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Snowfall Analysis: New York's Snowiest Consecutive Months

Snowplows

 

The snow that piled up in New York during the winter of 2014 made it one of the ten snowiest on record (going back to 1869).  The bulk of the 57 inches fell in January (19.7") and February (28.8").  Their combined total of 48.5" is the second greatest amount of snow to fall in back-to-back months.  Only the winter of 2011 had a combo with more as December picked up 20.1" and January saw 36.0". 

 

Three of the winters found on the chart below had 20" or more of snow for both of the months: Jan/Feb 1978, Jan/Feb 1996 and Dec 2010/Jan 2011.  And three winters make two appearances: 1996, 2010 and 2011.  (If March 2014 sees nine inches or more it will also have two slots on the list.)

 

NEW YORK'S SNOWIEST BACK-TO-BACK MONTHS
(Since 1869)
       
 Months 1st Month 2nd Month Combined
Dec 2010/Jan 2011 20.1" 36.0" 56.1"
Jan/Feb 2014 19.7" 28.8" 48.5"
Jan/Feb 1996 26.1" 21.2" 47.3"
Dec 1947/Jan 1948 29.6" 15.3" 44.9"
Jan/Feb 1978 20.3" 23.0" 43.3"
Jan/Feb 1923 24.5" 18.8" 43.3"
Feb/Mar 1967 23.6" 17.4" 41.0"
Feb/Mar 2011 36.0" 4.8" 40.8"
Dec 1904/Jan 1905 21.6" 18.4" 40.0"
Feb/Mar 1896 9.5" 30.5" 40.0"
Jan/Feb 2010 2.1" 36.9" 39.0"
Feb/Mar 1914 17.4" 21.5" 38.9"
Jan/Feb 1994 12.0" 26.4" 38.4"
Dec/Jan 1996 11.5" 26.1" 37.6"
Dec/Jan 1893 27.0" 10.6" 37.6"
Dec 2003/Jan 2004 19.8" 17.3" 37.1"
       
(Analysis of data from www.NWS.NOAA.gov)

Jack Frost Nipping at Your Nose: Cold Winter Days (1970 - 2020)

Jackfrost

 

An average New York winter has 18 days with high temperatures of 32° or colder (20% of its days).  Since 1970 the number has ranged from as few as three, in the winters of 2002 and 2020, to as many as 45, in 1977 (half of that winter's days).  Being that it's winter suggests that cold conditions would predominate, when, in fact, there aren't nearly as many of these cold days as there are days entirely above freezing (18 vs. 34).  However, there have been nine very cold winters in which days of freezing weather or colder outnumbered the milder days.  

 

WINTERS WITH MORE COLD DAYS THAN MILD DAYS
(1970-2020)
       
  Cold Mild  
 Winter Days Days  
2014 27 26  
2011 22 17  
2003 30 21  
1996 28 25  
1994 30 22  
1981 30 23  
1978 36 21  
1977 45 17  
1970 27 15  
Typical Winter 18 34  
       

(The winter of 2015 isn't on the chart above because, despite its frigid February, December was the mildest on record, and the winter ended up with 25 cold days and 27 mild ones.)

 

By month, only one January since 1970 had no freezing or colder days, and that was in 1990 (after one of the coldest Decembers on record).  The most such days, 25, occurred in 1977.   Meanwhile, three Februarys had no days of 32° or colder; in December it's happened eight times. 

 

WINTER DAYS W/HIGHS OF 32 OR COLDER 
(1970-2020)
           
  Average Most Year Least Year
Winter 18 45 1977 3 2020*
December 4 17 1989 0 2013*
January 9 25 1977 0 1990
February 5 15 1979 0 2003*
*Most recent occurrence      

 

Finally, although they occur infrequently, November and March (which fall outside of "meteorological" winter) occasionally experience days with highs of 32° or colder.  While March sees one of these days once ever one or two years, in November it happens just once every seven years.  And no November has had more than one of these cold days (with the winter of 2013-14 being the most recent), while in March the most was six, in 1978, and five in 1984 and 2017.  The winters of 1990 and 2009 have the distinction of being the only ones book-ended by days at freezing or colder in both November and March. 

 

Breathing.cold.air

 

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Frost-Free Winter Days: A History (1970 - 2020)

Weathergonemild

 

During a typical winter (Dec. 1-Feb. 28/29), one-third of the days have temperatures that stay above freezing for the entire day.  (Some might be surprised to learn that there are nearly twice as many frost-free days as there are days at freezing or colder - 34 vs. 18).  There have been as few as 15 of these "January thaw" days (winter of 1970) and as many as 58 (winters of 1998 and 2012). 

