If you’re looking forward to February, that must mean that January 2022 was one of the most unbearable cold months in recent times, actually not so recently. So say many Berkshirians, even those who claim a love of New England winters as a point of pride. “Here we are made of solid materials,” as I have heard natives and long-time residents declare.
So let’s go to the record books. We had five predawn troughs below zero in January, with 12 below on January 22 as the trough low. So far, 18 of the 30 days have been below normal, 9 of them in double digits. January 15 was the coldest overall, with a pre-dawn temperature of minus 7 and a “high” of just plus 3.
But, as the National Weather Service’s 82-year-old database at Pittsfield Municipal Airport shows, no record low temperatures were set this month. However, it is the coldest January since 1994, when there were five lows well below minus 10, including the coldest day ‘ever’ minus 26 on January 27. the same year.
Our total snowfall of 17 inches is average for January, but there were no blockbusters. It snowed for 7 days and light to moderate amounts with January 17 hitting the “jackpot” by nearly 7 inches and last Saturday hitting second place.
Even though the winds were high (a maximum gust of 40 mph at Pittsfield airport and 44 mph reported by a spotter in Adams) and the snow was steady for a few hours, the grand total was a manageable range of 2-5 .7 inches (Sandisfield and Lenox), with 4 inches in Pittsfield and slightly more in North Adams.
Our neighbors to the east took all the fury from the Northeast as it slammed into the Gulf of Maine on Sunday, heading towards Nova Scotia. Sharon, southwest of Boston, had 30 inches on the floor, the deepest in the state, with Boston at 23.6. That evens the mark for the most snowfall in a single day, although the modern record for a multi-day storm was 27.6 inches in 2003.
More than 100,000 customers lost power on Saturday, including many in Cape Town, where peak winds of 83mph were reported in Truro, just south of Provincetown.
Coastal towns were inundated, with wind and waves battering North Weymouth, south of Boston, flooding the streets with a slush of freezing water, amateur video shows. Other clips showed an underwater street in Nantucket and waves crashing against the windows of a building in Plymouth.
Parts of nine states were subject to blizzard warnings at one time in addition to Massachusetts: Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, as well as much of the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
The National Weather Service classifies a storm as a blizzard if there is snowfall or blowing snow, as well as winds of at least 35 mph that reduce visibility to a quarter mile or less for at least three hours . In many areas, Saturday’s storm met those criteria.
Climate change, particularly ocean warming, likely influenced the strength of the storm, atmospheric researchers said.
Looking ahead, we will emerge from our deep freeze on Tuesday as the highs reach seasonal levels in the low 30s. On Wednesday and Thursday, look for highs near 45.
But it’s only February, so these relatively balmy days will only be a teaser, and very brief at that. There’s a storm brewing for Thursday and Friday, and “all types of precipitation will be on the table with this event,” as National Weather Service meteorologist Brett Rathbun pointed out in an online post.
The problem will be a blocked border between another blow of polar air in the north and milder temperatures in the south. This atmospheric stalemate will be just above our region.
The result: Moderate to potentially heavy rain, sleet and snow. The amount of rain or frozen precipitation we receive will depend on the exact position of this boundary.
A mix of rain or rain-snow is likely Wednesday evening through Thursday, with snow, ice, and rain taking turns later Thursday through Friday, and lots of it. Temperatures will drop well below zero on Friday and Saturday.
The extended forecast for February 6-12 calls for temperatures to remain below normal and precipitation totals to be near normal.
So, as the old English proverb advises us, “everything comes to those who wait”. The vernal equinox, the first day of spring according to the calendar, is 49 days away.
Florida shared cold weather pain on Sunday, with lows of 37 in Fort Myers and 42 in Miami. But the cold air blast will recede quickly, with highs in the 60s and 70s from north to south over the coming week, as well as plenty of sunshine across the state.
There’s also a warm-up for the midsection of the country, starting Monday, but heavy rain is forecast for much of Texas while the Northern Rockies and Cascades receive another heavy snowfall.
The mid-week storm will be powered by an atmospheric flow of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico, bringing widespread moderate to heavy rainfall from the southern plains to the northeast on Wednesday and Thursday. The best chance of heavy rain extends from the southern plains and lower Mississippi Valley through parts of the lower Ohio/Tennessee valleys to the Appalachians and east. The global model would certainly at least locally support excessive rainfall and flash flooding, but the exact locations remain quite uncertain.
The major winter storm will hit the Midwest and lower Great Lakes by Thursday before heading inland from the northeast.
The exact amounts of any winter precipitation remain in flux at this point and are highly dependent on the lower confidence details of the low pressure system energy, temperature boundaries, and timing of colder temperatures.
But, before the storm, let’s welcome two days of above-average temperatures as a brief respite from the harsh winter the northeast is enduring.
Last week highlighted how meteorology is a fascinating but flawed science. Although I wrote in this space last Monday that “something is coming, perhaps, for next weekend if a storm develops…” the National Weather Service’s prediction at that time was that Saturday would be “mostly cloudy, mid-20”.
On the way to February.