700 million pounds of salt pile up as New York nears record snow drought

Oh the weather is outside…too warm for snow, and Hell’s Kitchen has the gigantic piles of salt to prove it. It’s been 322 days without any measurable snowfall in New York City, leaving many wondering how long the streak will last — and as we near a record lack of flakes, W42ST spoke to Climate Central meteorologist to find out more.

Hell’s Kitchen’s mountain of salt at the Department of Sanitation Depot on W55th Street isn’t getting any smaller. Photo: Naty Caez

Although deadly snowstorms have already hit western New York, the Big Apple has not received an accumulated snowfall of at least 0.1 inches since March 9, 2022. The first record that would fall is the date of the first snowfall of the season. If we don’t see snowfall by January 29th, it will beat the 1973 winter record of late snowfall. Then the all-time record of 2020 of 332 days without snow will be beaten if there is no fall by February 4th. Spoiler: So far, there is little prospect of the white stuff in sight.

The city’s snow plows have only been used for jaunts so far and unused salt piles up at Hell’s Kitchen Sanitation Station on W55th Street, one of the city’s depots that together have plenty of salt on hand. The Department of Sanitation told W42ST: “We stockpile 700 million pounds of salt and we’ve only used a tiny, tiny fraction of that to keep roads from freezing over. As always, we remain prepared with our 700 million pounds of salt, our fleet of spreaders and plows, and our highest consistent workforce in decades. And of course our salt doesn’t go bad – we keep what we don’t use this year!”

We asked Climate Central meteorologist Lauren Casey to tell us how we got from the polar vortices of 2014 and 2015 and the North Easter of 2022 to the thunderstorms of January 2023 that replaced snowstorms. “It all boils down to two main things. To get snow, you need cold air and humidity,” Casey said. “The problem is that we’re in a warming world — and winter is a season that’s warming up the fastest in almost every place in the United States. The average winter temperature in New York City has warmed 3.6 degrees since 1970. We’re seeing less cold air and cold snaps, and the air isn’t cold enough to carry snow.”

The Circle Line breaks through the ice in 2015. Video: Phil O’Brien

The average date of the first measurable snowfall in New York City is December 7, Casey said, adding that the city is “far overdue” for a storm. Snowfall is measured outside of Central Park, making it possible to see the hyper-local effects of climate change impacts on the New York area.

As for the snow buckets in the backcountry, Casey explained that the dramatic storms featured the other sign of the coin. “A warmer atmosphere can hold more moisture — about 4 percent per degree Fahrenheit,” she said. “So if you put the cold air in place, those snowfalls can be bigger. At Buffalo in particular, the lakes see less ice, there is more warm water and that increases the lake effect snow.”

Snow plows warm up in Hell’s Kitchen this October. So far they haven’t really had to be used. Photo: Phil O’Brien
Remember that? Snow on 9th Avenue. Photo: Phil O’Brien

And what about the city’s late-2022 cold snaps and bewildering temperature swings? Asked about the recent jumps between single-digit temperatures and early spring weather, Casey said the whiplash was due to Arctic warming and its impact on the region’s jet stream. “Usually the jet stream fills up cold Canadian arctic air and doesn’t let it go far south when the jet stream is fast.”

She added: “The jet stream speeds up as we see a larger difference in our temperature range between the mid-latitudes where we live and the Arctic. As you begin to reduce this temperature difference through Arctic Warning, you move the jet stream more slowly and “ripple”. And when we get these big jumps in the jet stream, that cold air can go pretty far south.”

Arctic warming is producing shorter cold snaps, Casey said, with fewer winter nights below freezing and therefore less snow. “If it’s not freezing at night, it’s definitely not snowing,” she added. “All of our seasons are warming, and winter is warming the fastest.”

Will Hell’s Kitchen look like this anytime soon? Photo: Phil O’Brien

Casey wouldn’t bet on whether a possible Wednesday flood could break the city’s warm spell. “You have a chance of light snow [Wednesday] Tomorrow,” she said. “But it will transition to rain, and that could worsen any measurable snowfall.” And after that, the forecast is dry well into January 29. So it looks like a record-breaking drought is coming and snowshoes are out.

Still, the Department of Sanitation is ready — and looking for volunteers — if NYC ever snows properly again: