Pity poor Clevelanders, especially during the winter. No hockey, no more LeBron James and, to top it all off, more snow than almost every major metro area in the U.S. The winds of Lake Erie pushing storms over the city drop an average of 59.3 inches of snow onto Cleveland each winter, according to historical data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
It’s enough to make Cleveland the second-snowiest major city in the U.S., just a couple of flakes behind Denver, which just tops 60 inches annually. But at least Denver boasts a claim as a gateway to a winter wonderland, with picturesque mountains and first-class skiing just a few miles away.
And while the Rocky Mountain area gets plenty of relatively warm days in the winter that help melt each snowfall pretty quickly (the average daily winter temperature in Denver sits above freezing), Cleveland’s cold Lake Erie winds and 28-degree average temperature during the winter months make for a tough slog.
The NOAA tracks snow accumulations in various U.S. metro areas with historical records that go back anywhere from 50 to 150 years. We’re sticking to the top 50 metros — a snow alert for America’s cities.
A recent oddity has snowstorms shutting down parts of the South, with areas of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi getting a rare taste of the true winter life. Historically, of course, it’s the North that gets pelted, mainly where the cold weather mixes over mountains, lakes or oceans. Five the 10 snowiest metro areas hail from the Great Lakes region, where so-called lake-effect snow — the phenomenon of cold winds blowing across warm lakes, picking up water vapor and then depositing in onshore after it freezes — pelts nearby cities. The four in addition to Cleveland: Minneapolis-St. Paul (49.9 inches a year), Milwaukee (47.3 inches), Detroit (41.1 inches), and Chicago (38.8 inches).
The two coastal cities that make it into the top 10 are Boston (43.2 inches a year), which is getting whacked this winter, and New York (28.9 inches), where Mayor Michael Bloomberg is still recovering from the day-after-Christmas blizzard that dented in his approval ratings after residents in the outer boroughs complained about the pace of the street plowing. (Note to New Yorkers: Think about hiring a plow guy through a local neighborhood association. Relying on a big, centralized operation to take care of every last neighborhood street is just asking for trouble).
Taking all U.S. cities of any size into account, America’s true snow capitals are smaller-population areas like Sault Ste. Marie, Mich.; Lander, Wyo.; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Syracuse, N.Y.--places that routinely get pounded with 90 or more inches each winter. And parts of Nevada and California amid the Sierra Nevada Mountains are among the snowiest spots on the continent. But don’t believe all the hype about Fargo, N.D. It only gets about 40 inches a year, less than nearby Minneapolis.