Will the pack survive?
Posted January 8th, 2013 by Bill Kardas. 52 comments
It's been a cold, snowy couple of weeks in Central New York, but things are about to change. Before we look ahead, let's take a brief look back at some of the stats over the past 2 weeks:
Average high: 31
Average low: 15
Considering those stats, folks not familiar with CNY climate would be surprised to know that despite more than 2 feet of total snow & temperatures mainly below freezing, the pack rests at less than a foot here in the valley! How does that happen? Some of it was due to melting, but most of it was due to compression. Compression happens when snowflakes pile on each other and the air between each flake is squeezed out (caused by gravity). The more air between the flakes, the less overall addition to the pack.
Compression is more dramatic in CNY compared to other climates due to the lakes. About half of the recent snowfalls came from lake effect - extremely fluffy snow with lots of air packed between the flakes. The high air content in the snow allows for 'super compaction'. For example, two inches of lake effect earlier last week compressed to just a quarter of an inch by the end of the day. Synoptic snowfall like nor'easters have much more water content and therefore much less compaction. This type of snow sticks around much longer. In a sense, lake effect snowfall artificially 'inflates' the numbers when compared to the actual snow pack. A more leveled approach to collecting snowfall totals would be to measure after compaction, but that process takes time and would be considered highly unpopular.
The reason I spent so much time talking about compaction is because it will play a big role in how well we keep the snowpack this week. The more the snow compresses, the more difficult it is to melt. More energy is required to melt snow with high water content than with low water content. The remaining snow in the area is dense and compact. It will take a while to melt. Still, if you've peaked at the ended outlook, everything points to an extended mild stretch of weather. Upper 30s to low 40s won't kill the snow pack...but mid 40s with wind and high humidity will. The outlook this weekend is calling for those conditions, so it's likely that most areas in CNY will lose the majority of remaining snow come the weekend.
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