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Biggest Snowstorms by Day of the Week

Days of the week

 

Looking at snowstorms of 10" or more by day of the week (there have been 56 since 1900) reveals Friday to be the day most likely to pick up this type of hefty accumulation (nine times).  By contrast, Thursday has never had a snowfall this big; the greatest accumulation has been 9.8", which happened twice - in February 1934 and most recently in the winter of 2018 (Jan. 4).  And although a snowstorm that dumped 20.9" in February 2010 started on a Thursday, less than half of the total (9.4") fell on that day. 

 

Clip art snowflakes

 

About two-thirds of the snowstorms in this analysis started on one day and ended the following day (and one storm in February 1920 had significant accumulations on three days).  Of the snowstorms which continued into the next day, the storm with the most significant accumulation on each day was the snowstorm of Feb. 25-26, 2010, which saw 9.4" fall on Thursday and 11.5" on Friday. 

 

New York's three biggest snowstorms each occurred on a different day of the week (and a different month): The biggest snowfall of all time, in January 2016, occurred on a Saturday; the second greatest accumulation, in February 2006, took place mostly on a Sunday; and the third-ranked snowstorm, in December 1947, buried the City on a Friday.   

 

One calendar date, Feb. 17, is shared by two Monday snowstorms (in 1902 and 2003); another, Feb. 10, is shared by two on Wednesday (in 1926 and 2010); and Feb. 11 has been the date of two Friday snowstorms (in 1983 and 1994).  Finally, there has been a 10"+ accumulation on the same day of the week in consecutive winters just once.  It happened on a Monday during the winters of 1978 and 1979, when 15.5" fell on Feb. 6, 1978 and 12.7" fell on Feb. 19, 1979. 

 

Chart - Snowstorms by Day of Week
 Chart - Two-Day Snowstorms

 

 

 

 

 

 


Longest Streaks of High Temperatures of 32 Degrees or Colder

Iceage

 

Since the winter of 1940 there have been ten streaks of ten days or longer with high temperatures that were 32° or colder (streaks of this length occur, on average, once every eight years).  The most recent, a streak of fourteen days, occurred in the winter of 2017-18 (Dec. 26 thru Jan. 8).  It was the third longest on record, behind a sixteen-day streak in the winter of 1961, and a fifteen-day streak in the winter of 1881.  This winter's streak closely mirrored one during the winter of 2001 that also started in December and ended in January.  (However, it's temperatures weren't as cold and was one day shorter.)  What follows are some other interesting observations about New York's longest cold streaks (nine days or longer):

 

  • As mentioned above, the longest streak came in the winter of 1961 when the City shivered through sixteen days in a row of sub-freezing highs from Jan. 19 thru Feb. 3.  The "warmest" temperature during this time frame was 29°.  It would be seventeen years before another streak of ten days or longer occurred.
  • No winter has had two of these lengthy streaks, but 1958 had one in February of twelve days and a ten-day streak in December.  Additionally, there have been numerous winters with two or more smaller streaks of four, five or six days.
  • The earliest of the streaks occurred at the beginning of the winter of 1957-58 when there was a ten-day streak from Dec. 7 to 16.  The latest streaks were in February 1958 (Feb. 8-19) and February 1979 (Feb. 9-19).  What was remarkable about the 1979 streak was the fact that, not only was it late in the winter, but it had the most days with lows in the single digits - eight.  It followed closely behind a nine-day streak in January 1968 as the coldest of the cold waves; Feb. 1979, however, had the coldest average high (20.5) while Jan. 1968 had the coldest average low (6.4).
  • There were extended streaks in the consecutive winters of 1977, 1978 and 1979 (and there was one in 1981).  1977's streak was book-ended by smaller streaks of five days before (broken up a day with a high of 41°) and four days after (broken up by a day with a high of 36°).  In total, 18 of the 20 days between Jan. 5-24 saw highs at freezing or below.  There was also another cluster of winters with lengthy cold waves, during the winters of 2001, 2003, 2004 and 2005.
  • Thirteen of the seventeen streaks of nine days or longer saw some mornings with lows in the single digits or colder (three had sub-zero readings).
  • Three of the streaks of nine days or longer had snowstorms of 12 inches or more. 1961's cold wave nearly had two snowstorms but two-thirds of the 17.4" accumulation from the snowstorm on Feb. 3-4 fell on the day when the 16-day streak ended as the high reached 34°.  

