet elevation. Glaciers went down to sea levels. Not much storage of the “1 day of summer” heat to cover the 5 months of major winter. Good thing the”warm” Japanese current helped to keep things warmed up to above freezing at sea level. 8-) pg

  6. P.G. Sharrow says:

    @Scarlet Pumpernickel: I didn’t see much in the way of aurora in the Alaskan summers, didn’t see much darkness at those times to be able to tell. When it got dark and cold, aurora also appeared. pg

  7. George says:

    This might be a resource for you. You can take the US all the way back day by day to 2003:


  8. adolfogiurfa says:

    BTW, at -12 latitude snows high on the andes during summertime. What is happening now is that andean glaciers are recovering, following the “Gore Effect”

  9. adolfogiurfa says:

    >b>What if the water cycle is not closed but opened?. During summer time above the pole and due to increased radiation, atmosphere´s oxygen is turned into Ozone (O3), which during winter time and specially when there are proton flares from the sun or increased cosmic rays, as during solar minimums (mainly composed of protons-90%-, which, btw, we must remember are Hydrogen Nucleii), then these react with ozone to produce water 2H+…O3=H2O+O2 and increase the “Ozone Hole” once again , then snow fall increases ice. So we have an ice cube making machine over there.

  10. Adrian Vance says:

    Oxygen is turned into 2[O] or “ozone” all the time and at all levels, but by the time sunlight gets to our level most of the hard UV is absorbed. There is no “shield” as gases cannot form surfaces like liquids and solids where the molecules are in contact. The amount of atomic oxygen, or “ozone” is very small and each [O] atom lasts about 1/5,000,000th second until it hit a molecule, which is most likely nitrogen whereon it makes an oxide of nitrogen, which it brown in color and called smog. It has always occurred in what is now Los Angeles as Mother Nature is our biggest polluter and the Indian name for the LA basin in “Valley of the smokes.”

    See The Two Minute Conservative at http://adrianvance.blogspot.com has political analysis, science and humor. Now in the top 3% on Kindle.

  11. adolfogiurfa says:

    Along the west coast of south america there are deserts, caused by the Humboldt´s cold current, running from the south pole northwards, and because of the high altitude andean mountains usually stop rain bearing clouds east of them; and last but not the least, the earth spins eastwards so all the humidity from the atlantic goes to the amazon jungle, leaving behind a deserted Sahara. However there is another phenomenon: that of vegetation discharging electricity from clouds, so making hydrogen hydroxide to precipitate as hydrogen oxide (H2O: Raindrops….)

  12. E.M.Smith says:


    Perhaps we get the electrons from space too. From the wiki on Magnetosphere


    As noted, one exception (at least) exists, a case where voltages do drive currents. That happens with Birkeland currents, which flow from distant space into the near-polar ionosphere, continue at least some distance in the ionosphere, and then return to space. (Part of the current then detours and leaves Earth again along field lines on the morning side, flows across midnight as part of the ring current, then comes back to the ionosphere along field lines on the evening side and rejoins the pattern.) The full circuit of those currents, under various conditions, is still under debate.

    Because the ionosphere is an ohmic conductor of sorts, such flow will heat it up. It will also create secondary Hall currents, and accelerate magnetospheric particles—electrons in the arcs of the polar aurora, and singly ionized oxygen ions (O+) which contribute to the ring current.

    It also says that the solar wind doesn’t make it into the magnetosphere, but also handwaves a bit about what is actually known, or not…

    At any rate, if you have a positive charged particle showing up, eventually you need a negative or you will reach a repulsive limit…

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