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95 Feet of Snow

Published by Steve Campion. Category: Weather

Blizzards hit the American Midwest, shut down cities in the Northeast, and are a way of life in Siberia.  Snow is plentiful on the ground in Alaska, Greenland, and Antarctica.  But which of these six places holds the world record for snowfall in a year?

None of the above.  The record belongs to Mount Baker in Washington’s Whatcom County.  More than a dozen years ago, the Mount Baker Ski Area (elevation 4,200 feet) tallied 1,140 inches of snow in one year.  [See month-by-month chart at right.]  That’s 95 feet!  And it’s a world record.  Meteorologists gave the official explanation: “A moderately strong La Niña accentuated the normally stormy pattern with a much higher frequency of wet and cold weather systems.”  That’s just another way of saying cold and wet conditions over the Pacific Ocean made the typically cold and wet Cascade Mountains even colder and wetter.

And while the 1998-1999 snow season was extreme, a world snowfall record wasn’t completely unexpected. The Cascades get their share of snow.  The same conveyor belt that pulls moisture from the largest ocean on the planet and dumps it as precipitation on western Washington — in addition to Seattle’s rainy reputation, let’s not forget we have a full-blown rain forest on the Olympic Peninsula — also carries that moisture a few miles farther east until the mountains get in the way and force the refrigerated remains to the ground.  Where else on earth do you find that combination of consistent moisture and elevation?  Not in the six places mentioned in our opening question, that’s for sure.

Below is a list of the monthly snow totals measured at Mt Baker in the record-setting 1998-99 12-month snow season.  And who had the world record before Mt Baker?  Mt Rainier, of course!  The same conveyor belt of moisture dropped 1,122 inches of snow on Washington’s highest peak in 1971-72.  Incidentally, Rainier recorded 1,035 inches the year Mt Baker secured the new record.

WORLD RECORD SNOWFALL IN ONE YEAR, MT BAKER, WA

Month Monthly
Total
(inches)
Cumulative
Annual Total
(inches)
July, 1998 unknown 0.0
August unknown 0.0
September  unknown  0.0
October  unknown  0.0
November  178.0  178.0
December  225.0  403.0
January, 1999  182.5  585.5
February  303.0  888.5
March  194.0  1082.5
April  24.5  1107.0
May  30.0  1137.0
June  3.0  1140.0

BAR GRAPH of monthly snow totals (in inches) at Mt Baker, 1998-99 © Steve Campion

SOURCES: Data from National Weather Service.  Quoted passage from a paper presented at the 57th Eastern Snow Conference in Syracuse, NY, 2000: Evaluation of a national seasonal snowfall record at the Mount Baker, Washington, Ski Area by Robert J. Leffler, Andrew Horvitz, and Raymond Downs (National Weather Service Office of Climate, Water, and Weather Services, Silver Spring, Maryland), Michael Changery (National Climatic Data Center, Asheville, North Carolina), Kelly T. Redmond (Desert Research Institute, Western Regional Climate Center, Reno, Nevada), George Taylor (Oregon Climate Service, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon)

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