During the past several weeks, snow has been piling up to impressive depths over the Northern Plains. Minneapolis, MN saw a record amount of snow during this past February (39 inches for the month), and is currently reporting a hefty snow depth of 20 inches. Rhinelander, WI saw the snowiest month on record this past February as 61.5 inches fell. They are currently buried under 36 inches at the moment. Although these snow depths are impressive, they are far from breaking the record for the greatest snow depths on planet Earth. Let's dig into what areas of the planet have the bragging rights on that!
It is no surprise that the greatest recorded snow depths in history have occurred on the slopes of mountain ranges. Mountain ranges that are located near large bodies of water are especially ideal for piling up impressive snow depths. When there is a persistent flow from the ocean, moisture-rich air masses run into mountain ranges and are forced upward due to the terrain change. The forced ascent cools the air, which brings the air to saturation, resulting in cloud cover, and then precipitation. This process is known as orographic lifting. This is why the heaviest snow cover in North America is typically found along the western mountain ranges over British Columbia, down through Washington State, and into California. During times when there is an exceptionally persistent pattern of Pacific lows hitting the west coast, the mountains will pile up snow in the hundreds of inches. This happened in a big way during the winter of 1911 over the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. By March 11th of that year, the town of Tamarack, CA achieved the greatest North American snow depth on record, with a depth of 453 inches.
Impressive as that may seem, it did get beaten 16 years later. The reigning world record holder is still on Mt. Ibuki in the Shiga Prefecture in Japan. On Feb. 14th, 1927, a measurement of just over 465 inches (38.75ft) was recorded. This area is notorious for receiving a colossal amount of snow, due to the abundance of sea-effect snow that occurs when arctic air masses from Siberia move southeast across the Sea of Japan. Sea-effect snow occurs in the same way that lake-effect snow occurs over the Great Lakes.