Weather and Art: Vortex

The word vortex – popularized last winter by extended arctic outbreaks related to a wobbly polar vortex – can sound rather ominous. A vortex, however, is simply a whirling mass of air or water.  Its spiral pattern is found throughout nature.

In the weather world, vortices form for a variety and combination of reasons, including differences in atmospheric pressure, wind shear, and centrifugal force. Tornadoes, waterspouts, and hurricanes, are all examples. They, unlike the polar vortex, are visible because of the water vapor and debris that gets sucked into them.

The spiral shape of a vortex is also represented in art in various sizes and materials. One of the largest is Richard Serra’s massive (67’x21’x20’) cor-ten steel sculpture, “Vortex” (2002), at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas. One of my more recent sightings, however, was on a much smaller scale. Also simply titled “Vortex” (1932), this was a small (11×14”) gelatin silver photographic print by Edward W. Quigley at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. As someone who is fascinated by the intersection of art and science, this image really stood out to me at MOMA’s current photography exhibition, “Modern Photographs: The Thomas Walther Collection, 1909-1949”. It is on view through April 19, 2015.

Credit: Edward W. Quigley and MOMA

“Vortex”, 1932.  Credit: Edward W. Quigley and MOMA

Credit: Richard Serra and

“Vortex”, 2002.  Credit: Richard Serra and Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth 

Arctic Air Brings Brutally Cold Temperatures to NYC

A massive arctic outbreak has sent most of the U.S. into a deep freeze.  From the Mid-West to the Eastern Seaboard and down to the Gulf Coast, many cities are dealing with the coldest temperatures they have seen this season.

Here in New York City, the mercury fell to 8°F in Central Park this morning. Factoring in the wind chill, it felt like -8°F. Our normal low temperature for this time of year is 27°F.

As cold as it was today, 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 low temperature was a brutal -15°F.

Produced by a deep dip in the jet stream, our current frigid conditions are expected to stick around through the weekend. Bundle up!

NYC 2014: A Year of Weather in Review

New York City experienced some noteworthy weather in 2014, especially extreme precipitation events and multiple extended arctic outbreaks.

Starting off brutally cold, the first week of 2014 produced a new record low temperature in Central Park when January 7th posted a minimum reading of only 4°F.  In fact, temperatures were so cold that first month that the Hudson River was filled with ice.  Several arctic outbreaks kept cold conditions in place for most of the winter and the term polar vortex went viral. When summer finally arrived, temperatures hovered around average and not a single heat wave developed. The city typically sees 15 days per year where the temperature reaches 90°F or higher, but 2014 produced only 8. Despite the year’s memorable extended cold snaps, the city’s average temperature for 2014 was 54.37°F.  That is only 0.38°F below our long-term norm.

Precipitation was erratic in NYC during 2014. We had a number of significant rain events, but April 30th really stood out.  It brought the city 4.97 inches of rain – more than a month’s worth – in a single day making it the 10th wettest day on record in NYC. We also fluctuated between extremes like our wettest July in five years and our driest September in nine years. Overall, though, we were more wet than dry. The city received a total of 53.57 inches of rain for the entire year.  That is 3.63 inches above normal.

Snowfall was also abundant. February 2014 was our second snowiest February on record with 29 inches of snow measured in Central Park. January also delivered an above average snow total with 19.7 inches.  For the calendar year as a whole, the city accumulated 50 inches of snow, which is a staggering 24.9 inches above average. In terms of the meteorological winter (December 2013 to March 2014), it was the city’s 7th snowiest winter on record.

On the storm front, the 2014 Atlantic Hurricane Season was fairly quiet and left NYC unscathed. We felt only some nominal impacts like rain and rough surf from Hurricane Arthur over the July 4th holiday weekend as the storm moved north parallel to the coast after it made landfall in North Carolina.

Looking forward 2015!



NYC Monthly Summary: December 2014

December was unseasonably warm in New York City this year. We had 14 days post above average readings, including Christmas Day, which produced a high temperature of 62°F tying the record for the city’s third warmest Christmas. Several stretches of unusually balmy weather brought the city’s mean temperature for the month up to 40.5°F which is 3.5°F above normal.

On the precipitation side of things, the city had 16 days with measurable rainfall.  In all, we received a remarkable 6.04 inches of rain, which is 2.04 inches above normal. Of this impressive total, 2.54 inches fell in a single day, December 9th, and set a new daily rainfall record for the date. Snow, however, was scarce. With unusually warm temperatures in place for most of the month, only 1.0 inch was measured in Central Park.  On average, NYC usually receives 4.8 inches of snow in December.



