A number of years ago I published an analysis about periods of cold winter weather that had little snow (Cold & Dry: A Snow Lover's Nightmare). This new post focuses on the longest periods between snowfalls regardless of temperature. And while I refer to these snowless periods as "droughts" that's somewhat of a misnomer since a typical winter in New York sees, on average, just twelve days with measurable snow, so it's not uncommon for many days to go by between snowfalls (however, "drought" was catchier than "extended number of days between snowfalls"). But as I was pulling the information together I realized there were variations on snow droughts so I've included them as well.
There have been ten winters with less than ten inches of snow, the most recent being the winter of 2020 (the average snowfall of winters since 2000 has been 33"). In the 1950s there were six consecutive winters, from 1950 thru 1955, with less than 20 inches; and there were five in a row with less than 15 inches, from 1928 thru 1932. The least snow to fall in back-to-back winters occurred in 1997 and 1998, which had only 10.0" and 5.5", respectively. (By contrast, there have been 18 snowstorms with greater accumulations than those two winters combined.)
Since the winter of 1870 there have been eleven snow-free periods that lasted seven weeks or longer. Two were in the 19th century and were in consecutive winters; all of the others have been since the winter of 1950. The winter of 1953-54 stand outs for having two droughts among the eleven (that winter had 15.1" of snow). The winter with the second longest drought, (1983) had the most snow, 27.2" (nearly two-thirds of the snow came from the blizzard of Feb. 17-18).
WINTERS IN WHICH ONE MONTH DOMINATED THE SEASON'S SNOWFALL
A number of winters had sparse snowfall in all months but one. The most recent was in 2016 when January had New York's biggest snowfall of all time. And it also happened in the back-to-back winters of 1925 and 1926.
BIG SNOWFALLS FOLLOWED BY LENGTHY HIATUS
- It appeared the blizzard of Feb. 11-12, 1983 (17.6") would be the last snowfall of the winter, but then more than nine weeks later 0.8" fell on April 18.
- In the winter of 1892 an eight-inch snowfall at the end of February was followed by 44 days until the next snowfall. Two winters prior to 1892 there was another eight-inch snowfall, this one followed by 27 days with no snow.
- On Dec. 27, 1934 11.2" fell and then the next snowfall wasn't for nearly five weeks (but the snow that fell on Jan. 28 amounted to just 0.1").
- A snowfall of 8.9" on Feb. 26-27, 1991 was followed by 30 snow-free days.
- On the first day of December in 1882 there was a nine-inch snowfall and then the rest of the month was snow free. The streak ended on New Year's Day when 0.3" was measured.
- A snowfall of 7.9" on Valentine's Day 1975 was followed by four weeks with no measurable snow.
BIG SNOWFALLS AFTER A LENGTHY HIATUS
- NYC's second biggest snowfall of all-time, 26.9" on Feb. 11-12, 2006, came nearly four weeks after the previous snowfall (two inches on Jan. 16)
- 15.3" fell during the "Lindsay snowstorm" of Feb. 9-10, 1969, breaking a string of 32 snowless days.
- During the winter of 1995 a snowstorm of 10.8" on Feb. 4 came 23 days after the previous snowfall, which amounted to just 0.2". (The Feb. 4 snowfall accounted for almost all of the winter's accumulation of 11.8".)
- During the winter of 1908 a snowfall of ten inches on Jan. 23-24 broke a string of 39 days without snow.
- The April blizzard of 1982 dumped 9.6" of snow 32 days after the previous snowfall on March 4 (of just 0.7").
- In March 1981 a snowfall of 8.6" on the 5th broke a snow-free streak of nearly seven weeks.
MINIMAL SNOWFALL AT BEGINNING/END OF DROUGHTS
An argument can be made that qualifying a drought as ended when snowfall is less than an inch doesn't really mean a drought has ended since it's an insignificant amount. There have been sixteen hiatuses of four weeks or longer in which a half-inch or less of snow fell at both ends. The smallest amounts were dustings of 0.1" at the beginning and end of a 36-day streak in the winter of 1901; this was matched in the winter of 1975 when amounts of 0.1" were separated by 29 days. Additionally, snowfalls of 0.2/0.1 bracketed 29 days in between during the winter of 1943, and two 0.2" snowfalls were separated by streaks of 44, 34 and 28 days in the winters of 1992, 1918 and 1934, respectively.
SIGNIFICANT SNOWFALLS BEFORE/AFTER SNOW DROUGHTS
Most recently, the winter of 2013 had a 26-day period with no snow that was book-ended by snowfalls of 11.4" (Feb. 8-9) and 4.0" (March 8). And during the winter of 2009 a snowfall of 4.3" on Feb. 3 was followed by 25 days with no snow which ended when 8.3" fell on March 1-2.
In winter of 1915 a snowfall of 7.7" on March 6-7 was followed by 26 days with no snow and then there was a snowfall of 10.2" on April 3-4. And earlier that winter snowfalls of 4.4" and 7.7" were separated by 30 snowless days.
The longest drought bracketed by significant snowfalls occurred during the winter of 1906 when a snowless period of 32 days began after a snowfall of 6.0" on Feb. 9 and ended when 6.5" fell on March 14-15.
The winter of 1875 had a four-week period with no snow, with a snowfall of ten inches five days before Christmas on one end and five inches on Jan. 18.
SNOW-FREE DAYS BETWEEN WINTERS
The average number of snow-free days between winters is 264 days (or 38 weeks, about the length of a full-term pregnancy). The longest number of days with no measurable snow was 320 between the winter of 1972 and 1973 (Mar. 15, 1972 - Jan. 28, 1973), followed very closely by the 319-day respite in 2002 (Jan. 20 thru Dec. 4).
Eighteen winters had their last snowfalls before March 1, the most recent being the winter of 2020, which had its last snowfall on Jan. 18 (2.1" fell). The winter of 2002's last snowfall (3.0" was measured) happened one day later than 2020's and came just twelve days after the first snowfall. Although the period between the two snowfalls was minimal, the fact that there was no measurable snow in November, December, February, March or April, makes this winter the title holder of the "Greatest Snow Drought" competition.
Finally, there have been six winters to go out with a bang, so to speak, with their last snowfalls amounting to more than nine inches. Three were in February, the other three were after the spring equinox. By far the greatest of these accumulations was the winter of 2010's final snowfall, a monster of a snowstorm, on Feb. 25-26, that buried the City under 20.9" (New York's fifth biggest snowstorm of all time). The other five winters: Winter of 1979 (12.7" on Feb. 19); 1915 (10.2" on April 3-4); 1967 (9.8" on March 21-22); 1903 (9.8" on Feb. 15-17) and 1982 (9.6" on April 6).