 

Since 1970 there have been 29 streaks of frost-free days that lasted 10 days or longer; half of the winters have had at least one; seven had two (the most recent was the winter of 2016-17).  The longest lasted 34 days during the winter of 2015-16, lasting from Dec. 1 thru Jan. 3; there was also one of 31 days in the winter of 2006-07, between Dec. 10 and Jan. 9.  December 2015 also had an eighteen-day steak in which the temperature never fell below 45°, and an eight-day streak in which the temperature never fell below 50°.

 

Mild.jet.stream

  Chart - frost free days


 

 


Mild One Day, Snow the Next - A History of Dramatic Change

Playing.golf

 

This post was inspired by an eight-inch snowfall on Feb. 2, 2014 that occurred the day after the high reached 56°.  However, there was an even more drastic one-day change during the winter of 2017 when 9.4" of snow fell on Feb. 9, the day after the high was 62°.  This was the most drastic one-day change in weather conditions since March 16, 2007 when 5.5" of sleet and snow fell the day after a springlike high of 67° was reached.

 

Nyc snowplow
 

Since 1970 there have been twenty-eight instances of an inch or more of snow falling the day after a high of 50° or warmer; however, on only seven of those occasions was the accumulation four inches or more.  In addition to the three occasions mentioned at the beginning of this post, here are the four other dates it has occurred:

  • March 29, 1970 - On Easter Sunday four inches of snow fell the day after a high of 54°.
  • Feb. 2, 2009 - 4.3" of snow fell one day after a high of 53° was reported.
  • Feb. 21, 2001 - A snowfall of 5.8" occurred the day after a high of 52°.
  • Feb. 17, 2018 - A nighttime snowfall of 4.4" came at the end of a week that had three days with highs of 62° and a high of 58° on 2/16.

 

The following two snowstorms occurred the day after the high temperature was above average, but below 50°; however, they warrant mention because of the large amount of snow that fell:

  • Jan 21, 2014 - 11.0" fell the day after a high of 46° degrees was reached.
  • April 6, 1982 - 9.6" fell the day after the temperature topped out at 48°.   

 

Finally, a shout-out to the 1.2" of snow that fell on April 9, 2000 because it came the day after a high of 71°.

 

Snow in  central park - wabc

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January 2014's Weather Was Harsh, but January 2009 Was Colder

Weather_snowypedestrians

 

January 2014 was a cold/snowy month, four degrees colder than average and with nearly 20 inches of snow.  With a mean temperature of 28.6 degrees, it was the coldest in five years, when January 2009 had a mean temperature of 28.1 degrees.  This surprised me because conditions this January seemed harsher, and a side-by-side comparison of daily temperatures of the two months seems to bear this out:

 

  • This year had eleven days that were 10 degrees or more colder than average while there just six such days in 2009. 
  • 2014 had ten days with lows of 15° or colder compared to only five in 2009. 
  • This January had eight days with highs of 25° or colder while there were just three five years ago.  One thing the two years had in common was the same number of days with highs of 32° or below, thirteen.

 

The  reason 2009 was colder overall was due to its lack of any extended stretch of mild weather.  In 2014 there was a week-long period (1/11 thru 1/17) in which the temperature never fell below 32°.  In 2009 there was only one such day.  Also, this year had five days that were 10 degrees or more above average - 2009 had no such days.  Four days in January 2014 reported highs in the 50s while 2009's mildest reading was 47°.  As a result, although this year's average low was colder than 2009's (21.8 degrees vs. 22.4 degrees) its average high of 35.4 degrees was 1.9 degrees above that of five years ago, and that is what gave 2009 a colder mean temperature.  (By the way, this year's average low was the coldest in ten years.)

 

Frigid_nyc

 

As far snowfall is concerned, this January had more than twice as much accumulation - 19.7" vs. 9.0".   Interestingly, 2009 had four snowfalls of one-inch or more - one more than this year.  However, this year's snowfalls were: 11.5", 6.4", 1.0" and 0.8" while five years ago the accumulations were: 4.0", 3.0" and two snowfalls of 1.0".

