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Originally published in Seasonal Guide, January 10, 2013
The snow keeps falling

Measuring snow

Measuring snow the old fashioned way.

Photo by Jonathan Thomas Order prints of selected PBP photos.

Whether howling nor’easters or perfect snowfalls that beckon us outdoors with sled or snowshoes in hand, each winter seems to bring a wildly varying amount of snow.

At the southern tip of Deer Isle—otherwise known as Stonington—Penobscot Bay Press’s Caroline Spear, has kept an “at home” snowfall record for 25 years.

During her first recorded winter of 1987-88, a total of 71 inches of snow fell; the following year saw just a shade over half of that amount, 37 inches. The highest snowfall came in 1995-96, with 101 inches, and the second highest in 2010-11, with 93 inches from “lots of big snowfalls.” The following year brought the lowest, with only 24 inches. The 25-year average is 55.8 inches, Throw out the two highest and two lowest, and the average snowfall is a close 54.6, which means you can only count on one thing, it will snow. Predicting the amount? Nigh impossible.

Is it ever too cold to snow? It can snow even at incredibly cold temperatures as long as there is some source of moisture and some way to lift or cool the air. It is true, however, that most heavy snowfalls occur with relatively warm air temperatures near the ground, since air can hold more water vapor at warmer temperatures.

What is a blizzard? A nor’easter? The accepted definition of a blizzard, and that used by the National Weather Service, has winds blowing at least 35 mph combined with falling snow, or snow on the ground, to reduce visibility to ? mile or less for at least three hours. A nor’easter is a strong low-pressure system producing heavy snow, rain, and “tremendous” waves; wind gusts can exceed hurricane force in intensity. Its name comes from the continuously strong northeasterly winds blowing in from the ocean ahead of the storm and over the coastal areas.