Powerful winds battered the northeastern United States on Monday. More than 900 reports of wind damage were posted across the region.
Here in New York City, a high wind warning was issued by the NWS. Gusts reached as high as 58mph at LaGuardia Airport in Queens.
The strong winds downed trees around the five boroughs, tore awnings from restaurants, and even caused a partial scaffolding collapse at a building on Manhattan’s upper east side. The tempest also prevented a cruise ship, the Norwegian Gem, from docking in the city. Loaded with passengers, gale force winds kept it sitting off the coast for hours. Significant airport delays and cancellations were also reported.
The reason for these blustery conditions, like most weather events, is about location. The region was wedged between an area of low pressure to the northeast and an area of high pressure to the west. As they moved closer together, a strong pressure gradient developed and the winds blew faster and faster.
Strong winds caused damage around NYC. Credit: NYPD 19th pct.
From a light breeze to a strong gale, wind speed can be described in numerous ways. All of which are categorized on the Beaufort Wind Force Scale.
Developed in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort, an officer in the UK’s Royal Navy, the scale is an empirical measure of wind speed. It relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea and over land instead of using precise measurements. Simply put, it allows a person to estimate wind speed with visual clues.
Initially, it was only used at sea and was based on the effect the wind had on the sails of a frigate – the most common type of ship in the British Navy at the time. By the mid-1800s, the scale was adapted to also reflect a certain number of anemometer rotations – a device that measures wind speed.
In the early 20thcentury, most ships transitioned to steam power and the scale descriptions were changed to reflect the state of the sea instead of the sails. Around the same time, the scale was extended to land observations. For example, the amount of leaf, branch, or whole tree movement is a visual indicator of the force of the wind.
Today, the scale has 13 categories (0 -12), with 0 representing calm winds and 12 being hurricane force. It is in use in several countries around the globe.
In the US, when winds reach force 6 or higher, the NWS begins issuing advisories and warnings for different environments. For marine areas, force 6-7 winds would prompt a small craft advisory, force 8-9 would warrant a gale wind warning, and a wind reaching force 10-11 would call for a storm warning. Force 12 would constitute a hurricane-force wind warning. On land, winds expected to reach force 6 or higher would cause a high wind warning to be issued.
If the winds are connected to a tropical cyclone, they would be measured on the Saffir-Simpson scale. The same type of special circumstances would also hold for a tornado, which would be measured on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
The Beaufort Wind Force Scale. Credit: Isle of Wight Weather Ctr
Our global temperature continued its upward trend last month with January 2019 tying 2007 as the third warmest January ever recorded on this planet. Only January 2016 and 2017 were warmer.
According to a report by NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information, Earth’s combined average temperature for the month – over both land and sea surfaces – was 55.18°F. That is 1.58°F above the 20th-century average. January was also the 409th consecutive month with a global temperature above its long-term norm. That means the last time any month posted a below average reading was December 1984.
While heat dominated most of the planet this January, some places were particularly warm, including large parts of Asia and Australia. The contiguous US was also above average for the month, ranking among the warmest third of the period of record.
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.
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 inthe 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. WhileEl Niño conditionshelped 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.