[Note: many of our climate resources originally come from the blog of PhD climatologist Brian Brettschneider. If you like his work, go check him out and give him some traffic!]
One high priority question you might have is, “How tough are the winters in the area I’m considering a relocation to?”
Two data sets most folks will immediately check are winter temperatures (typical or lowest) and annual snowfall in inches. But this doesn’t really tell the whole picture of whether or not you’re in for a harsh winter. Here’s a few reasons why:
- How many days of winter tend to see the annual lowest temperature? One day of -15F is a very different winter than a month of -15F.
- How long do the typical cold temperatures last? Winter freeze from October to April is much harder than a freeze period from December to February.
- How much snow tends to pile up during the winter? If there is a freeze and thaw cycle in which an area gets 3 feet of snowfall but typically only has 6 inches on the ground, total snowfall can be misleading. And, that scenario would make for an easier winter than a place where 2 feet of snow come down at Thanksgiving and stays 2 feet deep until spring.
Looking again at the original work of Brian Brettschneider, he generated some winter maps with surprising results. He tallied up different sorts of winter weather advisories from 2009-2014 by county and illustrated the results on a map of the US showing all county lines. (The highlighted purple lines indicate boundaries for NWS offices who issue the warnings.)
The maps can be surprising because some counties where you would expect milder winters issue more winter weather warnings than counties you would expect to be worse.
The biggest limitation to keep in mind is that warnings and advisories are issued as a judgement call of the responsible NWS office. So, unlike temperature data, there is a human element here. But consider it as a gauge of how often the weatherman in a county will tell you you’d best stay home that day.