What is the Snowiest Location in the U.S. and the World?

Back on January 23, 2012, we posted a Top News Story asking for your guess on what was the snowiest location in Wisconsin, the lower 48 States, all 50 States, North America and on Earth.   We're referring to average annual snowfall.

After surfing the web we concluded that obtaining official statistics was difficult.  Here's what we found:

1.  What location in Wisconsin has the highest average annual snowfall?  How many inches of snow?

Hurley, Iron County, 167.5 inches per winter season.

2.  What location in the U.S. (consider the lower 48 states) has the highest average annual snowfall?

Most sources officially list Paradise Ranger Station in Mt. Rainer National Park, Washington, with values ranging from 671 to 680 inches, but some sources have it as low as 630 inches. 

3.  What location in the U.S. (consider all 50 States) has the highest average annual snowfall?

Most sources officially list Paradise Ranger Station in Mt. Rainer National Park, Washington, with values ranging from 671 to 680 inches, but some sources have it as low as 630 inches.  However, some sources estimate that the mountains and glaciers that makeup the Juneau Ice Field average over 1000 inches per year based on geophysical analysis.  So some location in southeast coastal mountains of Alaska is probably the snowiest location in all 50 States. 

4.  What location in North America has the highest average annual snowfall? 

Many sources officially list Paradise Ranger Station in Mt. Rainer National Park, Washington, with values ranging from 671 to 680 inches, but some sources have it as low as 630 inches.  Snow measurements are taken year-round at this location.  However, some sources estimate the mountains and glaciers that makeup the Juneau Ice Field average over 1000 inches per year based on geophysical analysis.  Christopher C. Burt, Weather Historian, and author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book' suggests that some coastal mountain in southeast Alaska or British Columbia, Canada, is probably the snowiest location North America.

5.  What location in the world has the highest average annual snowfall?

Although Paradise Ranger Station in Mt. Rainier National Park, Washington, with values ranging from 671 to 680 inches (but some sources have it as low as 630 inches), is the snowiest place on Earth where snowfall is measured regularly, evidence suggests there are snowier locations.

Christopher C. Burt, Weather Historian, and author of 'Extreme Weather; A Guide and Record Book' suggests the snowiest locations on Earth are:

·         Coastal mountain locations above 3,000 feet in southeast Alaska or British Columbia, Canada.

·         Japanese Alps of Honshu Island around the 2,000-6,000’ level. The average annual snowfall is estimated to be in the 1200-1500” range (see The Climate of Japan by Fukui p. 171).

·         The Alps of the South Island of New Zealand above 3,000 to 4,000 feet.

·         The southern tip of the Andes near Tierra del Fuego and Patagonia, in Chile and Argentina, above the 3,000- to 4,000-foot level.

·         Southern flanks of the high Himalayas east of the 80° longitude.

Mauri Spelto, a glaciologist at Nichols College, based on his work on Mt. Baker, Washington, and elsewhere, suggests the snowiest locations on Earth are:

·         The Southern Patagonia Ice Field in the border of Chile and Argentina in South America, or

·         Mountains on South Georgia Island which is east of the southern tip of South America.

The problem is we don't have reliable snow measurements taken on a daily basis over a long period of time (30 years is recommended) at the snowiest locations mentioned in Section 5 above.  Therefore, we can't definitively point to any one location and say that it's the snowiest location on Earth.  Researchers can only professionally estimate using geophysical analysis.

It should be obvious that the world's snowiest locations, for the most part, are found in coastal mountain locations on the west side of land masses which experience an abundance of winter-time low pressure systems laden with evaporated oceanic moisture.  One of the exceptions is the north island of Japan which experiences large "ocean-effect" snow showers after low pressure systems pass through that area.  Cold Siberian air moving southeast toward Japan picks up moisture from the Sea of Japan which leads to prodigious snowfalls on Japan's north island.

Another obvious fact is the snowiest locations tend to be found between 40 degrees and 50 degrees latitude, not up near the North Pole or South Pole where the air tends to be much colder.  Cold air holds less moisture.


U.S. Seasonal Snowfall Record:  Mt. Baker Ski Resort officially measured 1140 inches of snow (95 feet or about 30 meters) in the 1998-99 winter season.  Previously, the old U.S. seasonal record was 1122 inches measured at Paradise Ranger Station at the 5400 ft. level on Mt Rainier in Washington State in the 1971-72 winter season.

On a related note, Mauri Spelto's research results on Mt. Baker in Washington State indicate 57 to 59 meters (2244 to 2323 inches) of snow accumulated on Easton Glacier at the 2450 meter (8000 ft) level during the snow-year of 1998-99.  At the 1900 meter (6200 ft.) level his calculations indicate 47 to 49 meters (1850 to 1929 inches) accumulated during the same time period.  This was the same winter that the Mt. Baker Ski Resort officially measured 1140 inches of snow (95 feet or about 30 meters), which still stands as the U.S. seasonal snowfall record.  Here is a link to some of his work:  www.nichols.edu/departments/glacier/summer_snowpack_variations_with_.htm 

Below is a bar graph of the greatest snowfall measured in one winter season at various locations in the U.S....Easton Glacier at 8,000 ft level on Mt. Baker, Washington, Easton Glacier at 6,200 ft level, Mt. Baker Ski Resort, Washington, Paradise Ranger Station, Washington, Hurley, WI, Milwaukee, and Madison.  So, do you think we get a lot of snow in Wisconsin?

Greatest Snowfall in One Season

Click on image for larger version

Above the bar graph we briefly described the record seasonal snow of 1140 inches at the Mt. Baker Ski Resort which averages on an annual basis anywhere from 650 to 700 inches depending on the information source.  Let's take the middle number of 675 inches.  This is roughly 59% of 1140 inches.  Since this was a record snow season for the Mt. Baker Ski Resort, let's apply this percentage to the professionally estimated 2300 inches that fell higher up on Mt. Baker at the 8000 foot level during the same record year.  Fifty-nine percent of 2300 inches gives us an estimated average annual snowfall of roughly 1360 inches at that higher location!  Therefore, one may wish to add the Mt. Baker area to questions #2, #3, #4, and #5 listed above. 


Kapela, WFO Milwaukee,
@rkapelawx



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