WTF Fun Fact 13659 – Hawaii Snow

While New York City and Boston are typically associated with snowy winters, Hawaii snow has surprisingly outpaced them in snowfall this winter.

Hawaii Snow

The Mauna Kea Weather Center on Hawaii Island experienced a significant snowstorm in late November. That resulted in approximately half a foot of snow. This event occurred on the peaks of the Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa volcanoes.

In contrast, Boston reported only a fraction of its average snowfall, receiving a mere 0.2 inches on December 6. New York City, often pictured with winter snowscapes, has yet to see its first snowfall of the season.

Social media buzzed with images of Hawaii’s snow-covered volcanic peaks. This surprised many who associate the Aloha State solely with sun and surf. However, snow on Hawaii’s higher altitudes is not as rare as one might think.

Hawaii’s High-Altitude Snow

Hawaii’s volcanic peaks, particularly the nearly 14,000-foot-tall Mauna Kea volcano, are known for their altitude and even receive snow occasionally in the summer. Mauna Kea is recognized as the world’s tallest mountain when measured from base to peak, extending about 20,000 feet below sea level. This significant elevation means that these mountains can experience winter conditions distinct from the tropical climate below.

Skiers sometimes venture to these Hawaiian peaks for a unique skiing experience, despite the absence of traditional ski resorts in the state. Blizzard warnings are not unheard of in these areas during the winter months.

On the East Coast, cities like Boston and New York City are experiencing an unusually mild winter. Boston’s most significant snow event in January produced only 3.5 inches, while New York City’s largest was a modest 1.8 inches in February. Tom Kines, a senior meteorologist at AccuWeather, highlighted that this level of snowfall is atypical for these cities. Boston’s average snowfall for November is 0.7 inches, escalating to 9 inches in December. New York City usually sees about half an inch in November and close to 5 inches in December.

El Niño’s Potential Impact

The weather pattern known as El Niño, characterized by warmer ocean waters in the Pacific, might change the East Coast’s winter outlook. Following the end of La Niña in March, El Niño began this summer.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has predicted that El Niño could lead to near-normal or slightly above-normal precipitation for the East Coast.

This means there’s still a chance for cities like New York and Boston to catch up and experience their share of winter wonderland scenes. El Niño’s influence could bring more wet weather to these areas, potentially increasing their snowfall totals as the winter progresses.

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Source: “Hawaii’s Gotten More Snow This Winter Than New York City, Boston Combined” — Newsweek

WTF Fun Fact 13137 – The Snowiest City in the World

The snowiest city in the world is in Japan. And we’re not sure why, but we really didn’t see that coming. We would have guessed someplace in Siberia or Canada. But the award for the snowiest city goes to northern Japan’s Aomori City.

More about the snowiest city in the world

Aomori City averages 312 inches (that’s about 26 feet) of snow each year! And it has a population of over 280,000 people. That’s A LOT of shoveling that needs to happen to keep a city moving.

On an island nation, you might wonder where they put all that snow. The answer is right into the bay.

If you’re interested, here’s a quite long video showing how it all goes down:

Now, there are likely snowier places on Earth, but people don’t live there. Aomori City is the snowiest place where people actually live.

Why is Aomori City so snowy?

According to CNN (cited below), “The extreme snowfall is caused by chilly Siberian winds that sweep into Japan from the northwest every November. As the cold air crosses over the warmer waters off Japan’s mountainous coastline, it gathers moisture, then rises and turns into snow.”

You may have heard of “lake effect snow,” but what Japan gets is “sea effect snow.” Since the sea doesn’t really freeze, they get thick, powdery snow until all the way up until April. And the city’s suburbs get blanketed as well.

Like so many snowy cities, residents aren’t thrilled about the snow, but they’re prepared for it. And the city makes the most of it. Things don’t close down easily, and the city takes advantage of tourism dollars from skiers and other snow-lovers. They also have amazing seafood, which is especially plentiful during the snowy months.  WTF fun facts

Source: “Aomori, Japan: Life in one of the world’s snowiest cities” — CNN

WTF Fun Fact 13135 – The Blizzard of 77

Have you heard the lore of the Blizzard of 77? Maybe you even lived through it. If so (and you’re like my family), no other storm could ever be like it again. (Meanwhile, we played a board game called The Blizzard of ’77 with glee as kids.) So what happened, exactly, during that storm?

There’s no need to make light of this storm – it was deadly and heartbreaking to many families. At least 23 people died as a direct result of the blizzard. That’s part of the reason it holds such a solid place in the memories of those who felt it.

The Blizzard of ’77 hit Western New York and Southern Ontario at the end of January. The snowfall during the storm was minimal, but the winds blowing off the frozen Lake Erie blew around the 60 inches of snow already on the ground to create snowdrifts.

Where did the blizzard happen and how bad was it, really?

The Blizzard of 77 happened around the Great Lakes in the U.S., and more specifically the western side of Lake Erie. Western New York and Southern Ontario felt the brunt of its wrath. But most people associate the city of Buffalo, NY with the notorious blizzard.

If you dislike snow (or even if you do like it, just not when it’s in your driveway/on your car), you know even 4 or 5 inches can be enough to wreck your day. But the blizzard brought 100 inches to some places in Western New York. Just not from the sky. More on that in a minute.

Some stories that came out of the event are endearing, others tragic.

Kids gleefully climbed snowbanks to stand on the roof of their houses (back in a time when parents would still kick you outside during the day). Many parents regretted the roof damage that was wrought, especially since if you were going to climb the roof, chances we you were taking the top of the trash can to use as a sled.

