Weather and Art: “Love of Winter”

Today is Valentine’s Day, a holiday when chocolate treats and images hearts abound. But for me, it is George Bellows’ Love of Winter that always comes to mind as we mark the mid-point of what is usually New York City’s snowiest month of the year.

A longtime personal favorite, this 1914 painting captures the spirit of those who embrace the season. Filled with the blurred movement of skaters on a frozen pond and accented with spots of bright color that pop against the snow, it conveys the joy of being out in nature on a cold winter day.

While Bellows is better known for depicting scenes of boxing matches and urban life, art historians say he enjoyed the challenge of painting the varied lighting conditions produced by a snow-covered landscape. In fact, he wrote a letter to a friend in January 1914 complaining about the lack of snow in the New York City area that winter. He said, “There has been none of my favorite snow. I must paint the snow at least once a year.” Then, about a month later, his wish for snow was granted and this painting was created.

Love of Winter is part of the Friends of American Art Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.

“Love of Winter”, 1914 by George Bellows. Collection of the Art Institute of Chicago

From Snow to Ice, Winter Precipitation Can Take Several Forms

The winter season can produce various types of precipitation – rain, freezing rain, sleet, or snow. It 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

NYC Monthly Summary: January 2018

January was another month of wild temperature swings in New York City. It produced part of the city’s third longest sub-freezing cold streak on record and a significant January Thaw. Overall, highs ranged from a frigid 13°F to an unseasonably balmy 61°F. In the end, however, these extremes just about balanced each other out. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 31.7°F, which is only 0.9°F below normal.

 

In terms of precipitation, January was unusually dry. In all, the city received 2.18 inches of rain, which is 1.47 inches below average. Snowfall, on the other hand, was abundant with 11.2 inches measured in Central Park. Of this total, 9.8 inches fell during a single storm on January 4 and set a new daily snowfall record for the date. The city, on average, gets 7 inches of snow for the entire month of January. Nonetheless, NYC is listed as “abnormally dry” in the latest report (Feb 1) from the US Drought Monitor.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

Massive Winter Storm Sets New Daily Snowfall Record in NYC

A massive winter storm – known by some as Grayson – slammed the eastern US on Thursday. Producing heavy snow and strong winds, its impact was felt from northern Florida to New England.

Here in NYC, the storm dumped 9.8 inches of snow in Central Park, setting a new daily snowfall record for the date. The previous record of 4 inches was in place since 1988. The city, on average, gets 7 inches of snow for the entire month of January.

Developing as a classic nor’easter, this storm became an over-achiever as it rapidly intensified over the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. It underwent a process called Bombogenesis, the threshold for which is a drop in pressure of 24mb in 24 hours. This storm dropped 59mb in 24 hours, producing very powerful winds. At JFK airport, wind gusts up to 55mph were reported.

The snow left behind by this storm will not be going anywhere anytime soon. A re-enforcing shot of cold arctic air moved in behind the storm and dangerously cold temperatures are expected to remain in place through the weekend. Bundle up!

The first big winter storm of 2018 brought NYC 9.8 inches of snow. Credit: Melissa Fleming

Fun Facts about Snow

If you enjoy winter and a good snow day, here are some fun facts about snow to ponder when the flakes fall:

  • All snowflakes, regardless of shape, have six sides.
  • Snow crystals are translucent, not white. The white color we see is caused by sunlight that is reflected off the crystals.
  • Most snowflakes fall at a speed of two to five feet per second. That is roughly the same speed as a person walking casually.

Enjoy the snow!

Snowflakes come in a variety of shapes, but all have six sides or points. Credit: Wilson “Snowflake” Bentley

NYC Monthly Summary: December 2017

December 2017 felt like another temperature roller coaster in New York City. Highs ranged from an unseasonably warm 61°F to a frigid 18°F. But with eighteen out of thirty-one days posting below average readings, including the second coldest New Year’s Eve on record, the chill won out in the end. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 35°F, which is 2.5°F below average.

