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November 2020 Reigns As Mildest November On Record
Notable December Cold Snaps

The Coldest Day of New York Winters

Frozen bryant park fountain

 

Since 1900 the average high/low on the coldest day of each winter has been 19°/6° (in the last third of the 18th century it was 14°/2°; in the 21st century it's risen to a relatively temperate 20°/9°).  The coldest day has occurred as early as Nov. 30 (winter of 1875-76) and as late as March 15 (winter of 1931-32).  Nearly half of the coldest days of New York's winters have occurred in the four-week period between Jan. 9 and Feb. 6.  For this analysis "coldest day" is based on daily mean temperature (average of high/low), not just the low temperature.

 

Chart - warming of coldest winter day

 

THE SPECTRUM OF THE BIG CHILL

The dates of the most frigid coldest winter day and the mildest coldest winter day are, in their respective years, one day apart.  The coldest of them all fell on Dec. 30, 1917, when the high/low was 2°/-13°.  At the other end of the spectrum, the mildest reading to have the distinction of being the coldest day of a winter was 31°/20° in the winter of 2001-02 on Dec. 31, 2001January 18 is the date to see the most coldest days of winter - six.  Three dates in February have been the coldest for five winters each: Feb. 2, Feb. 5 and Feb. 17.

 

Chart - coldest day jan 18
 

TWO MEASURES OF "COLDEST"

Although the coldest day is usually the same date as the coldest temperature, they have occasionally occurred on different dates (on average, in one out of four winters).  For instance, although the coldest reading of all time is -15°, the coldest day of all time, based on mean temperature, had a low of -13°.  Although this is two degrees "warmer" than the coldest reading, the day's high of 2° was six degrees colder than the high on Feb. 9, 1934, so it ended up with a mean of -5.5° compared to a -3.5° in 1934.  (The most recent instance was the winter of 2019-20 as its coldest day was on Dec. 19, with a high/low of 25°/16°, while the coldest reading was 14° on 2/15.)

 

SIMILAR DATES

A number of consecutive years, or a few years apart, have had their coldest day on practically the same date.  And in one interesting case the coldest day of winters one hundred years apart (1916 and 2016) occurred on the same date - Feb. 15.  And the coldest day of the winters of 1884 and 1984 were two days apart, on 12/23 and 12/25, respectively.

 

Chart - coldest day same date

Chart - coldest day same date - 2

Chart - coldest day same date 100 years apart 

FRIGID HOLIDAYS

The coldest day of some winters has fallen on a holiday.  The one exception is Christmas Eve day.

 

Chart - coldest winter day on holidays

 

"COLDEST COLDEST, MEET MILDEST COLDEST!"

Of course, the coldest winters have a lot of very cold days that that would easily qualify as the coldest dates of many of the winters with average or above average temperatures.

 

Chart - coldest coldest day of winter 
 Chart - mildest coldest day of winter

 

SOMETIMES IT SNOWS

Snow falls very infrequently on the coldest day of the winter - just six winters have had an inch or more of snow on this day.  However, a few were significant, with the stand out being the 12.5" accumulation on the coldest day of the winter of 1966-67 (Feb. 9, which had a high/low of 16°/7°).

 

Chart - snowy coldest days of winter

Finally, the coldest day of the winter of 1963-64 was preceded by a snowstorm that dumped 11.5" the day before, while three storms that followed the coldest day of winter by one day dumped more than ten inches.  The storm in February in 2003 dumped 16.3", but started on the coldest day of the winter, with 3.5" falling that evening.

 

Chart - snowy day before and after coldest day

   

 

Frigid

 

 

 

 

 

Comments

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Landen

On the coldest day of the winter in those of 1876-77 and 1968-69 (12/10) what was the high/low on that date in those two winters

Henry

In the winter of 1875-76, the coldest day was November 30 (high/low of 14/5; mean temperature = 9.5 degrees). This was the only winter to date to have its coldest day in November.

Rob

Thank you for pointing this out! When I did the analysis I didn't include November. Who would have thought such an extremely cold day would happen then? Of course, this changes my finding about earliest date for the coldest day of any winter. I've made the revision.

Rob

The high/low on Dec. 10, 1968 was 24/9 and the high/low on Dec. 10, 1876 was 17/3. However, I've since revised the observation about earliest date for the coldest day of winter as it was pointed out that Nov. 30, 1875 was the coldest day of that winter. It's high/low was 14/5. Who would have ever thought temperatures that cold could happen in November?

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