The Washington region has seen snowfall records collapse in a succession of unprecedented storms, but residents shouldn't let their guard down -- more bursts of winter weather are forecast to flummox the area in the coming weeks.
The D.C. area has never experienced a winter like this one, at least since records were first kept in 1872. The mid-Atlantic, from D.C. to Philadelphia, has had snowfalls totals this winter typical of Alaska and Maine. And there is more to come. It is still February, after all, and the weather patterns causing all the white stuff have not changed.
"It seems like the atmosphere has a memory, where it keeps funneling right to you guys," said Andrew Ulrich, a meteorologist with Accuweather.
El Nino continues to rule the weather. Unusually warm water in the central Pacific Ocean have spurred record rainfall and dangerous mudslides on the West Coast and left much of the northern half of the United States in drought.
The D.C. area, meanwhile, has been overmatched by a series of storms marching up the East Coast into a sea of cold air. By Wednesday evening, Ronald Reagan Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports had set all-time seasonal snowfall records, 55.9 and 72.8 inches respectively.
The numbers are utterly out of whack. Reagan National's annual norm is about 18 inches of snow. Last winter, with 2 inches, was the driest on record. And while the nation's capital is storm-weary, Vancouver, Canada -- site of the Winter Olympics -- is suffering a snow shortage.
Edward O'Lenic, senior meteorologist and chief of the Operations Branch of the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, said the pattern "pretty much keeps on going," which is consistent with El Nino. But there is a wild card this winter, he said, an unpredictable weather phenomena known as the arctic oscillation.
For much of the past decade, the arctic oscillation was in a positive phase, meaning high pressure centered over the midlatitudes of Europe and North America drove ocean storms to the north -- keeping D.C. generally warm and dry while places like Alaska, Scotland and Scandinavia were cold and wet.
But the patter has flipped this season. Warmer high pressure now dominates the arctic while low pressure and cold air are diving south into the mid-Atlantic. It is, O'Lenic said, the "perfect combination" for storms.
It's weird all over. Take Monday's forecast clipper, a storm that normally wouldn't drop more than an inch or two on the D.C. area. In this case, Ulrich said, the models suggest the storm might tap into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico. And that means another snowstorm.
Snow totals, so far
» Reagan National: 55.9 inches
» Dulles International: 75 inches
» Baltimore Washington International: 79.9 inches