 

Chart - snowstorms during cold waves

 

  • The 13-day steak during the winter of 2000-01 had the highest mean temperature. 

 

 Chart - Longest Cold Streaks in NYC

 


Comparing New York's Three Biggest Snowstorms

Blizzard of 2016

 

New York's three biggest snowstorms each buried the City under more than two feet of snow (four others have produced between 20"and 21").  They occurred in different months of the winter: the biggest, totaling 27.5", was in January 2016; the second greatest, 26.9", buried New York in February 2006, and the third deepest, 26.4", was the day after Christmas in December 1947.  And the bulk of these storms' snow fell on different days of the week: Friday (1947), Saturday (2016), and Sunday (2006).  The amounts of each storm were approximately what falls during an entire winter.

 

Although it's fallen to third place, what makes the 1947 snowstorm stand out from the other two is that it occurred during a cold and very snowy winter while the others accounted for much of the snow during their mild winters.  The 2006 snowstorm accounted for all but 13.1" of the snowfall that winter while 2016's blizzard accounted for all but 4.6".  By contrast, the winter of 1947-48, which at the time was snowiest on record (now ranked second behind the winter of 1996), had 37.4" of snow on top of December's enormous accumulation.  Each month of that winter had temperatures well below average, especially December.  By contrast, the winter of 2006 had the fourth mildest January on record while the winter of 2016 was the second mildest on record, largely due to the mildest December on record.

 

Winter-new-york-city-1947

 

Interestingly, before being crowned the biggest snowstorm in NYC history, 2016's snowstorm was ranked second, with 0.1" less than 2006's amount.  Then three months later the National Weather Service announced that it had re-evaluated the measurement at Central Park's weather station and added 0.7" to the originally reported amount, making it top dog.  (The winter before that the NWS adjusted three snowfalls, adding 3.1" to that winter's snowfall total.) 

 

Although it's now ranked third, the snowstorm of Dec. 26-27, 1947 may have been the most debilitating of the three storms.  First, the snow of that storm had a higher water content than the others, especially 2006's.  1947's snowfall was equivalent to 2.40" liquid compared to 2.32" for 2016's blizzard and 1.86" for the fluffy snow of 2006.  Second, the days following the 1947 storm were much colder than those after the other two storms, so snow melt was minimal.  Temperatures during the five days after the 1947 storm were seven degrees colder than average, with high temperatures ranging from 28° and 35°.  By comparison, temperatures after the 2006 and 2016 storms were six and four degrees above average, respectively.  In 2006 three of the five days after the Feb. 11-12 blizzard saw highs in the mid-to upper 50s.  In 2016 the third and fourth days after the storm never saw the temperature drop to freezing or colder.  Add to these reasons the fact that snow removal techniques of 70 years ago were primitive compared to those of the 21st century, and a strong argument can be made that the 1947 snowstorm was the worst of the three. 

 

  NYC-blizzard-Dec-1947

 NYCs Three Biggest Snowstorms

 Snowstorm fun facts

 

 


Are Weather Hobbyists Undermining the Credibility of Meteorologists?

CredibilityMy interest in the weather is historical in nature and the posts I publish focus on comparing today's weather conditions with those of past years.  However, many of my fellow weather enthusiasts are interested in the science of meteorology and forecasting.  And while their enthusiasm is heartening I fear they undermine the credibility of trained meteorologists in the public's eye because all too often they build up storms much too early, storms that, more often than not, don't live up to the early hype

 

Amateur forecasters tend to lack the discipline of patience, wanting to be the first to announce a big storm when it's still in the embryonic stage.  Call it a case of  "premature prognostication".   Time and time again, at the earliest indication that a storm is forming they make wild pronouncements about a major snowstorm or hurricane striking a week or more in the future.  And nine times out of ten the storms don't live up to their billing.  So what we have is many boys crying "wolf!", or, rather, "snowstorm!"  Then, maddeningly, after a storm doesn't live up to its hype they're right back at it touting yet another potential blockbuster event that might happen two weeks down the road.

