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New York City sets record for longest time without heavy snow in winter


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New Yorkers know that not every year there is a white Christmas, but in late January the city usually has enough snow for residents to enjoy sledding and snowball fights. Not this winter.

It’s been 50 years since the city waited this long for the season’s first measurable snowfall. It is a record absence that has left many residents happy, melancholy and worried.

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Rachel Reuben, a private chef, is quietly pleased that she hasn’t seen measurable snow — which is defined as more than 0.25 centimeters — in New York City in the past 325 days.

Forecasters say the city is approaching two snow-related milestones: It will set a record on Monday for its latest first measurable snowfall of the winter, surpassing Jan. 29, 1973. And, less than a week later, it could beat its longest streak of days without measurable snow. The record is 332 days, set on December 15, 2020.

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The last time it snowed in the city was on March 22nd. Even enjoying the snowless weather, Reuben, 66, can’t help but feel a little uncomfortable. “If it’s an omen of climate change, then it’s not a good thing,” she said on a balmy Saturday as she walked her dogs in Central Park.

Reuben echoed many New Yorkers who said that despite the small joys of not having to shovel snow or walk through streets covered in gray slush, mild weather feels strange.

The city usually has snow in mid-December, but this absence means it has lagged more than a month behind its average pace.

This and other major cities along Interstate 95 are experiencing some of the lowest snowfall seasons in the last half century. The conditions were already in place for a relatively warm start to the winter: the region has been warmer than normal, thanks in part to La Niña, a recurring weather pattern originating in the Pacific Ocean, which is now in its third consecutive year.

“We’ve had warm winters in the past, but we’re seeing a lot more of what I call yo-yo winters,” says Chris Stachelski, supervisor of the National Weather Service on the US East Coast.

“We’re seeing more extremes, when we go from a lot of snow to little,” he says, adding that while there were winters with less snow in the past, the swings have become more frequent now. “That’s where you could make the case that maybe some definite influence of global weather patterns is taking place.”

This winter’s extreme variation can be seen in a single stretch of upstate New York. Syracuse is one of the snowiest cities in the US, averaging more than 10 feet a year, but this winter it received just 63.5 cm, putting it 90 cm below the norm for the season. Neighboring Rochester was less than 38 cm, compared to the 1.27 meters typical of this era.

However, to the west of both cities is a pocket of snow: Buffalo is having one of the snowiest winters in 50 years. About half of this season’s snow fell during a single, deadly blizzard. Stachelski explains that the extreme divergence observed between different parts of New York state has to do with storm tracks.

“Typically, we get a lot of our snowfall from storms that come from the sea, coastal storms, and occasionally smaller amounts come from what we call ‘Alberta clippers’ [sistema de baixa pressão vindos do Canadá]. And we really haven’t had any of those this winter that cause snow.”

Bill Morache, 35, says he misses the snow. An architectural historian who lives in the Morningside Heights neighborhood, Morache hails from New Hampshire, a state that periodically gets a lot of snow. He’s been in New York for about a decade and, looking through old photos, remembered that he had to dig his car out of the snow.

“It’s real,” he says of climate change. “You can see it happening.”

Still, some New Yorkers consider the lack of snow a possible sign that the city will be hit with a blizzard in February, which, despite being the shortest month, almost always feels like the dead of winter. “Everyone keeps saying, ‘You know, what if we don’t have that big storm this year?’ And I’m like, ‘Wait until February,'” says Anna Muller, 30, who works for a company that stores clothes. “I feel like February always throws a curveball.”

Stachelski, the meteorologist, also cautions against drawing conclusions too quickly. “It’s still too early to define winter,” he says. “There have actually been some winters here over the last 20 or 30 years where we haven’t had a lot of snow at the beginning and by the end it was bad.”

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