The winter of 2013-14 brought an exceptional amount of snowfall to New York City. In fact, it was one of our top ten snowiest.
Looking back, every month this winter, with the exception of March, was an overachiever in terms of snowfall. December brought the city 8.6 inches, January produced 19.7 inches, and February delivered an impressive 29 inches.
With a grand total of 57.4 inches of snow in Central Park, this winter was the Big Apple’s 7th snowiest on record. New York City, according to the NWS, normally gets 25.1 inches for the entire season.
In terms of temperature, NYC was cold this winter, but not in record territory. Despite numerous arctic outbreaks and the popularization of the term polar vortex, the city’s average temperature this winter season (December, January, and February) was 33°F. That is only 2°F below normal.
This winter produced some record cold temperatures and significant snowfall across the eastern two-thirds of U.S. It also brought a few technical weather terms into our mainstream vocabulary.
In January, bitterly cold arctic air moved south over a large section of this country and the term “polar vortex” became ubiquitous. Although it sounds ominous, the phrase literally describes what it is – a pattern of winds spinning around the North Pole.
More recently, as a powerful nor’easter moved up the eastern seaboard, “bomb” became a weather buzzword. Also known as “explosive cyclogenesis”, it is a meteorological expression that describes the rapid intensification of a low-pressure system. More specifically, it means the surface pressure of a system is expected to drop by at least 24 millibars in twenty-four hours. In general, the lower the pressure, the stronger the storm.
The weather phenomena described by these phrases can occur every winter. Why did they become so popular this year? Was it because they happened more frequently this season? Is it because they work well as catchwords or tags on Twitter? Perhaps, it was a bit of both.
Climate Change is a pressing global issue. Below is a list of upcoming events in New York City where you can learn more about the subject, its impacts, and some of the actions being taken to help keep our world habitable.
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory/Columbia University
Today is the Vernal Equinox, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere. The new season officially began at 16:57 UTC, which is 12:57pm Eastern Daylight Time.
The astronomical seasons are produced by the tilt of the Earth’s axis – a 23.5° angle – and the movement of the planet around the sun. Today, as spring begins, the Earth’s axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun. This position distributes the sun’s energy equally between the northern and southern hemispheres.
Since the winter solstice in December, the sun has been making an apparent northward journey in our sky toward the Tropic of Cancer. Today, it crossed the equator. This means we have approximately equal hours of day and night. The word “equinox” is derived from Latin and means “equal night”.
As a transitional season, spring marks the end of winter’s biting chill and the gradual return of warmth. It is often associated with the ideas of renewal and rebirth. As such, it has long been a cause for celebration across many cultures throughout human history.
Earth’s solstices and equinoxes. Image Credit: NASA
The Earth’s axis is tilted neither toward nor away from the sun on the Vernal Equinox. Image Credit: NASA
No one can deny this has been a brutal winter in New York City. With persistent cold conditions over the past few months, some people may be questioning the validity of global warming. It is important to remember, however, that it was just one season. To see the big picture of climate change, we need to look at long-term trends.
The graph below shows the actual annual temperatures recorded in Central Park by the National Weather Service from 1869 through 2013. While there has been variability and some extremes – both hot and cold – over the years, the overall trend is clearly warming.
To date, NYC’s coldest year was 1888 with an annual average temperature of 49.3°F. The city’s warmest year was 2012 with an average temperature of 57.3°F. Our normal annual temperature, based on the current 30-year average, is 54.8°F.
A longstanding tradition in New York City, the St. Patrick’s Day Parade has marched in all types of weather. This year, with temperatures in the mid-30s, parade goers had to wear a few extra layers of green.
While today was unseasonably chilly, it was not the coldest St. Patrick’s Day the city has experienced. That dubious honor, according to the NWS, is shared by both 1916 and 1967 when the high was only 26°F. The warmest was in 1945 when the temperature soared to a balmy 75°F.
Up and down and back again, this was a volatile week for temperatures in New York City. Overall, it felt like we were on a weather roller-coaster.
On Tuesday, the high temperature in Central Park was a balmy 66°F – the city’s warmest day of the year so far. Two days later, we were reminded that it is still winter when the mercury only made it to 32°F. Today, the temperature rebounded to 58°F, but it is forecast to tumble into the mid-30s again tomorrow. Our normal high for this time of year is 49°F.
As jarring as they may be, these large temperature swings are par for the course in March. Transitioning from winter to spring, warm air in the south is expanding quickly while cold air lingers in the north. As a result, temperature gradients can be very tight and local conditions can change abruptly.
The winter of 2013-14 has been long and cold for many parts of the United States. For the nation as a whole, it was our coldest winter since 2009-10, but not a record breaker.
According to NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, this meteorological winter (Dec-Feb) was the 34th coldest on record for the contiguous U.S. With an average temperature of 31.3°F, the country was 1°F below its long-term norm.
While the Northeast and Midwest experienced extended bouts of frigid temperatures and abundant snow, the West was unusually warm and dry. This difference, produced by a highly amplified jet stream, balanced out the national average. Nonetheless, it is interesting to note that even though this winter was among the top ten coldest for a few mid-western states, none posted an all time record cold season. California, by contrast, experienced its warmest winter on record.
Super-storm Sandy wreaked havoc on the greater New York City area in late October 2012. Documenting this historic and catastrophic event, the Museum of the City of New York, in collaboration with the International Center of Photography, organized the exhibition, Rising Waters: Photographs of Sandy.
Presenting more than two hundred photographs in both color and black and white, subjects range from the storm itself to the physical devastation and personal loss left in its wake. Organized into six sections – Storm, Destruction, Home, Coping, Relief, and Not Over – the exhibition includes images from both professional and amateur photographers. Many of these contributors, according to the museum, were personally impacted by the storm.
Persistent frigid temperatures this winter across the Mid-West and Northeast have caused many rivers and lakes to freeze. These include the Great Lakes – the largest group of fresh water lakes on the planet.
According to NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, 91.8% of the Great Lakes are currently covered with ice. That is the second highest percentage on record. The largest was 94.7% in 1979. On average, peak ice coverage each winter is roughly 51%.
This extensive ice cover has its pluses and minuses. On one hand, it has reduced the amount of lake effect snow – the heavy precipitation produced when cold air blows across the expansive and relatively warm lake water. When the lakes are frozen, moisture cannot be evaporated and this process shuts down. On the other hand, it has slowed shipping traffic, which has economic impacts. Also, given their massive size, the frozen lakes will likely keep regional temperatures cooler than average this spring.
While this year’s ice cover on the Great Lakes is near record-breaking, researchers say the ice extent varies annually and that there has been an overall decline since the early 1970’s.
Ice covers more than 90% of the Great Lakes. Image Credit: NOAA/Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.