October Snow May Sound Too Soon, But Here's Where It's Typical

Jonathan Erdman
Published: October 8, 2019

October may sound too early for snow, but history shows it's more common than you think.

Alaska-based climatologist Brian Brettschneider (blog) compiled a series of maps showing where October snowfall can be considered typical and where past October heavy snows have occurred.

In his maps, Brettschneider considered only those reporting stations with at least 10 years of weather data. 

(MORE: How Early in Fall It Has Snowed in Your City)

As you'd expect, October snow is par for the course in the Rockies, northern Plains, northern Great Lakes, and high country of northern New England and Upstate New York. Here are a few average October monthly snowfall totals:

-Marquette, Michigan: 6 inches

-Denver, Colorado: 4.4 inches

-Great Falls, Montana: 4.1 inches

-Duluth, Minnesota: 2.3 inches

-Flagstaff, Arizona: 1.8 inches

-Rapid City, South Dakota: 1.6 inches

-Caribou, Maine: 1.6 inches

-Salt Lake City, Utah: 1.4 inches

-Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota: 0.6 inch

Average October snowfall, based on 1981-2010 data.
(Map: Brian Brettschneider; Data: NOAA/NCEI)

But those aren't the only locations where October snow has happened.

A number of other cities have seen October snow before, but it's much more rare.

Brettschneider then plotted locations that have picked up at least a foot of snow on at least one October day. Here are some interesting highlights:

-The Mount LeConte Lodge in Tennessee's Smoky Mountains at an elevation of 6,593 feet, picked up a three-day total of 35 inches of snow from Superstorm Sandy from Oct. 29-31, 2012. 

-Windsor Locks, Connecticut, got 12.3 inches two days before Halloween 2011 in the destructive "Snowtober" storm. 

-Buffalo was clobbered by a destructive mid-October 2006 lake-effect snowstorm, dumping over 22.6 inches of snow.

-South Bend, Indiana, was buried with 14 inches of snow on Oct. 28-29, 1910.

-Lincoln, Nebraska, received 13.2 inches of snow on Oct. 26, 1997. This was not only an October daily record, but its second snowiest calendar day of any month, trailing only a 19-inch snowfall on Feb. 11, 1965.

-Los Alamos, New Mexico, picked up just over a foot of snow – 12.5 inches – on Oct. 21, 1996. 

(MORE: Recent Destructive October Storms)

Average October snowfall (contours) and locations that have reported at least 12 inches of snow in at least one October day on record (purple dots).
(Map: Brian Brettschneider; Data: NOAA/NCEI)

Amazingly, there are locations that have picked up 2 feet or more of snow in at least one October day.

-Lead, South Dakota, the unofficial snow champion of the Black Hills, has had five October days with at least 24 inches of snow in records dating to 1909. Winter Storm Atlas dumped 42 inches of snow in one day, there, on Oct. 4, 2013. 

-Red Lodge, Montana, picked up a whopping 43 inches of snow from Oct. 25-26, 1996. 

-Las Animas, Colorado, in the state's eastern plains was buried by 31.5 inches of snow in a High Plains blizzard on Oct. 24-25, 1997.

(MORE: Typical Weather Threats in Fall)

Average October snowfall (contours) and locations that have reported at least 24 inches of snow in at least one October day on record (dots).
(Map: Brian Brettschneider; Data: NOAA/NCEI)

Interestingly enough, there are a few places in the U.S. where October is king for snowfall.

"October is the snowiest month in a handful of Alaska stations and nowhere else," said Brettschneider in an email. "This is because the air is so cold during the winter months (in those Alaska locations) that it cannot hold very much moisture."

Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, is the most familiar Alaska location that counts October as its snowiest month most years, averaging 8.8 inches of snow in October. This is over three times as much snow as it gets in an average January (2.8 inches).

(MAPS: What Month Is Typically Your Snowiest?)

Locations where October is the snowiest month of the year, on average. All are in Alaska.
(Map: Brian Brettschneider; Data: NOAA/NCEI)

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.


The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.