Two reindeer at the Buffalo Zoo decided to prance out onto the huge snowdrifts. They waltzed out of their pens and the zoo itself. Maybe they thought they had finally made it home.

On the other hand, nine people were found buried in their cars. Others had heart attacks while trying to shovel the snow. Car accidents took even more lives (there was a travel ban, but not all workers got a day off). The storm cost the area economic losses in the neighborhood of $221 million. That includes $36 million in lost wages for city residents.

Buffalo became known as the city of snow mostly because of the images people saw on the nightly news.

Buffalo’s notorious blizzard of 77

Buffalo made the news around the world because of the photos that resulted from the storm. Of course, most people had to wait to see the photos because you still had to take your film to be developed at the store. And there were no cell phones to check on your family.

People were stuck on roads for hours (which is terribly dangerous if snow covers your tailpipe because you may end up dying from carbon monoxide poisoning, as some do during these types of storms). Babies were delivered at home because emergency vehicles could not get down the streets. The power went out in homes across the area. Families huddled together for warmth (no matter how mad you were at your siblings).

Buffalo and their “southtowns” (like Hamburg and Orchard Park) often get loads of lake-effect snow early in the year. This can be annoying and plentiful, and this snow is the result of the lake not yet being frozen and adding more moisture to the air.

However, during Buffalo’s Blizzard of ’77, the lake had frozen. And that was even worse because it helped the snowdrifts blow across areas where shoveling and plowing could be undone in a matter of minutes with the right (or wrong) gust of wind.

Prior to the first day of the blizzard, it had snowed just about every day since Christmas, so Mother Nature had a lot of ammo to work with. Buffalo had 33-59 inches of snow (depending on where you were) already on the ground before the blizzard even began. That made the snow even harder to move because it was densely packed. Construction equipment wasn’t enough to move some of it. There was no place to put the snow after a few hours.

The Blizzard was a regional event and not the worst blizzard

The Blizzard of 77 in Buffalo was one of the first to be broadcast around the world. This made it memorable to people well outside the region. And other regions got walloped as well.

The Blizzard of 78 was actually worse in some ways. 100 fatalities were recorded, and that nor’easter spread out farther. It affected New England, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York. Plenty of people felt it in the Midwest as well!).

Part of what made the Blizzard of 77 so memorable is the help that came from around the country in its aftermath. The National Guard set up a post in the city of Buffalo. Equipment came from as far as Colorado to help with the clean-up.

Only around 12 inches of new snow fell during the blizzard itself. But the winds of nearly 70 mph were enough to maim and kill. So were the Arctic temperatures (the wind chill made it feel like −60 °F).

Extreme weather is a fact of life, but some events stand out in people’s memories more than others. The Blizzard of 77 is one of them.  WTF fun facts

Source: “On this day 45 years ago, the Blizzard of ’77 struck – stories from the storm” — WIVB

WTF Fun Fact 13079 – Snowflakes Require Dust or Pollen

Snowflakes are frozen bits of water that form around a “nucleus.” That nucleus is something that must already exist in the air – like a dust or pollen particle.

How are snowflakes made?

All political jokes aside, snowflakes are actually an interesting natural phenomenon.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (cited below): “A snowflake begins to form when an extremely cold water droplet freezes onto a pollen or dust particle in the sky. This creates an ice crystal. As the ice crystal falls to the ground, water vapor freezes onto the primary crystal, building new crystals – the six arms of the snowflake.”

This doesn’t mean the air is dirty or polluted – after all, pollen is completely natural!

Who are snowflakes so unique?

You may be wondering why all snowflakes are unique if they each require the same circumstances in order to form.

NOAA has an answer for that!

Snowflakes are made up of ice crystals. These build up around the nucleus symetrically “because they reflect the internal order of the crystal’s water molecules as they arrange themselves in predetermined spaces (known as “crystallization”) to form a six-sided snowflake.”

A combination of air temperature, humidity, and the speed at which they fall determine precisely how the ice crystals form into different shapes. When it warmer, the crystals have a longer, sharper shape and when it’s cold, they tend to be shorter and flatter.

Snowflakes always have six sides, but those “arms” can branch off in different directions depending on those factors as well.

That’s why no two snowflakes are exactly alike.

Of course, when you get 5 or 6 feet of snow, it’s pretty hard to think about those snowflakes as individuals! They all go in the same shovel!  WTF fun facts

Source: “How do snowflakes form? Get the science behind snow” — NOAA

WTF Fact 12437 – The Speed of Snow

Most snowflakes fall at a speed of 1.5 mph, though some can reach up to 9 mph if they have picked up enough moisture to gain more mass.

Your typical snowflake traveling at a speed of 1.5 mph travels a long way before hitting the ground – 45 minutes to an hour.

Some other fun facts about snow include:

  • Snow is not white, it’s translucent
  • The first ever snowflake photograph was taken in Vermont in 1885
  • Chionophobia is the condition of being afraid of snow (that’s different from simply not liking it, of course)
  • While it can be too warm to snow (of course), it can never be too cold to snow
  • Snow can actually warm you up becase it’s at least 90% trapped air – that’s why animals burrow in the snow for warmth and people can live safely in igloos
  • Each winter in the US, roughly 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 (or 1 septillion – that’s 24 zeroes!) fall from the sky

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Source: “10 facts about snow” — Met Office