The Chances for a White Christmas 2014

The Holiday Season is here and many people are dreaming of a white Christmas. The likelihood of seeing those dreams come true, however, are largely dependent on where you live.

According to NOAA, a white Christmas is defined as having at least one inch of snow on the ground on December 25th.  In the US, the climatological probability of having snow for Christmas is greatest across the northern tier of the country. Moving south, average temperatures increase and the chance of snow steadily decreases.

Here in New York City, the historical chance of having a white Christmas is about 12%. This low probability is largely due to the city’s proximity to the Atlantic Ocean and its moderating influence on temperature. This year, with rain and unseasonably warm temperatures in the forecast, the city’s already minimal chance for snow has largely melted away.

Snow or no snow, The Weather Gamut wishes you and your family a very Happy Holiday!

Source: NOAA

Data based on the latest (1981-2010) U.S. Climate Normals from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. Source: NOAA

NYC Monthly Summary: November 2014

November 2014 was another rollercoaster of a month in New York City in terms of weather. We had highs ranging from a relatively balmy 69°F to a chilly 36°F. In the end though, with 17 out of 30 days posting below average readings, the cold won out. The extended cold snaps helped lower the city’s mean temperature to 45.3°F, which is 2.7°F below normal.

Precipitation this November was fairly abundant. NYC received 4.51 inches of rain, which is 0.49 inches above average. Most of this fell during two significant rain events that each produced more than an inch of rain in 24-hours. The city also saw its first measurable snowfall of the season with 0.2 inches accumulating in Central Park. Nonetheless, following a parched August and September, the city is still listed as “abnormally dry” on the latest report from the US Drought Monitor.



A Winter Preview in NYC

The official start of winter is more than a month away, but New York City is experiencing an early preview.

A deep dip in the jet stream has ushered in cold arctic air and sent local temperatures plummeting. After reaching an unseasonably warm high of 65°F on Wednesday, the high in Central Park today was only 42°F. That is a difference of 23°F in just 48 hours. The city’s normal high for this time of year is 54°F.

The cold air also helped produce the city’s first snowflakes of the season. While nothing accumulated on the ground, the National Weather Service reported a trace of snow in Central Park early Friday morning. A trace of snow is defined as less than 0.1 inches.

Unlike earlier cold snaps this season, these current chilly conditions are expected to linger for at least a week.

Art and Climate Change: Sebastião Salgado’s “Genesis”

Science and photography have joined forces to increase public awareness about the pressing issues of climate change and the environment. Sebastião Salgado’s Genesis, on view at the International Center of Photography in NYC, is a series of 200 black and white photographs that document what society has to lose if actions are not taken to mitigate climate change. They are the product of an eight-year global survey of landscapes, seascapes, wildlife, and indigenous peoples.

Inspired by nature’s ability to restore itself on his family’s former cattle ranch in Brazil, Salgado’s photographs capture the beauty and grandeur of what remains of this planets’s pristine wilderness. In a statement written on a wall of the exhibition, Salgado and his wife/curator, Lélia Wanick Salgado, say, “As well as displaying the beauty of nature, Genesis is also a call to arms. We cannot continue to pollute our soil, water, and air. We must act to preserve unspoiled land and seascapes and protect the natural sanctuaries of ancient peoples and animals. And we have to go further: we can try to reverse the damage we have done.”

Using the images as a springboard for discussion, the ICP has arranged a number of events to accompany the exhibition. These include a series of lectures and panel discussions as well as a schedule of gallery walks where climate scientists from Columbia University explain the environmental issues facing the particular regions represented in Salgado’s photographs.

The exhibition runs through January 11, 2015.  For the full schedule of events, visit:


The eastern part of the Brooks Range, The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska, USA, 2009. © Sebastião Salgado.  Credit: Sebastião Salgado/ICP

NYC Monthly Summary: October 2014

October was a bit of weather roller coaster in New York City this year. We had highs ranging from a chilly 53°F to a balmy 77°F. In the end though, with 19 out of 31 days posting warmer than average readings, the warmth won out. All together, the city’s mean temperature for the month was 59.6°F. That is 2.6°F above average.

In terms of precipitation, the city was fairly soggy this October. Central Park measured 5.77 inches of rain, which is 1.37 inches above normal. Most of this came down during three significant rain events that each produced more than an inch of rain in a 24-hour period.  Nonetheless, following a parched August and September, NYC and its surrounding area is still listed as “abnormally dry” on the latest report from US Drought Monitor.


Credit: The Weather Gamut


Credit: The Weather Gamut