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It May Seem Too Soon, But August Snow Has Happened in the U.S. Before
Published: August 22, 2019
August snow seems improbable in the U.S., but a few locations have previously picked up snow during this core summer month.
But snow has actually been documented over the past few days.
FOX 31 Denver meteorologist Brooks Garner tweeted this video of snow falling atop Mt. Evans, Colorado, on August 17. North America's highest paved road leads to the top of this 14,000-foot-plus summit about 60 miles west of Denver.
If you can't wait to hit the slopes, this photo of fresh snow in the Canadian Rockies taken Monday may grab your attention.
Snowfall near a 14,000-foot peak or above the Arctic Circle may not sound that odd for August.
But there are other locations at lower elevations and much farther south than the Arctic Circle that have seen at least a dusting of August snow.
A Bizarre August Winter Storm
In late August 1992, a bizarre winter storm the National Weather Service called "an unprecedented weather event" by August standards blanketed parts of Montana.
Great Falls picked up a whopping 8.3 inches of snow from August 22-23, the first and only time measurable snow was recorded in this northern Montana city since 1886.
Typical of early-season snow, most accumulations were on grassy areas. The weight of this wet snow brought down some tree limbs around the city.
Montana's capital city, Helena, picked up 6.2 inches of snow and 2 inches was recorded in Bozeman on the Montana State University campus.
While each of these locations is lower in elevation than Denver, they are hundreds of miles further north, and the magnitude of cold air trapped against the eastern slope of the Rockies allowed snow to reach the ground.
Record low temperatures were set in parts of Montana for eight of 10 days from August 21-30, including all-time August lows that still stand in Great Falls (30 degrees), Helena (28 degrees), Billings (35 degrees) and Butte (23 degrees).
If this August snowstorm wasn't shocking enough, consider the heat it followed.
Just three days before the snowstorm, Great Falls topped out at 95 degrees. Missoula, Montana, soared to 100 degrees on August 14.
Talk about whiplash.
August Snow Locations in the West
- Snow in the high country of the Rockies isn't that unusual any month; a dusting blanketed parts of Glacier National Park last Saturday, August 17.
- Yellowstone National Park picked up August snow on August 23, 1960. An observing site on the north side of Yellowstone Lake measured 3 inches there.
- Breckenridge, one of Colorado's most famous ski towns, picked up an inch of snow in late afternoon on August 14, 1978, providing an early tease for skiers and snowboarders itching to hit the slopes.
- The Washington and Oregon Cascades can certainly see August snow. Mt. Rainier's Paradise Ranger Station measured 0.5 inch of snow on August 21, 1960. Vacationers in Oregon's Crater Lake National Park, may have been surprised by a 4.5-inch snowfall on August 15-16, 1976.
- Alaska's North Slope and Brooks Range typically pick up August snow. America's northernmost city, Utqiagvik - formerly known as Barrow - averages 0.9 inch of snow each August, and can see snow year-round.
- Other interior Alaska cities that have also picked up August snow include: Bettles (Aug. 9, 1969 - 2.6 inches), McGrath (Aug. 26, 1998 - 0.9 inch), Northway (Aug. 10, 1969 - 3 inches) and Tok (Aug. 13, 1969 - 3.2 inches).
- Snow even reached the typically-milder Alaskan coast in August. Yakutat, about 200 miles west-northwest of Juneau, once measured snow on August 31, 1922 (1.5 inches).
Anywhere in the Midwest or East?
August snow is virtually nowhere to be found from the Plains to the East.
Most areas in the East and Midwest typically see their first snow of the season by either November or December.
Even typical cold spots like International Falls, Minnesota; Marquette, Michigan; and Caribou, Maine, have had to wait until middle or late September for their record earliest measurable snow.
There is one exception.
Sitting atop a 6,288-foot peak in the White Mountains of northern New Hampshire, the Mount Washington Observatory is the world's most extreme weather reporting station.
A 231-mph wind gust measured in 1934 atop the rocky peak is probably their most famous weather observation.
However, summer hikers to the summit should know that snow can never be completely ruled out, here.
"We have officially seen snow in every month of the year up here on the summit," said Adam Gill, weather observer and IT specialist with the Mount Washington Observatory in an email to weather.com.
Gill said a few snowflakes fell atop the summit just before midnight on Aug. 31, 2017. The August record snowfall there was 2.5 inches on Aug. 29-30, 1965.
So, if you plan to escape a hot, humid place and head to the mountain West in August, this is a cautionary tale.
While the chances are very low, don't be surprised by a few August flakes flying.
Thanks to research meteorologist Jared Rennie from the North Carolina Institute for Climate Studies for his considerable assistance with analyzing the data for this piece.
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