The entire state of Maryland experienced a strong and dangerous storm Tuesday, with high wind and flood warnings from Oakland to Salisbury. Baltimore could see between 1.5-2.5 inches of rain today.
But ... it’s January. Instead of salting roads, shoveling sidewalks and building snowmen, people are distributing sandbags, bracing for power outages and staying huddled indoors.
Shouldn’t this rainy, windy storm be a blizzard?
Historically speaking, yes. For more than 100 years, the Baltimore area has recorded at least a half inch of snow each winter season, according to data from the National Weather Service — until last year, when we got just 0.2 inches of measurable snow. On average, the region has seen about 20 inches of snow each season.
In January, 6.6 inches is the average snowfall for the Baltimore area, according to the NWS data from 1919 through last season. So far this winter, the Baltimore area has seen just “trace” amounts of snowfall, according to Kevin Whitt, a meteorologist at the Baltimore-Washington Office of the National Weather Service.
In the United States, 1 inch of rain would average out to be about 13 inches of snow, according to the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration National Severe Storms Laboratory. While today’s rainfall totals likely wouldn’t be enough to break snowfall records, there would potentially be enough snow on the ground to close schools for a day or two (or three).
Jen LaHatte lives, and grew up in, Cockeysville. She has two boys, a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old. It makes her a little sad, she said, that they haven’t really experienced the big snowstorms that she remembers from childhood.
“My youngest, he has not had snow his entire life. I think back to those big blizzards and have such good memories of sledding in the neighborhood and being off school and just hanging out at the house,” she said. “I’m not sure they’ll get to experience that.”
Eva Burton, another Cockeysville parent, has a 3 1/2-year-old daughter named Hadley. When the region got a few wet flurries earlier this month, Hadley wanted to go sledding for the first time.
“In her mind, when the snow comes down, you get the sled,” Burton said. “She has no understanding of how much snow you need to move a sled.”
The snow didn’t cooperate, though. Burton said the yard was muddy and there wasn’t any real snow sticking. Hadley was definitely disappointed, she said.
It’s a sharp difference from what Burton and LaHatte both said they remember from growing up in Maryland and having snow days with significant amounts of powder to play in.
“It’s such a crazy idea that they could grow up and have a totally different experience with snow,” Burton said.
Instead of salting roads and preparing snowplows, officials are making preparations for heavy rain and damaging winds around the state, with several public school systems in Maryland closing early and cancelling after school activities. Gov. Wes Moore declared Maryland’s first “state of preparedness” this afternoon, enhancing the ability to respond to disasters.
“I am directing the Department of Emergency Management to coordinate the comprehensive preparation of State government ahead of potential impacts related to the incoming weather system,” Moore said in a statement. “The safety and security of our residents is our top priority. Please remain vigilant, use common sense, and have a plan in place especially if you are in low-lying areas prone to flooding or where flooding is expected.”
Why isn’t it snowing?
According to NWS data, Baltimore’s average January temperature is around 34 degrees. With a high temperature in the mid-50s in the region today, it’s simply too warm for it to snow. And because of climate change, we should get used to milder winters.
“We’re warming, that is not breaking news,” said Michael Allen, an assistant professor in the department of Geography and Environmental Planning at Towson University.
The distinction between “weather” and “climate” can be confusing but is important to understand when talking about weather events and climate change. Allen said a good way to imagine it is by thinking of “climate” as what you expect, and “weather” being what you get. And the temperature that we expect to see in the Baltimore area is increasing, Allen said.
“If we’re warmer, the potential for snowfall decreases. The probability has decreased,” he said.
In fact, climate scientists on Tuesday confirmed that 2023 was the hottest year on record. As climate continues to change, the area around Baltimore is projected to feel more like areas in the Deep South — warmer and wetter.
The silver lining, though: Allen says it’s a complete “fallacy” to think that the probability of snow events decreasing means that it will never snow again — or even that it will not snow this year.
“Winter is not over by any means,” he said.