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Altered weather data breaks this winter's no-snow streak

For sledders and shredders, this has already been a painfully snowless winter, but Charlottesville seemed to have a consolation prize.

It was hurtling toward the record books with a no-measurable-snow winter, but something happened Tuesday to upset this perfect non-storm: a major weather office altered its data for Sunday’s flurries.

“Originally, that was measured as a trace,” meteorologist Travis Koshko of CBS19 told the Daily Progress. “But then the correction was made to two tenths of an inch.”

Goodbye, zero-snow winter.

Koshko takes some solace in the fact that Charlottesville has already broken the record for having a snowless “meteorological winter.” But he concedes that the usually chilly months that constitute meteorological winter— December, January and February— are not the official time-frame of astronomers, who don’t declare spring until 5:24 p.m. on March 20.

“This is the first meteorological winter on record without any missing data at McCormick Observatory without any measurable snow since records began,” Koshko tweeted on the last day of February with this hashtag: “#TheWinterThatWasNot”

Koshko enjoys tracking weather history via a listserv email from the University of Virginia’s McCormick Observatory, which began record-keeping in January 1893, according to Ricky Patterson, UVa’s longtime weather watcher and a research director at the University of Virginia Library.

Patterson has overseen the listserv, which initially measured the snowfall on Jan. 8 and the one on March 12 as a “trace,” a designation that doesn’t constitute a measurable snowfall. But in an afternoon email on Tuesday, that second trace was upgraded to .2 inches. What precipitated that?

“The original observation was typed into the recording form for the National Weather Service incorrectly,” Patterson told the Daily Progress.

Weather data is supposed to be sacrosant, but Patterson contends that there’s nothing nefarious about this altered number.

“A team of observers have been recording the observations until a new, permanent, volunteer is in place,” Patterson wrote in an email. “This team-based approach isn’t ideal of course, because it’s easier to introduce errors when you don’t have someone consistently carrying out the observations.”

Patterson says that he was formerly the lead volunteer weather observer but stepped down in July, and the state climatologist, Jerry Stenger, who Patterson says would readily pitch in, has retired and his position left unfilled by the state.

Patterson notes that this could still become the winter with the lowest total record snowfall at the observatory. The previous low in a year with complete records was 1918-19, with just one inch of snow. But he warns that March may still upset this race to the bottom.

Charlottesville saw a one-foot snowfall March 26-27 back in 1971 and reminds that mid- and late-March snowfalls are not uncommon.

For Koshko, a nearly snowless winter is slightly frustrating.

“I like Central Virginia because we normally have four distinct seasons,” said Koshko, “and I do like a decent snow or two every winter.”


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