It probably doesn’t take a meteorologist to realize that this year was a long, cold and harsh winter. But let’s give it some perspective. All data comes courtesy of the Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC).
Records go back to 1893 for the Ithaca area. If we look at just snowfall, this was a fairly average year. The typical Ithaca winter averaged 64 to 67 inches, depending on your source, with accumulations on 19 days. Barring any freak spring snowstorms (God forbid), this year will finish up at 63.3 inches tallied from 20 days of accumulating snow, virtually par for the course.
Then we take a look at the cold. That was the news maker this year – the cold, not the snow. Let’s put this into perspective and look at the period from November 1 to March 31st – what most folks would describe as the cold season, rather than just calendar or meteorological winter (we’ll hit met winter in a minute).
This was tied for the second coldest cold season since 1893. The average temperature was 24.8 F. Tied with the winter of 1969/1970, and 0.3 F short of the record holder, 24.5 F set in the winter of 1903/04. Even the detestable cold of the winter of 1993/1994 wasn’t as bad as this year (though it holds fourth at 25.0 F). The average coldest temperature in a year is about January 18th, with a high of 30 F and a low of 17 F. 23.5 F. In other words, the temperatures seen on what is usually the coldest day in a year could very nearly be applied to a five month period. It was that bad.
Now let’s look at meteorological winter, December 1 – February 28th/29th. 21.4 F. This is, surprisingly, not awful. It’s the 15th coldest meteorological winter on record. Below average, but not awful. 2002-2003 was worse (21.2 F). The winter of 1917-18 is worst, with an average of 19.0 F. So winter was cold, and seems to be shifting the blame to November and March.
In that respect, we have to hand it to March for being an epic piece of frigid dung. Fourth coldest March on record, at 24.5 F. Only March 1900 (24.4 F), 1984 (23.8 F) and 1960 (21.5 F) were worse. November 2013 averaged 35.7 F, which is once again below average, as the 16th coldest November on record. To sum up this season, it wasn’t just the cold, it was duration that truly made it a memorable year.
To touch upon the cold a little more thoroughly, the number of subzero temperatures in the cold season was 23. 23 subzero days ties second place for the most subzero days in a cool season. Tied with 1947/48, and one short of the record holder, 1960/61 (change it to met winter and it moves to third, behind 1960/61 and 1962/63). In terms of maxima, it still has yet to hit 60 this year, the last time Ithaca was above the “jacket line” was December 23rd. You know, because everyone wants a green Christmas, followed by three months of polar conditions.
So there you have it. Persistent troughing in the east gave us one of the coldest cool seasons in decades. If you want to blame someone, look at California and their persistent ridge out west, giving them their warmest winter ever recorded. But then, given the drought, and given that the fringe suburbs of SoCal may go through this again in six months, maybe blame’s not the right word.