Tracking snowfall patterns

MARQUETTE – Continuing a trend begun three winters ago, Marquette County is on a pace to log another winter with below average snowfall.

“The last three years, we’ve been significantly below normal,” said Steve Fleegel, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Office in Negaunee Township.

During the winter of 2011-12, a total of 152.8 inches of snow fell at the former Marquette County Airport, where the NWS office is located. In 2010-11, 159.6 inches of snow fell, while 163.1 inches was recorded in the winter of 2009-10.

Fleegel said he’s discovered that in winters with below normal snowfall at the end of December, the seasonal normal snowfall is not often attained for the season. So far, we are below normal.

“If past data is any indication, we’ve only got about a 25 percent chance of getting back to normal for the season,” Fleegel said.

Since July 1, a total of 51.4 inches of snow had fallen at the NWS office by Friday, where they’ve kept snowfall records since 1961. That figure is 35.5 inches below the normal average of 86.9 inches by this date, and 5.4 inches less than last year’s total of 56.8 for this same point in the season.

Contrary to popular thought, some of the past decades have actually produced winters with lesser snowfall totals than some of the more recent years.

Winters during almost the entire decade of the 1960s saw season snowfall totals that rank among the Top 10 least snowiest at the Negaunee Township office. Of those Top 10 least snowfall rankings, seven are held by winters during the 1960s.

The winter with the least snowfall was 1962-63 when a total of 68.2 inches fell. The second least snowfall winter was in 1967-68 when 72.1 inches fell. Third least snowiest was 1963-64 with 79 inches and fourth was 1965-66 with 92.4 inches. Fifth place is held by the winter of 1972-73 with 95.3 inches.

The top five winters with the most snowfall in a season were recorded during the past two decades. The record season snowfall was logged at 319.8 inches during the winter of 2001-02. Second on the snowiest winters list was 272.2 inches recorded during the winter of 1996-97. Third snowiest was the winter of 2000-01 when 268 inches of snow fell. Fourth was the winter of 1995-96 with 251.4 inches. Fifth snowiest of the winters occurred in 2008-09 with 246 inches falling.

With one exception -the winter of 2006-07- the remaining five winters in the Top 10 with the most snowfall occurred during the decade of the 1980s.

Staff at the NWS office previously calculated the average winter snowfall on a 30-year time-span from 1971 to 2000, which produced an average of 184.7 inches of snowfall. When the 30-year period was recently moved forward to 1981-2010, the average winter snowfall increased to 203.3 inches.

Despite all of the statistical data on the past, the current and future snowfall totals will continue to rely on whether the winter’s largest snow events hit the region.

“It all depends on where the storms track,” Fleegel said.

For the week ahead, the weather service is forecasting colder temperatures and some chance for snowfall, though no significant snow is expected.

From a less scientific perspective, the Farmer’s Almanac two-month forecast for Marquette predicts January precipitation to be about a half-inch below normal. For the first half of the week, the almanac is forecasting snow showers and colder temperatures, with snow showers and mild conditions from Thursday through the end of the month.

For February, the almanac predicts precipitation amounts to remain a half-inch below normal. From Feb. 1 through 9 – including Groundhog Day – the almanac is forecasting snow showers and cold temperatures, changing to sunny and very cold temperatures through Feb. 15, snow showers and temperatures turning mild for the rest of the month.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is