I was having a discussion about the winter with a fellow meteorologist last evening bantering about the perception of how cold and snowy it’s been here in New England. You might be thinking, wait a second, perception, I know it’s been cold and snowy. You are correct, but the extent of the cold and snowiness depends on how we evaluate the winter.
For us here in New England this has been the coldest winter since the winter of 2002/2003, but ranks only in the top 65 of all-time. So if you are in your early 30s, this is the coldest winter since back in your college days, but if you are 70, you’ve experienced many other winters that were colder. Across other parts of the country this will turn out as one of the top 5 or 10 coldest and snowiest winters on record.
Back to the cold and snow here in New England. I think there are multiple reasons the winter seems worse than the averages tell us. First, the numbers include the few warm spells we have seen since December. While those thaws didn’t last very long, they did add enough to the averages to bring them up. If you remove the warm-spells from the average, the cold becomes more notable. Second, for other parts of the country this is a blockbuster winter. This has led the national media to begin their newscasts with weather so many nights; it starts to become part of our collective psyche. At some point if you’re told how cold and snowy it is, it becomes cold and snowy.
I fully acknowledge this is a significant winter, but it’s not to the same degree across the entire United States. The upper Midwest has endured the brunt of the cold this season with some areas remaining below freezing almost every moment since December began.
Another reason this winter has been so difficult for us is two winters ago was the mildest and least snowy winter most of you have every experienced. Temperatures in February and March 2012 reached spring-like readings multiple times. There was only one day in February 2012 where the temperature stayed under the freezing mark and no day stayed in the 20s. Readings reached 70F or higher 7 times throughout March 2012. This February you can count 11 days so far under freezing and that number will climb to 13 by tomorrow night. March is going to start cold and I don’t see any 50s in sight, let alone 60F or 70F.
Last winter was snowy in February and the first half of March, but winter arrived late and left relatively early. Of the past three winters, this is by far the most difficult. Unless you’re really into weather, after 3 years, the season’s sort of blend into one another anyway.
Winters of the past
On balance, winters back in the 1960 and 1970s were colder. When we have a cold winter like this one, which is less common than it used to be, it really stands out. Yearly snowfall continues consistently inconsistent with the average snowfall in Boston remaining just under 45 inches per season. The large fluctuation in seasonal snowfall lends itself to the idea winters are either easy or horrible. Total snowfall for Boston for the past two winters is now close to 120 inches. There are only about 5 times over the past 125 seasons when the snowfall from two winters exceeded 120 inches. There was 180.2 inches of snow over the two winter seasons from 1992 through 1994. that stands as the record.
There’s a saying about perception being reality. I, like many of you, believe this is a bad winter. The averages can tell me what they do and that’s useful, but my back, my wallet and my psyche are all screaming for the winter to be over already.
You can tweet your thoughts about the winter or ask any questions @growingwisdom.
I have been touting the idea of more snow later Sunday evening and Monday for several days advising folks to stay clear of travel if possible early next week. This idea continues to look very likely. With arctic air in place this weekend and milder air trying to ride north over the cold air, snow is going to break out as early as Sunday. Initially, I expect the snow to be more of a nuisance than anything. Later Sunday night and especially on Monday the snow will become heavier and steadier.
There are all sorts of questions about the upcoming weather situation I can’t answer yet. How much snow, does it change to rain, is there a lull, when does it end completely, etc. I can say with reasonable confidence I think Boston will see at least 4 more inches of snow from this upcoming storm. I can also state the situation looks more drawn out with perhaps two or even three bursts of accumulating snow with longer lulls in-between. Later today and over the weekend I’ll refine the forecast and give you many more specifics. For now, continue to expect delays and cancellations Monday into perhaps Tuesday.