Where’s the snow? Area sees second consecutive mild winter

Published 11:47 am Wednesday, February 14, 2024

It’s been two years since Smithfield or Surry saw snow.

The area saw a few flurries mixed with rain from a Jan. 15 winter storm, but the last measurable snowfall came Jan. 21, 2022. Last year, when Isle of Wight County Schools didn’t use a single snow day all winter, its School Board declared one in May to make up for the unused days off.

According to the National Weather Service, two consecutive snowless winters haven’t been seen in the area since the early 1990s. Smithfield went without a single snowstorm January through March of 1991 and again during the same three months in 1992.

Subscribe to our free email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

It’s on track to do so again.

Despite a mid-month cold snap, January was on average warmer and wetter than prior years.

Larry Brown, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Wakefield station, said temperatures across the area last month averaged three degrees above normal.

January snowfall in southeast Virginia averages around 3 inches, but “there’s a lot of years that are like this,” Brown said.

The region averaged 5.6 inches of snow per year from 1981 to 2010, according to NWS records. The NWS had forecast in December that the next three months would be warmer and wetter due to El Niño, a weather phenomenon that periodically causes the Pacific jet stream to move south and spread further east, continuing through the winter for the first time since 2018.

According to the NWS, snowfall totals are typically higher than normal in Southern states during El Niño winters than during its counterpart, La Niña, which produces periodic cooling in the Pacific. But the winter of 2023-24 has so far bucked the trend with more rain than snow.

Wakefield recorded just over 5 inches of rainfall last month, up from the 3.8-inch 30-year average for January. Newport News, the closest monitoring station to Smithfield, recorded 3.4 inches compared to a 3-inch average.

In 2023, Smithfield saw a record-tying February heatwave that peaked at 79 degrees for the first time since 1975. Brown, however, said this January’s warmer-than-usual temperatures and lack of snow are neither record-breaking nor significantly unusual.

“There’s a lot of variation in January,” Brown said.