Much of the northern United States has a blanket of snow on the ground this March, when compared to practically no snow this time last year.
A series of storms sweeping across the nation from the Northwest to the Northeast and at times dipping into part of the South has delivered near- to above-normal snowfall in many locations this winter and early spring.
While the winter got off to a late start in many areas, once cold air became established later in January, the snow guns were armed.
The most recent cross-country storm that swept from the Cascades of the Northwest to the southern Rockies, central Plains, Ohio Valley, Appalachians and part of the mid-Atlantic greatly contributed to snow cover that blanketed nearly 50 percent of the nation. (Much of the snow that fell during the storm spanning March 23 to 25 will melt by the Easter Weekend).
Snow cover on March 25, 2013, covered 48.7 percent of the country. Compared to March 25, 2012, only less than 8 percent of the nation had at least an inch of snow on the ground. Most of that was limited to the high country in the West and in northern New England.
Snow cover is what agricultural interests wanted in the Midwest and their prayers were answered with multiple storms over the winter, although be it late winter in most cases.
Most of the time the snow gradually melts and often has a better chance at seeping deep into the soil than a brief heavy rain. Winter snow is a big part of replenishing ground water supplies and can go a long way in filling streams, lakes and reservoirs.
Many of the major rivers have already responded from runoff from the storms in recent months.
At St. Louis, Mo., river levels at the start of the winter were challenging record low levels dipping past the minus 2.0-foot mark. Levels peaked near flood stage a few weeks ago and are forecast to remain well within the positive range for the near future.
A drawback to the extensive snowcover is that it reflects sunlight. While it does insulate the ground and sprouting vegetation from severe cold air, it also tends to keep the ground cold and wet during the first part of the spring. Extensive snowcover can also delay or reduce warmups, until it melts.
As a result, planting could be delayed for a few weeks in some areas due to cold, wet ground conditions.
There are also concerns for additional cold waves and freezes even after the existing snow cover retreats from the strengthening spring sun.
Where the snow rapidly melts and is accompanied with or followed soon by heavy rain, there is the potential for flooding, due to the added runoff being released into streams and rivers.