 

Ron.burgundy 

 

But it's not always the hobbyists who come up short.  With more than half a dozen or more competing forecast models available (e.g., European, NAM, GFS, GFDL, NCEP, WRF, and Canadian) even experienced meteorologists risk appearing foolish when they talk publicly about all of the models and their sometime conflicting forecasts.  These models create a Tower of Babel effect.  Whom to believe?  The public doesn't want uncertainty or need to know "how the sausage is made".

 

Forecast.models.hurricanes

 

Stop the madness!

 

 


Winter 2016 Recap - Mild, With Cameo Appearances by Old Man Winter

Winter2016

 

This was a most unusual winter.  It began with the mildest December on record, followed by the second biggest snowfall of all time in January, and then capped off in February by the City's first sub-zero temperature in more than 20 years.  (Ironically, last winter was much harsher but it couldn't boast of a monster snowstorm nor did it have any readings below zero.)  However, despite January and February's brief flings with Old Man Winter, December set the tone for the entire season, which ended up as the second mildest meteorological winter on record (behind the winter of 2002).  And although it wasn't the mildest, it has the distinction of having the most days with highs of 50°+ of any winter.

 

DECEMBER 2015

December was the warmest on record by a wide margin (following the mildest November).  No day had a temperature of 32° or colder - a first for December.  Eleven days had highs of 60° or warmer.  The warmth peaked on 12/24 when the high/low was an incredibly mild 72/63 (33 degrees above average).

Milddecember2015  

JANUARY 2016

The first measurable snow of the winter didn't fall until 1/17, and then it was just 0.4".  Then less than a week later, on 1/23, a paralyzing weekend blizzard stopped the City, burying it under 27.5" (considerably more than had been predicted).  This made it the biggest accumulation on record, surpassing the previous record from February 2006, when 26.9" fell.  (However, at the time of the storm the total was reported as 26.8".  It wasn't until the end of April that the National Weather Service revised the total upward to reflect a final band of snow that moved through after midnight on 1/24 that, inexplicably, went unaccounted for.)

 

Nyc.blizzard2016

 

FEBRUARY 2016

A rather mild, uneventful month was upended mid-month when the Northeast was plunged into the deep-freeze, with the temperature dropping to 1° below zero at daybreak on Valentine's Day (wind chills were between -10° and -20°).  Not only was this the first sub-zero reading since the winter of 1994, it was the first below-zero reading in February since 1963, and the latest date for a sub-zero reading since 1943.  This Arctic outbreak was experienced in a month that had 11 days with mean temperatures 10 degrees or more above average, giving this February the distinction of being the mildest of any month with a below-zero reading (there have been 36 such months).

 

Bittercold

 

 Winter2016Recap

 

And although meteorological winter is over, the calendar has a mind of its own as March has been known to act as a refuge for Old Man Winter on occasion - 2015 and 2014 being perfect examples.

 


 


A History of Back-to-Back Snowstorms

Snowy_Street_GreenwichVillage

 

A few days ago I wrote a post about the absence of any significant snowfalls in the week following major snowstorms (13 inches or more).  However, there have been snowstorms of lesser magnitude that were followed by another significant snowfall within ten days of each other.  The most impressive of these happened during the winters of 1926 and 1994.  On Feb. 4, 1926 a snowstorm of 10.4" was followed six days later by a snowfall of one foot, while in 1994 a snowfall of 9.2" on Feb. 8-9 was followed two days later by an ever bigger storm that dumped 12.8".  And there have been two instances of three significant snowfalls in a brief span dropping significant accumulations.  In the winter of 2005 18.7" of snow fell in a 10-day period and last winter 14.1" fell in the first five days of March.

 

 

Capture


Lastly, the shortest amount of time between two snowstorms of one foot or more is 18 days.  This took place in the winter of 1978 when 13.6" of snow fell on Jan. 19-20 and 17.7" fell on Feb. 6-7.

