A Frigid Season

17 03 2015


The number of records broken by this year’s exceptionally cold winter is nothing short of astounding. As previously covered, February 2015 was the coldest month ever recorded in Ithaca’s 122-year record, at 10.6 F, it shattered the previous record of 11.3 F set in February 1979. But that’s not the only record shattered with this bitterly cold season.

According to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, when it comes to the most days with sub-zero temperatures, 2014/2015, with 25 days of negative temperatures as of this morning, has the dubious distinction of being the winter with the most subzero days on record, beating the winter of 1960/61 and its 24 subzero days. Last winter (2013/14) is in a tie for third place with 1947/48, with 23 subzero days apiece.

From February 10th to March 4th (March 4th being the reading from March 3rd 8:00 AM – March 4th 7:59 AM), temperatures did not hit go above 32 degrees. That 23-day period is the longest streak of sub-freezing temperatures since January 14th – February 6th 1945, which is the record at 24 days.

The high temperature on February 9th of 38 F was the highest temperature for the month, which is not a record-coldest high temperature for February. It’s third, behind 1900/01 (36 F) and 1977/78 (37 F). January 1977 holds the all-time record of only 33 F, which it hit twice, on the 11th and 29th. Hence why it’s not on the list of consecutive days below freezing.


This winter had unprecedented cold, thanks to a persistent trough in the jet stream over the Eastern United States that allowed frigid arctic air to continually surge through the region (the jet stream is also why much of the West Coast from California to Alaska experienced a record-warm winter, where it ridged poleward and allowed tropical air to surge north). There’s no evidence to tie this to climate change, warming, cooling or otherwise – the relationship between the jet stream and climate change isn’t well understood, and while work by Varvus et al. have suggested that major meanders may become more common, others have gone on the record that that work has issues and the implications are still not known (and for the record, neither party denies climate change, just that its impact on the jet stream is uncertain).

Fortunately, we’re at the point of the year where so much more solar energy is being pumped into the atmosphere that it becomes much harder dynamically to have such frigid temperatures. Although temperatures will be well below normal probably for the rest of the month, and may struggle to break freezing, but nothing will approach subzero. And being March, places out West experiencing the strongest part of the ridge (Southern California) are starting to see “excessive heat advisories” – Palm Springs is seeing 100 F, which usually doesn’t happen until late May. With perhaps the exception of Seattle and Miami, everyone is getting the weather they don’t want or need.






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