The Ozarks have experienced a couple of pretty significant snowfalls this winter.
The first was a real doozie, dumping about 12-inches in the region. The second wasn’t quite as robust, but any time seven inches covers the ground, people in these parts take notice.
Yep, a couple of pretty major snow “events.” Um, relatively speaking.
There’s a place that’s known as the snowiest on Earth. In this place, snowfall like we’ve seen this winter in south-central Missouri would do little more than blend in with the rest, and make no noticeable difference in the overall scheme of things.
It’s on the west side of island of Honshu – the largest in the chain of islands that make up the country of Japan – and is aptly known as the “Japanese Alps.” The deepest snow in the planet’s snowiest place accumulates at around the 2,000-6,000-foot level, where the average annual snowfall is in the range of – get this – 1,200 to 1,500 inches.
On Feb. 14, 1927 a snow depth of 465.4 inches was measured at the 5,000-foot level on Mt. Ibuki in the Japanese Alps (it’s the .4 that makes all the difference). Not surprisingly, the region’s amazing snow depths are a tourist attraction, and a highway known as the Yuki-no-Otani Snow Canyon that transects the mountains is kept open all winter. The road is often flanked by vertical walls of snow 30 feet high or more (sometimes a lot more – like 55 feet).
The area’s crazy snowfall is due to Siberian winds that sweep in from the north, bringing tons of moisture and cold air. The conditions are so perfect for the development of snow, it’s like there’s a giant snow making machine running almost 24-7 from November to April.
Personally, I can’t imagine a snow depth of 30 to 50 feet (or more). Sheesh, when there’s four inches on the ground around here cars slide into ditches, schools close, bread and bottled water sell out at Walmart and a lot of people generally freak out.
Of course, there are some pretty snowy places here in North America, especially in the Cascade Mountains of Washington and Oregon, where the nearby Pacific Ocean provides a year-round conveyor belt of moisture.
Washington’s Paradise Ranger Station on Mt. Rainier is recognized the snowiest spot in the U.S., with an annual average snowfall of about 53 feet. In the winter of 1971-1972, more than 90 feet fell at Paradise, the mountain’s snowiest winter on record.
But those totals aren’t much compared to the pounding the Japanese Alps regularly experience.
I saw a couple of deep snow situations during my lengthy stay in the northwest. Perhaps the most memorable took place at a Cascade Mountains ski area called Alpental.
At about the 6,000-foot level, high above where Interstate 90 snakes through Snoqualmie Pass between Seattle and Spokane, a friend and I were riding on a double chair lift that was normally 12 to 15 feet off the ground. But more than the average amount of snow had fallen during this particular winter, and our skis were literally riding on the surface as the chair moved through a snow canyon with tall, white walls eerily looming about four or five feet away on either side. I’d say those walls were about 10 feet high, which means the depth of the snow must have been a whopping 23 feet or so.
Again, that kind of pales in comparison to what annually goes on in the Japanese Alps.
Even statistics showing the most snowfall ever measured in a single winter at locations in North America fall short of a typical winter in the Honshu high country.
For example, during the winter of 1952-1953, 974.1 inches fell in Thompson Pass, Alaska. In 1971-1972, 963 inches came down on Mt. Copeland, near Revelstoke, British Columbia. And in 1949-1950, 903 inches fell at Crater Lake, Ore.
Not a four-figure number in the bunch, let alone anything approaching 1,500.
A list of the five locations in the U.S. that have the highest annual average snowfall also fails to impress the way the average in the Japanese Alps does:
•680 inches – Paradise Rainier Ranger Station, Wash.
•552 inches – Thompson Pass, Alaska.
•530 inches – Mt. Baker Lodge, Wash.
•530 inches – Crater Lake, Ore.
•516 inches – Alta, Utah.
Back in the Ozarks, here we are wondering if February will bring enough wintry weather to raise our seasonal snow total over the 50-inch mark, and maybe even threaten all-time record totals. Who knows? We might even get another “footer.”
If Crocodile Dundee was standing on the Yuki-no-Otani Snow Canyon highway and looked at a photo of our 12-inch blanket in late December, I’ll bet he would scoff at it and point at the snow wall. And you know what he would say then.
“That’s not a snowpack. THAT’S a snowpack.”
Apparently, we don’t know snow in these parts. Fine with me.
Doug Davison is a writer, photographer and newsroom assistant for the Houston Herald. Email: email@example.com.