New York City saw its first snowfall of the 2019-2020 winter season on Monday.
According to the NWS, 1.5 inches of snow was measured in Central Park. While not a blockbuster event, it was exciting to see the flakes fill the air. With all the holiday lights and decorations on display, the snow also added to the city’s 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 in early to mid-December. Our earliest first snow event on record was on October 21, 1952, and our latest was January 29,1973. New York City typically gets 4.8 inches of snow in December and 25.8 inches for the entire winter season.
Credit: Melissa Fleming
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 supercooled 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
The calendar says March, but it felt more like May in New York City on Friday.
The temperature soared to 75°F in Central Park, missing the record high by just 2°F. But, with the mercury only dropping to 49°F at night, it did tie the record warm low temperature for the date that was set in 1913.
The normal high and low temperatures for this time of year in NYC are 49°F and 35°F, respectively.
With below normal temperatures dominating the beginning of March, this sudden warm up felt like weather whiplash. Just a week earlier, there was snow on the ground with snowmen dotting the landscape in parks across the city.
But, as with most things that go up, they must also come back down. Cooler conditions are expected to return over the weekend.
What a difference a week can bring: the same snowman in Central Park one week apart. Credit: Melissa Fleming
On this day in 1888, one of the worst snowstorms on record hit New York City. Here is a look back at some of the facts from that historic storm.
Snow fills the street and sidewalk on Park Place in Brooklyn, after the Blizzard of 1888. Credit: NOAA.
- 21 inches of snow was measured in Central Park, the 4th largest snowstorm on record for the city
- Wind gusts reached 80mph, causing blizzard conditions
- Snowdrifts reached as high as 30 feet in parts of the city.
- The storm shut down transportation systems and left people confined to their homes for days.
- It took NYC 14 days to fully recover from the storm.
- As result of the paralyzing impacts of this blizzard, the city moved all overhead wires underground.
March rolled into New York City this year like a lion.
Below average temperatures and snow have been the prevailing weather stories all week. In fact, the first four days of March produced more snow than the city has seen all winter. To date this month, 10.4 inches of snow has been reported in Central Park. On average, March typically brings the city a total of 3.9 inches.
This winter, overall, has been below par in terms of snow in NYC. Including the record snowfall in November, the city has seen 20.5 inches of snow so far. The season usually brings the Big Apple 25.8 inches of snow, with February producing the biggest storms.
February was a month of wild temperature swings in New York City. Producing several days of weather whiplash, highs ranged from a frigid 21°F to an unseasonably warm 65°F. However, in the end, these extremes balanced each other out. The city’s mean temperature for the month was 36.2°F, which is only 0.9°F above average.
In terms of precipitation, rainfall was also slightly above average with twelve of the month’s 28 days posting measurable rainfall. In total, Central Park reported 3.19 inches of rain, which is 0.10 inches above normal.
Snowfall, on the other hand, was scarce. February is usually the city’s snowiest month on the calendar, but Central Park only received 2.6 inches of snow this year. Of that total, most it fell during storms that produced a wintry mix of precipitation. On average, February produces 9.2 inches of snow in the city.
February was a weather roller coaster in NYC. Credit: The Weather Gamut
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 white 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, on February 13, a blizzard hit the region. The wintry conditions inspired him to create this timeless painting.
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
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
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