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Worst. Winter. Ever? Not so fast, volunteer weatherman says

Posted on Thursday, April 10, 2014 at 2:08 pm

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To most, the winter season that just ended was the worst in years. But according to John Newell, a volunteer weather observer for the National Weather Service, the town has not received as much winter weather as one would think.

John Newell with his backyard rain gauge in Ashland.

John Newell with his backyard rain gauge in Ashland.

“It wasn’t an unusual winter for snow,” Newell said.

According to Newell’s data, Ashland has seen 20.9 inches from December 2013 to now, only slightly more than the town’s “normal snowfall” of 19.4 inches. So far, there were roughly 32 occasions where it either snowed or flurried between December of last year and March, Newell said.

Newell is a part of the NWS’ program, cooperative observers, which includes a network of people all over the United States. The organization loans Newell equipment to gauge rainfall, temperature and snowfall.

Since 1970, Newell, 74, has recorded the weather almost every day from his backyard “weather station” for the National Weather Service’s Virginia climate reports. During the 44 years Newell has kept tabs on local weather, the most snow seen in Ashland was a total of 60.4 inches over the winter of 1995 and 1996.

“That’s the most snowfall I’ve ever had in a winter season,” Newell said.

Every day at 6 p.m., raining or dry, he collects data from temperature gauges and uses other tools to measure precipitation. Newell said that often his temperature measurements are “inflated” because of the time of day he records them.

All of his reports are compiled with others collected from a number of volunteers across the state as part of a monthly report for Virginia’s weather.

His interest in the climate and weather conditions began earlier in life.

“I was always interested in snow and thunderstorms,” Newell said.

In 1955, while he was in high school, he started keeping track of the temperature with his own “unofficial” equipment in a small calendar recording the highs and lows for each day, Newell said.

Although Newell keeps track of more than just flurries, he is especially interested in snow. He has always kept record of how many times Ashland has had a “White Christmas,” which according to his data has not happened since 1981 and 1982 when there was just a little bit of snow on the ground.

One trend he has noticed over the years is differences in weather between Richmond and Ashland. That is part of the reason he said that he continues to be a cooperative observer.

Richmond usually only gets about half as much snow as Ashland because of its location, Newell said.

For instance, in 2009, there was a total of 49.3 inches of snow in Ashland and Richmond received about 20 inches. In the summer time, the city often reaches 100 degrees but Newell said Ashland rarely sets into triple digits.

The other reason Newell does not plan on stopping his daily reports is because he wants Ashland to have consistent reports.

Whenever Newell cannot tend to his daily local duties, he said another Ashland weather guru, Bob Grattan, makes sure to send in weather reports, so that the data is consistent.

“That’s the reason there isn’t missing data,” Newell said.

Although the reports are not as consistent before Newell started, he wants to keep them going as long as he can.

“It’d be nice to keep the record going,” he said.