Experts explain Kentucky’s hectic winter

Brittiny Moore

Southern Kentucky saw a record amount of snow for the 2015–2016 winter season.

During the seventh snowiest winter season on record, Bowling Green received 43.5 inches of snow over a 12-month period from Feb. 14, 2015, to Feb. 14, 2016.

Associate professor Gregory Goodrich, leader of WKU’s meteorology program, researched Bowling Green’s impressive snowfall record this winter season. Goodrich said it was more than five times the normal amount.

“There was about a 12-month window that we had an incredible amount of snowfall compared to normal,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich compared Bowling Green’s unusual snowfall to amounts that are more typical for U.S. cities farther north. During his research, Goodrich discovered that Bowling Green actually received more snow this season than Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit and Bismarck, North Dakota.

Goodrich’s research also revealed that Bowling Green received 15 inches more snow than Anchorage, Alaska. 

“Pretty much everywhere that gets a lot of snow in normal winter is below us,” Goodrich said.

In a press release, Goodrich credited El Nino, a climatic anomaly responsible for disrupting normal weather patterns, for both Kentucky’s remarkably heavy snow and northern cities’ lighter snowfall.

“All of this is related to El Nino,” Goodrich said. “The same reason we have so much snow is the same reason those places have less than normal.”

Geography and geology professor Stuart Foster directs the Kentucky Climate Center and is Kentucky’s State Climatologist. He explained that El Nino occurs when the atmosphere and oceans work together to create an active storm track farther south.

“The El Nino pattern occurs when you get warmer-than-normal surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific off the coast of South America,” Foster said. “That happens when the easterly winds get weaker, as they do during an El Nino.”

Foster said this active storm track in the south resulted in Kentucky as well as northern cities receiving abnormal snowfall amounts.

“What happens sometimes is with that active storm track, if enough of that cold air comes up along the Appalachian Mountains and along the coast, we can get a heavy snowfall,” Foster said.

Goodrich said climate change also had a small part to play in the amount of snowfall El Nino storm tracks have been able to produce.

“The oceans are the source of where the moisture for these storms comes from, and the oceans are warmer than they have been in, say, the last 30 years,” Goodrich said.

Goodrich said meteorologists will now begin setting their sights on the upcoming severe weather season beginning in April and May.

“Typically after the first week of March, things really start to change very dramatically,” he said.

Goodrich added that as El Nino continues to weaken, signs of an upcoming La Nina season, a climatic season causing the opposite effects of El Nino, are becoming more apparent.

“It’s just the opposite shift of the Pacific Ocean,” Goodrich said. “La Nina springs are actually some of our most active for severe weather.”

According to a report from the National Centers for Environmental Information, the Midwest region has high odds to experience El Nino through late spring.