On the precipitation side of things, the city received 2.21 inches of rain. That is 1.79 inches below normal. December is now the sixth month in a row to deliver below average rainfall in NYC. As a result, the latest report from the US Drought Monitor (12/28) now lists the city as “abnormally dry.” Snowfall, on the other hand, was abundant. The month produced four separate snow events, including the city’s first snowfall of the season. In all, 7.7 inches of snow was measured in Central Park. On average, the city gets 4.8 inches of snow in December.

Credit: The Weather Gamut

The Chances for a White Christmas

The Holidays are here and many people are dreaming of a White Christmas. The likelihood of seeing those dreams come true, however, is 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 odds for snow steadily decrease.

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, which has a moderating influence on the temperature. This year, with an area of low-pressure developing off the coast and cold arctic air moving in from the northwest, snow is a possibility for the Big Apple. It all depends on the track of the low.  If it stays close to the coast, NYC will see rain or a wintry mix while inland areas will get snow. If the low moves further off-shore, the cold air will be able to push eastward and NYC will get snow for Christmas.

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

The historical chances for a White Christmas across the continental US. Image Credit: NOAA

Weather Lingo: Alberta Clipper

The winter season can produce a number of different types of storms. One of these is an Alberta Clipper.

These systems originate in western Canada, on the lee side of the Rocky Mountains. As  Pacific air spills downslope, an area of low pressure develops. From there, it gets caught up in the jet stream and moves to the southeast across the US. Traveling over land, these systems lack a significant source of moisture and generally do not produce much snow- usually around 1 to 3 inches. However, they are known for their strong winds and bitterly cold temperatures.

This type of quick-hitting storm takes its name not only from its place of origin near Alberta, Canada but also from the clipper ships of the 19th century – the fastest ships of the time.

Credit: NOAA

First Snowfall of the Season in NYC

New York City saw its first measurable snowfall of the 2017-2018 season on Saturday. According to the NWS, 4.6 inches of snow was measured in Central Park.

While not a blockbuster event, it was enough to leave the city looking like a winter wonderland. With all the holiday lights and decorations on display, the softly falling flakes added to the festive atmosphere.

The timing of this first snowfall was about normal for the Big Apple. On average, the first flakes of the season are seen by December 14. Our earliest first snow event on record was on October 21, 1952, and our latest was January 29,1973. New York City typically gets 25.3 inches of snow for the entire winter season.

First flakes of the season fly in NYC. Credit: Melissa Fleming

Wintry Mix Replaces Blizzard in NYC

After a mostly mild winter in the northeast, a late season snowstorm blasted the region on Tuesday. In New York City, the storm was less intense than originally forecast but still packed a punch.

According to the NWS, 7.6 inches of snow was measured in Central Park setting a new daily record. The previous record of 4.1 inches had been in place since 1958. Strong winds were also part of the storm with gusts reported up to 38mph. The criteria for blizzard conditions, however, were not met in the Big Apple.

Developing from two different systems that merged off the southeast coast, this nor’easter intensified as it moved northward. In weather lingo, it underwent bombogenesis. The storm’s central pressure dropped from 1007mb on Monday night to 974mb on Tuesday afternoon.

While the storm’s precipitation was plentiful, it was more of a wintry mix than a full on snow event in NYC and other cities along the I-95 corridor. This was because the storm was an “inside runner”. It tracked west of the 40/70 benchmark and pulled warmer marine air onshore. More specifically, a shallow zone of air with a temperature warmer than 32°F was wedged between zones of subfreezing air around 5000 feet above the surface. This set-up allowed the snow to melt then refreeze as sleet before hitting the ground.

For areas further inland, to the north and west, the storm lived up to its hype. Numerous communities across eight states received more than 20 inches of snow. Hartwick, NY reported an impressive 48.4 inches, the highest snow total from the storm.

NYC went from 70°F to 7.6 inches of snow in just two weeks. Credit: Melissa Fleming