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A look back at winter

Posted by David Epstein  March 9, 2012 04:27 AM

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The winter of 2011-2012 will go down as one of the mildest and least snowy on record. Now before you jump to the comments section to tell me winter isn't over, for meteorologists winter is done. You see, meteorological winter runs from December 1st through the end of February. If you divide the year into quarters, The coldest three month period are those 90 days. So, now is a great time to see how this winter stacks up against past ones.

Records for Boston go back to 1872. This is a fairly extensive history and allows us some perspective when seeing how one year compares with those of the past. It's worth noting that records moved to Logan Airport in the middle of the 20th century, prior to that records were taken in downtown Boston.

You certainly don't need me to tell you it was a warm, nearly snow-less winter. Overall, we had the 4th least snowy winter with only 7.7 inches of snow and the 2nd warmest with an average temperature of 37.2°F. Remember, these number are only for the three winter months. They don't include the October snowstorm or anything that fell or falls in March, April or (I don't even want to think it) May. The chart below shows the data from December 2011 and January and February 2012 as it compares to all the other winters since 1872 in Boston. I put Worcester's data at the end of the blog.
Boston Winter.jpg

Very mild days
I am not sure which is more amazing, the fact the overnight low in December averaged above freezing, or the high in February was over 6°F above normal at about 45°F. That is about the average high for Blacksburg, Virginia in February, certainly not Boston, MA.

Little snow
December was the least snowy month this winter with a trace of measurable snowfall. That ranks this winter as the second least snowy on record. January did have about 1/2 a foot of snow, and while this is under the norm, it wasn't that remarkable. Last month, even with the storm on leap day, Boston still only measured just under 1 inch of snowfall making it the 8th least snowy on record.

Once May arrives we can add up all the snow that fell from October to May and see where the snow season falls. You may remember from previous blogs, 9.0 inches of snow is the least that has ever fall in the snow season and that was back in 1936 and 1937.

The upcoming months

One of the questions I get asked a lot after a winter like we just had is what will the spring be like? The answer may come from reviewing past mild winters and looking at subsequent springs. What jumps out at me is that the fact about half of the springs that follow mild winters are also mild. As a matter of fact, some of those springs are in the top warmest of all-time. Also, looking at springs that follow these mild winters 80% of them are either average or milder than average. So, based on the early March pattern, past patterns and the expected spring pattern I don't think we have to worry about a cold spring.

Boston winter and spring.bmp

Climate change?
In addition to weather patterns that we observe day to day, season to season there are larger global patterns. Global patterns change over a larger scale. Some change over week, others year to year and some decade to decade. Some of those patterns can push the patterns warmer or colder for a year or two. While this is happening, the average global temperature of planet itself has warmed about 1.5°F since around 1850. This winter, while certainly warm and not so snowy, can't be used to make any conclusions about long term climatic changes or their causes.

Gardening Tip
In the next few weeks pansies will appear in the garden centers and you can put them out to give you a splash of color. If the temperature goes below 26 degrees, it's a good idea to protect them or move them inside overnight. For more tips about gardening click here.

Follow me on Twitter at @growingwisdom and check out my latest videos at GrowingWisdom.com

Worcester Data for the 2011-2012 Winter
Worcester Winter.jpg

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturalist for three decades. David spent 16 years at WCVB in Boston and currently freelances for WGME in Portland, ME. In 2006, More »
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