 

Snow_traffic

 

JANUARY 2014 v 2009    
  2014 2009
Mean Temperature 28.6 28.1
Average High 35.4 33.5
Average Low 21.8 22.4
Warmest 58 47
Coldest 4 6
Lows of 15 or colder 10 5
Highs of 25 or colder 8 3
Highs of 32 or colder 13 13
Mean temp 10+ deg above 5 0
Mean temp 10+ deg below 11 6
Snow 19.7" 9.0"

 

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New York Weather History: January (1900 - 2021)

Clipart_fancysnowflake Highlights:  New York's biggest snowfall of all time occurred on Jan. 22, 2016 when 27.5" buried the City; 72° on Jan. 6, 2007; Blizzard of '96 dumped 20" in the first week of January; bitter cold readings in 1982, 1985, 1994, and 2004; 13.8" snowstorm on Jan. 22-23, 2005; the 36" of snow that fell in 2011 is the all-time January record, including 19" on Jan. 25-26; NYC recorded its wettest and driest Januarys two years apart (1979, 1981). 

 

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January 31

 

 

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Today in New York Weather History: January 31

 

1915

This was the sixteenth day this winter to receive measurable snow, but just the first to have an accumulation of an inch or more.  However, the 1.6" that fell during the first half of the afternoon changed to rain and was washed away.  (A more substantial snowfall, of 4.4", would occur two days later.) 

 

Weather.snow1920

1920

In less than 24 hours the temperature dropped from 41°, at 4:00 PM yesterday, to zero degrees this morning at 10:00 AM.  Temperatures stayed in the single digits, or colder, for 31 consecutive hours - and they were between +1° and -2° for 17 consecutive hours (on Feb. 1).  This was also the tenth day this month to have a low in the single digits or colder - the most of any January (a record that still stands).  

1929

This was the seventh day this month (all since 1/13) to have measurable snow, and like all of the other snowfalls, it amounted to less than an inch.  (Total snowfall for the month was 2.9".)

1947

The last eight days of the month experienced the quintessential "January thaw" as the average high/low was 57°/38°, sixteen degrees above average.  Today's high was 63°.

1961

Today's high of 29° was the "warmest" temperature during an unprecedented 16-day cold wave that that began on Jan. 19 - and would continue for three more days.  Since that date, temperatures were 15 degrees below average (high/low of 23°/10°).

 

The.ice.box

1966

The last week of the month was 11 degrees colder than average, the complete opposite of the first week, which was 12 degrees above average.  Today's high/low was 28°/14° (by contrast, New Year's Day had a high/low of 62°/52°).

1971

This morning's low of 10° made it the ninth day since Jan. 16 to have a low colder than 15°.

1974

Today was the tenth day of the past eleven in which temperatures were ten degrees or more above average (the day that wasn't, was nine above average).  During this unseasonably mild stretch of weather, temperatures were 15 degrees above average.  After a high of 60° today, the temperature tumbled to 35° by midnight after passage of a cold front.

1996

The 0.9" of snow that fell today was the most to fall on this date since 1949 (when 1.0" accumulated).  It fell upon the arrival of an Arctic front that moved through late in the morning.  Today's snow brought the month's total snowfall to 26.1", making it, at the time, the second snowiest January on record (it's since fallen to third).

2004

Although the first five days of January were 15 degrees milder than average, this ended up being the coldest January since 1977.  Twenty of the past twenty-five days had high temperatures of freezing or colder; this period was 11 degrees below average.  And today was no different, with a high/low of 28°/15°.

 

Shivering_woman

2006

Only three degrees separated today's low and high temperature (42°/39°).

2007

Today was the fourth day in a row in which measurable snow fell.  This has happened only one other time in the 1970-2018 period (Jan. 27-30, 1986).  However, snowfall during these four days was more of the "nuisance" variety, with 0.6" falling today, one inch yesterday, 0.1" on 1/29 and 0.4" on 1/28.  (In the winter of 2019, there were five consecutive days with measurable snow, from Feb. 28 to March 4.)

2008

Only a trace of snow fell this month, tying 1933 as the second least snowy January on record (no snow fell in January 1890).

2012

This was yet another month with above average temperatures, the tenth in a row and the longest such streak since 1999, when there was one of twelve months (beginning August 1998 through July 1999).

