Forget red and blue — color America white. There was snow on the ground in 49 states Friday. Hawaii was the holdout.
It was the United States of Snow, thanks to an unusual combination of weather patterns that dusted the nation, including the skyscrapers of Dallas, the peach trees of Atlanta and the Florida Panhandle, where hurricanes are more common than snowflakes.
Snow fell in several locations in the Panhandle, including the towns of Crestview in Walton County and Ensley in Escambia County, where half an inch was reported late Friday afternoon, according to the National Weather Service.
"This is fun. We don't see it very often,'' said Tim Barry, a meteorologist with the weather service in Tallahassee.
The last substantial snow accumulation in Florida was in March 1993, when nearly 4 inches fell in parts of the far west Panhandle.
Friday's snow paralyzed and fascinated the Deep South. Snowball fights broke out at Southern Mississippi University, snow delayed flights at the busy Atlanta airport, and Louisiana hardware stores ran out of snow supplies. Andalusia, Ala., shut down its streets because of snow. And yet, Portland, Maine, where snow is usually a given, had to cancel its winter festival for lack of the stuff.
"I'm calling it the upside-down winter," said David Robinson, head of the Global Snow Lab at Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Weather geeks turned their eyes to Hawaii. In that tropical paradise, where a ski club strangely exists, observers were looking closely at the islands' mountain peaks to see whether they could find a trace of white to make it a rare 50-for-50 states with snow. But there was no snow in sight.
The idea of all 50 states with snow is so strange that the federal office that collects weather statistics doesn't keep track of that number and can't say whether it has ever happened. The office can't even say whether 49 out of 50 has ever taken place before.
The strange snowfall pattern was produced by the weather phenomenon El Niño and its Arctic counterpart, according to Robinson and Dan Petersen, lead winter weather forecaster at the National Weather Service prediction center in Camp Springs, Md.
During moderate to strong El Niños such as the current one, more moisture is pumped into the subtropical jet stream across the South, increasing precipitation, Robinson said. Then there's the Arctic Oscillation, the northern cousin to El Niño, which shifts cold polar air south. That cold air can turn a rainstorm into a snowstorm.