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The Winter That Wasn’t: Significantly Less Snowfall, Higher Than Average Temperatures

By Paul T. Choate

March 9, 2012. For the past two winters the High Country had been a snow lover’s paradise. According to Ray’s Weather, last year Boone received 59 inches of snow and 83 inches two years ago. This winter, however, Boone has only seen 13.7 inches of snow as of the first week of March with spring not far away.

Over the last 52 years the average snowfall in Boone is 42.35 inches. Additionally, Ray’s Weather’s “Fearless Forecast” projected snow totals to be right at average — 42 inches.

This “winter that wasn’t” is due in large part to surprisingly higher temperatures than in previous winters. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the average temperatures in January are 39.3 degrees for a high and 19.6 degrees for a low. For January 2012, the average high was 44.8 degrees and the low was 28.5 degrees. 

The same is true for February. The historical average high is 42.5 degrees and the average low is 21.6 degrees. This February, however, temperatures were significantly higher. The average high this year was 48.8 degrees and the average low was 29.9 degrees.

According to Kevin Whittington, Watauga County maintenance engineer with the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT), road salt usage has been down significantly this year. In 2010, the Watauga branch of the NCDOT used 12,000 tons of road salt. In 2011, 8,000 tons were used. This year, however, only 3,300 tons have been used.

Whittington said that the Watauga branch of the NCDOT operates with two budgets. A “standing maintenance budget” and a larger “snow and ice budget” for bad winters. The “standing maintenance budget” has been in effect this winter.

“We have to pay our people one way or another,” said Whittington.

Whittington also added that independent contractors have not been called in for help as much and that has probably hurt their businesses. 

With so little snow in an area that generally receives all it can handle, an economic impact is not surprising. Another example comes from the local public transportation service, AppalCART, which has been on the roads significantly more this winter than in past years. This is attributed to the lack of snowy weather and therefore less days of route cancellations. Local ski resorts have also been impacted by the unusual weather this year, having to create much more artificial snow to compensate.

With the first day of spring only 12 days away, it appears that snow lovers in the High Country may find themselves disappointed from the “winter that wasn’t.”