Hokkaido Snow Statistics – A Jan 2020 Selective Review

Posted on Jan 14, 2020
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Posted on Jan 14, 2020

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Reading time: 4 min
We're half way through January, and for snow lovers in Hokkaido, Japanuary just doesn't feel like what we're used to. Where is the every-day 40cm+ powder reset? Why are we seeing blue skies so often? "This is unprecedented," run the headlines, if not in the newspapers, very much so in our social media feeds. But what do the stats say? Is this year's low tide the lowest the universe has ever seen? Are we on a slippery downwards spiral year after year? Here, we dig into some Japan Meterological Agency stats for a couple of select locations in Hokkaido to set the record straight.

Method

Using the Japan Meteorological Agency’s data download service, I’ve downloaded the last 75 years of snow accumulation data for a few select locations around Hokkaido: Kutchan (home to Niseko ski resort), Furano City, and Sapporo City. The figures are interactive – you can exclude months and years, to see how things change.

KEY POINTS

We can’t speak to the future (and what climate change might mean for Hokkaido’s winters), but as far as past trends tell us, this year is a low start, for sure. It’s not the lowest on record though (except for Sapporo). But according to Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) data, there’s no worsening trend for snow accumulation. So, as far as previous trends are concerned, we can only call it just one dot in the natural ebb and flow of snow here in Japan’s wild north…🤞

See the JMA’s 80-year climate predictions here.

KUTCHAN SNOW REVIEW (JAN 2020)

  1. December
    With only 63cm of accumulated snow in Kutchan in December 2019, the tide was low, but not the lowest it’s ever been. At the end of December 1984 there was only 48cm of snow accumulated in Kutchan. As for trends, if anything there’s a positive upward trend over the last 50 years in Kutchan (1970-2019). That is, there’s a trend towards more snow accumulating in December (but this isn’t a statistically meaningful trend).
  2. January
    I’m writing this on the 14th of January 2020. With more than half of the month still to go, Kutchan’s already got 79% of snow that had accumulated by the end of January 1973 (a dismal 94cm).
Overall, as can be seen in my review above, so far in 2020 in Kutchan it’s a matter of describing this year’s snowfall in terms of how less worse it is than previous terrible years. However, over the last 50 years there certainly doesn’t seem to be any downward trend in total accumulation for either December or January. Kutchan gets jump-start years and dragging-the-chain sorts of starts in other years. This year is the latter, but it’s not the worst it’s ever been.

FURANO CITY SNOW REVIEW (JAN 2020)

  1. December
    With only 23cm of accumulated snow in Furano in December 2019, the tide was low, but not the lowest it’s ever been. At the end of December 1984 there was only 13cm of snow accumulated in Furano. As for trends, if anything there’s a positive upward trend over the last 40 years in Furano (1979-2019). That is, there’s a trend towards more snow accumulating in December.
  2. January
    I’m writing this on the 14th of January 2020. With more than half of the month still to go, Furano has already got 75% of snow that had accumulated by the end of January 1991 (a dismal 36cm).
Overall, as can be seen in my review above, so far in 2020 in Furano it’s also a matter of describing this year’s snowfall in terms of how less worse it is than previous terrible years. However, over the last 40 years there certainly doesn’t seem to be any downward trend in total accumulation for either December or January. If anything, there’s a trend towards more snow earlier in the season. Like Kutchan, Furano gets jump-start years and dragging-the-chain sorts of starts in other years. This year is the latter, but it’s not the worst it’s ever been.

SAPPORO CITY SNOW REVIEW (JAN 2020)

  1. December
    With only 17cm of accumulated snow in Sapporo in December 2019, the tide was about as low as it has ever been, but not the lowest. 1983 saw only 14cm accumulate by the end of December. As for trends, if anything there’s a positive upward trend over the last 60 years in Sapporo City (1961-2019). That is, there’s a trend towards more snow accumulating in December.
  2. January
    I’m writing this on the 14th of January 2020. With more than half of the month still to go, Sapporo has only got 9cm of snow accumulated. That’s only 28% of snow that had accumulated by the end of January 1997, which had the least snow accumulated since records began – a dismal 33cm.
Overall, as can be seen in my review above, so far in 2020 in Sapporo, snow accumulation is about as bad as it has ever been. We’re on track for the least snowfall here since records began. That said, there doesn’t seem to be any statistcally significant downward trend over the last 60 years in total accumulation for either December or January. If anything, there’s a trend towards more snow earlier in the season (although that’s not a statistically meaningful trend). Like Kutchan, and Furano, Sapporo gets jump-start years and dragging-the-chain sorts of starts in other years. This year is the latter, and in the case of Sapporo, it IS about the worst it’s ever been.

WIND DIRECTION

We had a query from our friend Charlie, who was interested in wind direction stats for Hokkaido. Indeed, it feels like we’re getting more southern hot air these days. Looking at the data, however, we’re not seeing any trends towards more southerly air – if anything in January we’re seeing more air from northerly directions. Here we’ve downloaded the daily prevailing wind data for Sapporo City and Kutchan – unfortunately only the last 10 years are available. Using this, we can get an ‘average wind direction’.
 
NOTE: 270 degrees is west. We’ve set the month to default to January, but you can add and remove months using the filter on the right. We’ve also added variance in wind direction for Kutchan – once again, no discernible patterns of change from this data.

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