2013

A ferocious rainstorm swept through New York overnight, with wind gusts between 45-60 mph common throughout the region.  Besides wind and rain, very mild air surged ahead of a cold front, pushing the temperature up to 61° shortly before 2:30 AM.  Although the worst of the storm had moved out by 7:00 AM, high winds continued for the rest of the day, and by evening the temperature had fallen by 25 degrees.  The 0.94" of rain that fell in Central Park (0.04" fell last night) was the same amount that fell during Superstorm Sandy back on Oct. 29-30 (but over considerably fewer hours).

 

Tree_blown_down

2014

This was the 20th day in a row in which no low temperature was duplicated.  During these days lows ranged between 5° and 44°.

2017

Light snow fell between 10:00 AM and 2:00 PM, amounting to 1.0" - the first snowfall of an inch or more on this date since 1949.  And with a high/low of 34°/26°, this was the first colder than average day since 1/14; the low was the coldest since 1/10 (when the reading was 21°).  During these sixteen days temperatures were nine degrees above average.  

2019

Today's frigid high/low of 16°/2° was quite a contrast to the first day of the month (New Year's Day), which had a mild high/low of 58°/39°.  Today's low was the coldest reading thus far this winter (and since Feb. 2016) and its mean temperature tied Jan. 21's, which had a high/low of 14°/4°, (only four other days in the past 25 years have had colder mean temperatures).  Finally, today's high temperature matched the high in 1935 for coldest high on this date.

2021

Until this evening, the month was set to become one of the five least snowy Januarys on record, with just 0.1" measured.  However, the first flakes from an approaching snowstorm moved in after 6:00 PM, and by midnight two inches had accumulated.  This was the most snow to fall on this date since 1898 (when five inches piled up).  The 2.1" that fell this month made it the third January in a row with well below average snowfall (Jan. 2019 had 1.1", Jan. 2020 had 2.3").

 

Snowflakes
   

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Today in New York Weather History: January 30

 

1933

A trace of snow was reported for the fifth day in a row - the "snowiest" period in a month that had no measurable snowfall.  Only January 1890 had less snow - 0.0".  January 1933 was later joined by January 2008 as the only two Januarys with just a trace of snow.

 

Trace

1966

The biggest snowfall of the winter began late last night and continued through early afternoon as a nor'easter moved up the coast.  In total, 6.8" fell and winds gusted to 40 mph when snow was falling heaviest this morning.  The temperature rose sharply from 25° around daybreak to 38° late in the late morning and dropped sharply a few hours later and was down to 20° by midnight.  (New York got off relatively easy as upstate New York, eastern PA and the Delmarva region had more than a foot of snow.)

 

Snowstorm of jan 29-31 1966


1986

This was the fourth day in a row in which measurable snow fell.  In the 1970-2018 period, this would happen just one other time (Jan. 28-31, 2007).  The snow during these days was more of the "nuisance" variety, with just 0.2" falling today, 0.4" yesterday, 1.4" on 1/28 and 0.2" on 1/27.  (In the winter of 2019, measurable snow fell on five consecutive days, from Feb. 28 thru March 4.)

1999

This was the 15th straight day with above average temperatures.  During this stretch temperatures were 10 degrees above normal.

2002

For the fourth day in a row the high temperature soared into the 60s (62°, 60°, 69°, and 61° today).  This stretch of days was 25 degrees milder than average, making it feel more like January in Dallas or Atlanta.  It was also the ninth consecutive day in which the mean temperature was 10+ degrees above average.

 

 

Clipart_hotday

2010

With a high/low of 20°/13°, today was the coldest day of the winter.

2019

Ferocious cold that descended upon the Midwest, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley over the past few days made its way east, ushered in by a snow squall mid-afternoon.  Once the front passed, the temperature dropped from the low 30s to the single digits by 9:00 PM (and down to 2° by daybreak on the 31st).  Howling winds produced sub-zero wind chills.  The 0.4" of snow that fell during the 15-minute squall brought January's total snowfall to 1.1", keeping it from joining thirteen other Januarys that have had less than an inch of snow.  

 

Snowsquall jan30

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A History of Frigid Temperatures in New York City

Ice_cubes

 

Temperatures colder than 10° above zero are infrequent in New York. Since 1970 the average number per winter has been three (in the 21st century the average has fallen to two days.)  Not surprisingly, two-thirds of Central Park's frigid readings have occurred in January.  The sweet spot is between Jan. 16-22, with the peak day being January 18, which has had readings in the single digits nine times.  The earliest date since 1970 for a single-digit reading has been Dec. 3, which occurred in 1976; the latest was on February 28, 2014.