 

12InchSnowstorms 

 Snowstorm

 

 

 

 

 

 



 

 

 

 

 


Suffering From Post-Snowstorm Depression?

Snowcoveredcar.blizzard2016

 

After the anticipation and euphoria created by a big snowstorm fades, some of us suffer a letdown when the flakes stop piling up (somewhat like postpartum depression).  Drunk from experiencing the fury of Old Man Winter there's hope that another storm will barrel up the coast in a few days - but it's not likely to happen (despite the tendency of the news media to end a weather story by saying, "and another storm is on the horizon").   Looking at more than twenty major snowstorms that have buried New York City in the past 100 years (13 inches or more), no major snowfalls followed in the five days afterward.  The largest accumulation, 2.9", came five days after a 14.5" snowstorm in January 1914; and 2.4" fell four days after the blizzard of January 1996 (before changing to rain).

 

Then there's the matter of snow melt.  New York's biggest snowstorm, in February 2006, has the distinction of having the biggest warm-up in the aftermath of a storm, with three days seeing temperatures rise into the mid-to-upper 50s.  And after January 2016's 26.8" blizzard, the third and fourth days after the storm were completely above freezing.  (The biggest warm-ups after notable snowstorms have all occurred in the 21st century.)  Although there haven't been large accumulations of snow, there have been a number of significant rainstorms in post-storm periods.  The the biggest dumped 1.80" of rain five days after a January 1978 snowstorm (13.6"); 1.49" fell five days after the President's Day blizzard of 2003 (19.8"); and 0.95" fell after a 14-inch snowstorm in the first week of December 2003.

 

Slush.2016blizzard 

 

Finally, although we haven't been burdened by more heavy snowfall immediately following a snowstorm, cold weather in a storm's aftermath has posed a challenge for digging out of some snowstorms.  The coldest period after a snowstorm was the five days that followed the 18.1" snowstorm of Jan. 22-23, 1935, all which had highs colder than 32° (average high/low of these five days was 22/5).  Other snowstorms that had cold weather afterwards include the storms of January 2005 (average high/low of 28/13), December 1960 (30/17), March 1960 (32/19) and December 1947 (32/22).

 

ParkAve_snowstorm

 

If you enjoy reading about New York's snowstorms, here are other posts you should find interesting:  

We Are Living in Extraordinarily Snow Times

Recap of Each Winter's Snowstorms (1960-2016)

The Most Snowfall in 30 Days

Remembering New York's 'Snowmageddon' of Winter 2011

Too Cold for Snow? Temperatures During NYC Snowstorms

A History of Snowstorms That Fizzled Out

 

 

 

 

 

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We Are Living In Extraordinarily Snowy Times

Snowflakes.city.skyline

 

40 inches of snow is considered a hefty amount for a New York winter, a total that's about 50% above average.  Over the years, winters with this much snow have occurred once every four years.  This average, however, masks extended periods with and without snowy winters.  For example, winters between 1873 and 1923 averaged snowfall of 40 inches or more once every three years, but then the 24-year period that followed (between 1924 and 1947) had just one snowy winter.  More recently there was a 26-year period between 1968 and 1993 that also had just one.  

 

Most recently, New York found itself in the midst of an abundance of snowy winters, the most recent being the winter of 2017-18.  Specifically, nine of the sixteen winters between 2003-2018 had 40 inches or more of snow, an unprecedented concentration (including four winters in a row).  Of the five winters that didn't see this much, three were well below average (under 13") and the other two picked up an average amount of snow.  (The three winters after 2018 have each had less than 40", but winter 2020-21 came close, with 38.6" measured.)

