A major snowstorm can happen during any month of the winter season, but in the northeastern United States, they tend to happen most often in February. In fact, February is the snowiest month of the year, on average, for most places across the region.
The reason for this has a lot to do with seasonal weather patterns. That is, certain weather patterns are more likely to develop at different times of the year in different places across the country. In February, that pattern is highly conducive to producing major snowstorms in the northeast.
In general, that set up involves a large ridge in the jetstream over the west coast of the US with a deep, negatively tilted trough, in the east. The trough allows cold air from the north to spill down over the region. This means that any precipitation that falls will likely come down as snow. Another key factor is the warm water of the Gulf Stream, which flows just off the east coast. Storms that pass over it tend to rapidly intensify. Then, following the jet stream northward, storms often encounter an area of high pressure over eastern Canada that slows their forward movement. As a result, more snow can fall over the same location boosting accumulation totals.
This is reflected in the statistics of the North East Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS), which shows that the most category 3 or higher snowstorms occur in February. Ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, a category 3 is described as a “major” snowstorm, category 4 is considered “crippling”, and category 5 is an “extreme” event. The classifications are based on the size of the area covered, number of people affected, and snowfall totals.
In New York City, a winter season will produce 25.8 inches of snow, on average. Of that total, 9.2 inches comes in February.
Data Source: NWS
Its official, 2018 was the fourth warmest year ever recorded on this planet. Only 2015, 2016, and 2017 were warmer.
According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the year – over both land and sea surfaces – was 58.42°F. That is 1.42°F above the 20th-century average.
2018 also marked the 42nd consecutive year with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means every year since 1976 has posted a warmer than average annual temperature.
While heat dominated most of the planet last year, some places were particularly warm. Record heat was measured across much of Europe and the Middle East. Here in the contiguous US, it was the fourteenth warmest year on NOAA’s books. Alaska, however, was even warmer with its second warmest year ever recorded.
The exceptional warmth of 2018 is largely attributed to the long-term trend of human-caused climate change. While El Niño conditions helped influence record heat in the past, 2018 saw the cooling effects of La Niña in the beginning of the year with ENSO neutral conditions prevailing after April.
Looking at the bigger picture, nine of the ten warmest years on record have occurred since 2005, with the last five years ranking as the five warmest on record. The only year from the 20th century included on the top ten list is 1998, which is tied with 2009 as the planet’s ninth warmest year on record.
As greenhouse gases – the main driver of global warming – continue to spew into the atmosphere, temperatures will continue to rise and records will likely continue to fall.
Global temperature records date back to 1880.
2018 was Earth’s 4th warmest year on record. Credit: NOAA
Today is Groundhog Day, the midpoint of the winter season.
On this day, according to folklore, the weather conditions for the second half of winter can be predicted by the behavior of a prognosticating groundhog. If the groundhog sees its shadow after emerging from its burrow, there will be six more weeks of winter. If it does not see its shadow, then spring will arrive early.
The practice of using animal behavior to predict future weather conditions goes back to ancient times. The particular custom that we are familiar with in the United States grew out of the old world tradition of Candlemas that German settlers brought to Pennsylvania in the 1880s. Today, many communities across the U.S. and Canada continue this age-old ritual with their own special groundhogs.
The most famous of these furry forecasters is Punxsutawney Phil from Pennsylvania. He gained celebrity status after starring in the 1993 film, “Groundhog Day”. Here in New York City, our local weather-groundhog is Charles G. Hogg. A resident of the Staten Island Zoo, he is more popularly known as “Staten Island Chuck”. This year, both groundhogs are calling for an early spring.
But long-range forecasts can be a tricky business, so we will have to wait and see what actually happens. Either way, the spring equinox is 46 days away.
January was another month of wild temperature swings in New York City. It produced two arctic outbreaks and a record cold day on one end of the spectrum and a few days that felt more like early April on the other. Highs ranged from a frigid 14°F to an unseasonably balmy 59°F. In the end, however, these extremes balanced each other out. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 32.5°F, which is only 0.1°F below normal.
In terms of precipitation, January was about average for rainfall. The city received 3.62 inches of rain, which is only .03 inches below normal. Most of that total, however, fell during a single storm.
Snowfall, on the other hand, was scarce. On average, the city gets 7 inches of snow for the month. But this year, only 1.1 inches was measured in Central Park. The cold air and moisture, which were both plentiful in the city in January, just did not coincide to produce a big snowstorm.
Credit: The Weather Gamut
After getting off to a relatively slow start, winter has kicked into high gear. For the second time this month, a massive arctic outbreak has sent most of the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. into a deep freeze.
Here in New York City, the temperature peaked at just 16°F in Central Park on Thursday, tying the record cold high for the date set in 1935. The low dropped to 2°F, missing the record of -1°F by a few degrees. However, when you factor in the wind chill, it felt like a very memorable -17°F.
As cold as it was on Thursday, it was not the coldest day the Big Apple has ever experienced. That dubious honor, according to the NWS, belongs to February 9, 1934, when the air temperature reached a brutal low of -15°F.
