SNOW

di Giles Whittell (1966)

On March 10th, the small town of Capracotta, in a fold of rough pastureland on the Apennines' eastern flank, was visited by an uncommonly heavy storm. It was "a spectacle that took our breath away", the mayor said. Two and a half meters of snow fell in 18 hours. That is 100 inches - 24 more than fell on Silver Lake in a whole day.

Capracotta is used to snow in winter because it takes the full force of every Balkan nor'easter broadside on, which is why every household has a snow shovel, and why the hills above it are dotted with wind turbines. Despite this there were doubts at first that somewhere 300 miles south of the Alps could have been buried so deep so quickly. But the photographs taken by locals that evening, of snow banks filling ancient streets and rising to first-floor bedroom windows, do not lie. Soon afterwards "The Guinness Book of Records" certified Capracotta as the all-time world record holder for one-day snowfall. Silver Lake was demoted to second place after 65 years at the top, and there the quest for the ultimate snow event might have ended, at least for now. But that would be boring, and unscientific.

So far the main conclusion to be drawn from this quest is that so-called snow records are guides only. They are unreliable beacuse no snow surveying system can be everywhere at once, and even those that are ostensibly well organised can ignore big snow events for no good reason.

  • G. Whittell, Snow. The Biography, Short Books, London 2018.

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