 

Piles.of.snowradiocity

 

PEAKS & VALLEYS OF WINTERS WITH 40 INCHES+ SNOWFALL
       
  # of # of Winters  % with
Time Period Winters 40"+ Snow 40"+ Snow
All Winters 152 36 24%
1870-1872 3 0 0%
1873-1923 51 17 33%
1924-1947 24 1 4%
1948-1967 20 6 30%
1968-1993 26 1 4%
1994-2002 9 2 22%
2003-2018 16 9 56%
Source: NWS New York Office

January 2015 - Not as Cold & Snowy as Last Year, But Sill Cold & Snowy

 

January 2015

 

Compared to last January, January 2015 wasn't as cold or snowy, but it was still colder and snowier than average, with a mean temperature 2.7 degrees below average, and snowfall more than double the month's average (16.9" vs. 7.0").  It was also the wettest January since 1999.  What follows are the four key stories of the month:

 

  • A typical January is five degrees colder than December, but this year it was 11 degrees colder as December was on the mild side (3.2 degrees above average).
  • There was a "January thaw" of just one day, on Jan. 5 when it was 56°/41°.  After that day the "warmest" temperature for the rest of the month was just 43°.  By contrast, January 2014 had a thaw of five days.
  • The rainstorm of Jan. 18, which drenched the area with 2.10", was the biggest rainstorm in January since 1999.
  • Of course, the biggest story of the month was the blizzard that fizzled during the last week of the month, giving the City "just" 9.8" rather than 24"-36" that had been predicted the day before the storm moved in.

 

Blizzard.of.2015

 

JANUARY 2015 vs. JANUARY 2014
      30-Year
  2015 2014 Average
Average High (+/-) 36.1 (-2.2°) 35.4 (-2.9°) 38.3
Warmest Reading 59° 58° 59°
       
Average Low (+/-) 23.6 (-3.3°) 21.8 (-5.1°) 26.9
Coldest Reading
       
Mean Temp (+/-) 29.9 (-2.7°) 28.6 (-4.0°) 32.6
Highs of 32 or Colder 13°
       
Precipitation 5.23" 2.79" 4.13"
Snowfall 16.9" 19.7" 7.0"

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A History of Predicted Snowstorms That Fizzled

FizzleThis post was inspired by the "great blizzard" of Jan. 26-27, 2015 that was a bust.  Predicted to bury New York under as much as 24-30" of snow, just under ten inches fell.  Although this was a significant accumulation it was a pittance compared to what had been advertised.  A contrite National Weather Service even issued an apology to New York's mayor, who, based on its forecast, called the storm one of "historic proportions", ordered schools closed and urged businesses to let employees work from home.  Meanwhile the governor of New York ordered the City's transit system shut down as well.  This is one of fifteen storms since 1980 that were heralded as blockbusters but then petered out or brought rain or sleet instead of snow. Details of each follow.

 

 

Blizzard.of.2015

 

ROLL-CALL OF WINTER STORMS THAT DIDN'T DELIVER

Jan. 15, 1983 - A predicted snowstorm failed to materialize as temperatures stayed above freezing (the day's high/low was 36/33).  The combination of drizzle and wet snow (one inch) that fell between mid-morning and mid-afternoon amounted to 0.65" of liquid precipitation in Central Park.  This would have produced about half a foot of snow had the temperature been a few degrees colder.  Although suburbs north and west of the City received significant snowfall, snow lovers in NYC would have to wait another month for a substantial snowfall (the blizzard of Feb. 11-12).

March 28-29, 1984 - A big coastal storm had potential to dump substantial amounts over a number of days.  And while 3.5" did fall, it fell sporadically and was interspersed with periods of rain.

Dec. 17, 1989 - During one of the coldest and driest Decembers on record this was going to be a big snow producer, but the storm moved too far off the coast.  And what precipitation there was fell mostly as rain, and just 0.7" of the white stuff was measured.

March 13, 1993 - Although 10.6" of snow piled up from the ferocious storm billed as the "Storm of the Century", the predicted 15-18" didn't materialize because of a changeover to sleet and then rain in the early evening.

Jan 17, 1994 - This winter storm sucked in more mild air than expected, resulting in a mostly rain event (after starting as a brief period of snow that accumulated 1.3").  1.34" of precipitation fell in total, a record for the date.  The temperature rose sharply, from 12° at midnight to 47° by early afternoon, and began tumbling later as another Arctic air mass moved in.  

Feb. 8-9, 1994 - This was more of an under-performer rather than a fizzle because 9" fell in total.  The first part of the storm delivered 7.2" of snow in a relatively short time (9AM thru 1PM), but then a dry slot developed and the rest of the afternoon was dry.  When precipitation resumed in the evening it came down as sleet rather than snow day, reducing the predicted accumulation by four or five inches (1.8" fell on the 7th). 