The city’s normal high and low temperatures for this time of year are 39°F and 27°F, respectively.
This week’s unusually frigid conditions were the result of a deep dip in the jet stream and a lobe of the polar vortex reaching southward over much of the eastern part of the country. While a brief warm-up is expected over the next few days, it is still winter so keep those hats and gloves handy.
The temperature topped out at 16°F in NYC on Thursday, tying the record cold high for the date. Credit: Melissa Fleming
Temperature is one of the basic elements of weather. Our perception of it, however, is often influenced by other environmental conditions. Wind, for example, can make a cold day feel even colder. This phenomenon is called the wind chill factor.
Wind chill is a measure of the apparent or “feels-like” temperature. It calculates the heat loss from exposed human skin through the combined effects of air temperature and wind speed.
Essentially, the wind is carrying heat away from the body and allowing the skin to be exposed to cold air. As the winds increase, heat is carried away at a faster rate and the colder the body feels. For example, a temperature of 20°F and a wind speed of 5mph will produce a wind chill index of 13°F. At that same temperature, but with a wind speed of 10mph, the wind chill index would be 9°F.
Extended exposure to low wind chill values can lead to frostbite and hypothermia, serious winter health hazards.
After a relatively mild start to the season, winter’s chill has finally arrived in the northeastern United States. An arctic outbreak has sent the region into a deep freeze with many cities dealing with the coldest conditions they have seen since last January.
Here in New York City, the mercury fell to 4°F in Central Park on Monday morning and the high only made it to 14°F. While this type of cold shot is not that uncommon in January, it felt rather jarring after the temperature reached the mid-40s the day before.
The city’s normal high for this time of year is 38°F and the normal low is 27°F.
Produced by a deep dip in the jet stream, these current frigid conditions are not expected to last much longer. After a brief warm-up, however, another shot of arctic air is forecast to hit the city next week. So, keep those coats and gloves handy!
When arctic air invades NYC, the Josephine Shaw Lowell Memorial Fountain in Bryant Park often transforms into an icy sculpture. Credit: @nyclovesnyc
An arctic blast is expected to sweep across the northeastern United States this week. With temperatures expected to fall into the single digits, it is important to remember that, like extreme heat, extreme cold can be very dangerous.
Extreme cold causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be generated. Prolonged exposure, according to the CDC, can cause serious health problems, including hypothermia and frostbite.
Hypothermia is a condition of unusually low body temperature – generally below 95°F. It impairs brain functions, limiting a victim’s ability to think and move. Symptoms include severe shivering, drowsiness, confusion, slurred speech, and fumbling. If left untreated, it can be fatal.
Frostbite is a localized injury to the skin and underlying tissues caused by freezing. It can cause permanent damage and extreme cases often require amputation. Areas of the body most often affected include the nose, ears, cheeks, fingers, and toes. Signs of frostbite include, numbness, skin discoloration (white or greyish-yellow), and unusually firm or waxy feeling skin.
While the symptoms of both hypothermia and frostbite can range in severity, victims generally require immediate re-warming and professional medical attention.
To stay safe in cold weather, the American Red Cross recommends:
The winter season can produce various types of precipitation – rain, freezing rain, sleet, or snow. The form we see at the surface depends on the temperature profile of the lower atmosphere.
All precipitation starts out as snow up in the clouds. But, as it falls toward the Earth, it can pass through one or more layers of air with different temperatures. When the snow passes through a thick layer of warm air – above 32°F – it melts into rain. If the warm air layer extends all the way to the ground, rain will fall at the surface. However, if there is a thin layer of cold air – below 32°F – near the ground, the rain becomes super-cooled and freezes upon impact with anything that has a temperature at or below 32°F. This is known as freezing rain. It is one of the most dangerous types of winter precipitation, as it forms a glaze of ice on almost everything it encounters, including roads, tree branches, and power lines.
Sleet is a frozen type precipitation that takes the form of ice-pellets. Passing through a thick layer of sub-freezing air near the surface, liquid raindrops are given enough time to re-freeze before reaching the ground. Sleet often bounces when it hits a surface, but does not stick to anything. It can, however, accumulate.
Snow is another type of frozen precipitation. It takes the shape of six-sided ice crystals, often called flakes. Snow will fall at the surface when the air temperature is below freezing all the way from the cloud-level down to the ground. In order for the snow to stick and accumulate, surface temperatures must also be at or below freezing.
When two or more of these precipitation types fall during a single storm, it is called a wintry mix.
Precipitation type depends on the temperature profile of the atmosphere. Credit: NOAA
There is an old Scandinavian saying: “There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.” While it can be applied to any season, it seems most relevant in winter.
Since the weather is going to do whatever it is going to do, it is important to be prepared for anything that Mother Nature throws your way. In winter, that means cold temperatures.
Extreme cold causes the body to lose heat faster than it can be generated. Prolonged exposure, according to the CDC, can cause serious health problems such as hypothermia and frostbite.
To stay safe this winter, remember to bundle up in layers and wear hats and gloves to minimize the loss of body heat.