St. Louis’ ‘record snowfall’ of 1890 was likely exaggerated

Weather

ST. LOUIS, Mo. – For more than a century, 20.4 inches was accepted as the heaviest snowfall in St. Louis history.  But now that once lofty record from March 30-31 of 1890 has been thrown out, kind of.  It was ruled unofficial by the National Weather service because there is no actual, verifiable record of snow falling on that day.  The daily logs do show 2.09 inches of liquid from the melted down snow but no actual measurement of the snow itself. 

National Weather Service meteorologist Jayson Goesslin started investigating the missing data following the epic Palm Sunday snowstorm from March of 2013.  He found plenty of evidence of a big snowstorm, but not a verifiable total of how much snow fell. 

I wanted to dig deeper, so I enlisted the help of local historian Cliff Saxton to try and get to the bottom of the missing data.  We scoured the local newspaper archives and found several articles about the storm but they all gave vastly different accounts.  There is one that mentions up to two feet of snow may have fallen, but Saxton says we must take that with a grain of salt because writers of the time were prone to exaggeration and sensationalism. 

One thing all the accounts had in common was the description of the snow being heavy and wet.  This means the rain to snow ratio of the snow was likely much lower than the standard 1 inch of rain equals 10 inches of snow.  

Using a more realistic 1-to-6 or even 1-to-8 provides a much more plausible total of 12 to 16 inches. Not the 20.4 listed in the record books.  This, combined with the lack of a verifiable measurement lead the National Weather Service to classify this once iron clad record as “unofficial.”  The new top snowfall on record is 15.6 inches from February 20-21, 1912. 

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