 

Clipart_coldweather

 

Temperatures of zero or below have been reported just eleven times since 1970, with the coldest reading of 2° below zero occurring on three occasions: Jan. 17, 1977; Jan. 21, 1985; and Jan. 19, 1994.  There has been just one sub-zero reading this century and it occurred during the mild winter of 2016, when the mercury dropped to -1° on Valentine's Day.  Not only was it a record for the date, it was also the first below zero reading since 1994, the first to occur in February since 1963, and the latest date for a sub-zero reading since 1934.  (Previous to 2016's reading, the coldest reading of the 20th century was +1°, which occurred twice in January 2004.)

 

Bitter Cold Day NYC Feb 14, 2016-1
Photo credit: William Sutherland

 

There have been 14 winters with 10 or more lows in the single digits or colder.  The last time it happened was in the winter of 1936.  The greatest number of frigid days, 20, occurred during the winter of 1918.  More recently, the winters of 2015, 1994 and 1979 have had the most days with lows colder than 10° - nine.  Since 1970 the most consecutive winters to have a sub-zero reading is four, 1933 to 1936.  And the most consecutive days with single digit temperatures is six, which happened between Feb. 9-14, 1979.  By contrast, 29 winters (since 1870) have had no readings below 10 degrees, including eight of the past sixteen (through the winter of 2021 - which was one of the eight winters).

 

Chart - most frigid lows

 

Frigid_nyc

 

Just one day since 1970 has had a high temperature in the single digits.  It occurred during the great Arctic outbreak of January 1985.  On Jan. 21 the high reached only 9° (after an AM low of -2°).  That reading was reached shortly before midnight.  During the daytime hours the temperature hovered around 7°.  This was the coldest high temperature for New York since Feb. 15, 1943 when the high that day was just 8° (and that was the second time that winter with a high of 8°; the first was on Dec. 20).

 

9

 

Finally, in this century there have been six extended Arctic outbreaks of note.  Three were in consecutive years - January 2003, 2004 and 2005.  The most recent, during the winter of 2018, featured the third longest streak of highs 32° or colder on record (14 days, two days fewer than 1961's lengthiest streak and one less than a streak during the winter of 1881).

 

Chart - 21st century cold waves

 

 

 

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Today in New York Weather History: January 29

 

1925

The 1.3" of snow that fell late in the afternoon brought January's snowfall to 27.4", making it the snowiest January and the second snowiest of any month (now ranked third and eighth, respectively).  The month had three significant snowfalls: 11.5" on Jan. 2, seven inches on Jan. 20 and 5.1" on Jan. 27-28.  All but 2.2" of the winter's snow fell this month. 

1934

The temperature at 9:00 AM was 6°, just eighteen hours after the 3:00 PM temperature on 1/28 had reached 58° - one of the greatest temperature drops in less than 24 hours in NYC history.  Winds gusting between 20-30 mph in the morning produced sub-zero wind chills.  This incursion of Arctic air was accompanied by the only measurable snowfall of the month, a measly 0.1".  This was the fourth January in a row to have less than an inch of snowfall (the average amount back then was close to 10").

Steep decline1970

With a high/low of 51°/42°, today was the first day completely above freezing in nearly seven weeks (since Dec. 14). 

1973

Rain changed to snow around daybreak and the 1.8" that accumulated was not only the first measurable snow of the winter (the latest date on record), but the largest accumulation as well.  (Through 2021, this is the last time an inch or more of snow fell on this date.)

1990

Although it was just 1.03", today's rainfall was enough to set a record for the date (breaking the record from 1870).  Only three other dates have had less precipitation for their daily record: 0.86" on Sept. 9, 1904; 0.91" on April 29, 1909; and 1.02" on June 8, 1900.  

 

Clipart_rain2

1994

This was the only day between Jan. 3 and Feb. 17 that was completely above freezing (high/low of 42°/35°).

2002

The afternoon high soared to 69°, thirty-one degrees above average, and a record for the date.  

2003

In the past four days, very cold and dry air produced 2.5" of powder/fluffy snow from just 0.04" of liquid precipitation.  Today was the eighth day this month with measurable snowfall, which was notable since only 4.7" of snow fell during the month.

 

Snowglobe

2007

Today was the fifth day this month to have 0.01" of precipitation, the most of any month in the 1970-2018 era (April 2019 would have also five such days).  Today's precipitation was in the form of snow as the high/low was 30°/21°.

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