March 31, 1997 - There was early talk of significant snowfall, but the City received only rain (2.32") as the temperature stayed above freezing (winds gusted between 40 and 50 mph).  Boston, meanwhile, was buried by 25 inches of snow on April Fool's Day.

March 6, 2001 - At one point 12-18" of snow was predicted from what the Weather Channel labeled "The March Lion" and City schools were closed before the storm even began as a precautionary measure.  And while parts of Long Island saw a foot or more, Central Park had 3.5" as the storm developed a bit further north than expected.

Feb. 6, 2010 - A huge weekend snowstorm that buried DC, Baltimore, Philly and Pittsburgh with 20-30" of snow came achingly close to NYC, but it stopped at our doorstep.  Although parts of Staten Island picked up three inches of snow, Central Park saw just a few snow flurries.

Feb. 10, 2010 - Although 10" piled up, 12"-18" had been predicted but because the temperature stayed warmer than expected, hovering in the 32°-33° range, the snow had a lot of water content which kept the accumulation down (1.33" of liquid was measured). It was a drippy, slushy type of snow (especially on the streets). 

March 3, 2014 - A winter storm that, a few days earlier, was predicted to dump significant amounts of snow on NYC (6-12"), was pushed to the south by an Arctic high and delivered a dusting of 0.1" (which would be the only measurable snow of a month that was the coldest March since 1960). 

Jan. 26-27, 2015 - Late in the afternoon on 1/25 a blizzard warning was issued for the area and NYC prepared for 40-65 mph winds and more than two feet of snow.  In preparation the mayor advised workers to stay home on Monday and Tuesday (most of the people in my office left by 3:00 on Monday); City schools cancelled classes on the 27th; subway and train service was suspended at 11PM on the 26th; and non-essential vehicles were prohibited from roads.  The first indication that the storm might not deliver came after dark on the 26th when a "dry slot" moved in for four hours (after five inches had fallen).  Then the blizzard warning was revoked after midnight as the storm moved further off the coast than expected.  And while we had a significant snowfall of 9.8" (which was the biggest accumulation of the winter), just 30 miles to the east 18-24" buried Long Island.

March 14, 2017 - There was fevered talk that this storm might challenge the Blizzard of 1888 as biggest snow maker in the month of March, but the storm jogged a bit further west than expected and the snow changed to sleet (temperatures stayed below freezing throughout the storm).  7.6" of snow accumulated, with heavy accumulation of sleet on top of the snow.  However, accumulations of 15-20" were common north of NYC where no changeover occurred.

March 7, 2018 - While many towns in northern New Jersey and the lower Hudson Valley were buried by one to two feet of snow, a nor'easter that produced heavy, wet snow left far less in New York than had been predicted.  Despite snow falling steadily from late morning (accompanied by thunder) until 8PM, just 3.2" was measured in Central Park.  This was largely due to temperatures that stayed above freezing for the entire event (which had been predicted).  Curiously, the snowfall forecast was adjusted upward later in the morning to 8-12".  Despite the modest snowfall, the amount of liquid that fell amounted to 1.41".  

Jan. 19-20, 2019 - From the get-go there was uncertainty about this storm, i.e., its path, how much warm air was going to be brought in, and how Arctic air would interact with it.  Five days out the forecast was calling for snow Saturday afternoon changing to sleet/freezing rain, then to rain, then back to snow.  A few days later it was thought colder air would gain the upper hand, bringing significant amounts of snow to the City (4-7"), but with a changeover to rain still expected (with a possibility that the storm might be an all-snow event).  Then the day before the system moved in the forecast changed again as milder air was expected to infiltrate the coast, with an inch or two of snow expected at the onset; it was also expected to move through more quickly.  Because of these mitigating factors no winter storm warning was issued, just a watch (warnings were posted north and west of the City).  We ended up with a cold rain of more than an inch that started after dark and continued through the morning of the 20th (0.2" of sleet/snow was measured). 

 

 

 

 

 

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