Paul is a full-time fifth-grade teacher at an elementary school in Fairfield ... Paul is an Emmy award winner, five-time Emmy nominee, and four-time winner of the Connecticut Associated Press Broadcasters' Association award for 'Best Weathercast' ... The local weather journal is a two-time winner of the Communicator Award of Distinction ... Paul was inducted into the Housatonic Community College Hall of Fame and received the Distinguished Alumni Award in 2012 ... Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulPiorek ...

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Super Sunday is Groundhog Day

This Sunday, February 2, is Groundhog Day, which is an unofficial weather holiday around these parts. I always look forward to the annual prediction by the Keystone State's most famous rodent. This Winter has been brutally cold and snowy, so I'm looking forward to an early Spring. We'll know the answer early Sunday morning when Punxsutawney Phil makes his prediction before 7:30 in front of a huge gathering of onlookers and fans.
So, how did Groundhog Day originate, anyway? The earliest known reference to Groundhog Day can be found at the Pennsylvania Dutch Folklore Center at Franklin and Marshall College. According to storekeeper James Morris' diary dated February 4, 1841, "Last Tuesday, the second, was Candlemas Day, the day on which, according to the Germans, the groundhog peeps out of his Winter quarters. If he sees his shadow, he pops back for another six-week nap. But if it remain cloudy, he remains out as the weather is to be moderate."

Do you remember what happened last year? Authorities in frigid Ohio issued an "indictment" of the furry rodent, who predicted an early Spring when he didn't see his shadow after emerging from his western Pennsylvania lair. "Punxsutawney Phil did purposely, and with prior calculation and design, cause the people to believe that spring would come early," Mike Gmoser, the prosecutor in southwestern Ohio's Butler County, wrote in an official-looking indictment.

Gmoser wrote that Punxsutawney Phil was charged with misrepresentation of Spring, which constitutes a felony "against the peace and dignity of the state of Ohio." The penalty Phil faced? Gmoser said — tongue firmly in cheek — was death. You may recall that I was featured in a segment on News 12 Connecticut on Groundhog Day 2013.

According to the Old English saying, "If Candlemas be fair and bright, Winter has another flight. If Candlemas brings clouds and rain, Winter will not come again." According to the Scottish, "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there will be two Winters in the year." Finally, the Germans believe, "For as the Sun shines on Candlemas Day, so far will the snow swirl until May. For as the snow blows on Candlemas Day, so far will the Sun shine before May."

Phil1Over the years, there have been several interesting anecdotes to Groundhog Day. For example, during Prohibition, Phil threatened to impose 60 weeks of Winter on the community if he wasn't allowed a drink. Phil traveled to Washington, DC, in 1986 to meet with President Reagan, and, one year later, he met Pennsylvania Governor Dick Thornberg. In 1993, Columbia Pictures released the movie Groundhog Day, starring comedian Bill Murray, and Phil appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1995.

Following the release of the movie, annual crowds in excess of 30,000 have visited Gobbler's Knob. The spectacle has turned into a media event and has become quite commercial, too, with vendors hawking "Phil" tee-shirts, sweatshirts, a plastic Phil bank, Phil ornaments, and a classic Punxsutawney Phil cookbook. I wouldn't mind wearing one of those sweatshirts, in fact!

It is said that Punxsutawney Phil gets his longevity from drinking the "elixir of life," a secret recipe. Phil takes one sip every summer at the Groundhog Picnic and it magically gives him seven more years of life. So the story goes, Punxsutawney Phil was named after King Phillip. Prior to being called Phil, he was called Br'er Groundhog. I'm one of Phil's biggest fans!

Happy Groundhog Day.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Just "Itching" for Spring to Arrive

The recent stretch of cold, dry air can have an adverse affect on your skin. If you're like me, I'm sure you've been itching a lot lately. Unfortunately, Winter is the season for dry skin and chapped lips because lower air temperatures and low humidity result in drier air. The dryness is made worse by forced, hot-air heating in homes and offices. The dry air causes skin to lose more moisture and become itchy.

According to Dr. Rob Danoff of Discover Health, "As we age, Winter dryness becomes worse because the natural oil layer in our skin (which protects it from losing moisture) is depleted. Frequent baths or showers further removes this protective oil layer, and the cycle of winter-dry skin continues."


Even though I've turned down the thermostat in my home and limited showers to just a few minutes, using a moisturizer regularly during the dry Winter months is the best treatment. The most common cause of itchiness without a rash, according to Dr. Danoff, is dry skin. In fact, the most common symptom of dry skin is that itchy feeling, not the dry-skin flakes. Just because your skin is flaky, doesn't mean it's dry. A common example is seborrhea, a skin condition where the skin is flaky and oily, not dry.

"If your skin is itchy for no obvious reason, try using a moisturizer before visiting your health-care professional," writes Dr. Danoff. "Moisturizers add a protective oil layer to your skin and decrease the amount of moisture lost to dry air. You don't need to use fancy or expensive moisturizer. Sometimes simpler is better because 'special' added ingredients may not result in any benefit to your skin, even though the hype of the product may sound great!"

In fact, the air has been so dry that we'll be hard-pressed to squeeze any flurries or rain drops out of the sky today. So, what are some measures you can take to protect your skin during the cold and dry weather this Winter? Here are just a few:
  • Lotions are good for most parts of your body, but creams are best for the really rough areas such as elbows, knees, hands and feet.
  • Apply a moisturizer after you take a bath or shower. This will help keep your skin hydrated. It's often best to take a bath or shower before you go to bed. Cold dry air tends to cause the moisture on your skin to evaporate, setting up a cycle of drier skin.
  • Drink plenty of water (as long as you have no fluid restrictions), not soda or caffeinated beverages.
  • Avoid long showers or baths, use warm water, not hot, and try not to use scented soaps or detergents.
  • Don't wear wool or other scratchy materials against your skin.
  • Wear gloves when washing dishes, or if your hands are exposed to harsh chemicals.
  • Consider getting a humidifier during the heating season, or use the time-proven method of keeping pots filled with water near the heating vents to increase the moisture in the air.
  • Don't lick chapped lips because this will lead to even more fluid loss and more lip cracking.
I'll be following most of these over the next couple of weeks, no doubt. Another blast of Arctic air will arrive later this afternoon and tonight, with temperatures dropping into the single digits inland and close to 10 degrees along the shoreline by daybreak. The daytime high temperatures tomorrow and Wednesday will only be in the teens. Bundle up!


Sunday, January 26, 2014

Powerful Blizzard Three Years Ago Today Resulted in Snowiest January on Record

A powerful storm exploded over southwestern Connecticut three years ago this morning, delivering heavy snow, gusty winds, thunder, and lightning. Nearly a foot-and-a-half of snow was reported in most communities in the area before the snow moved away by daybreak, January 26, 2011. Not surprisingly, it resulted in the snowiest January on record across southwestern Connecticut.

Officially, after that memorable storm, nearly three feet (34.8") of snow had fallen at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, breaking the previous January record of 26.2 inches set in 1965. The normal snowfall for the month is 8.5 inches. Last January, just 7.4" of snow fell, while three years ago, only 7.7 inches of snow fell in January. Take a look at this photo from viewer Margaret in Devon which was taken at 2 o'clock in the morning two years ago today.


Here are snowfall totals from Wednesday, January 26, 2011:
  • Norwalk: 17.0"
  • Darien: 15.5"
  • Milford: 15.0"
  • Fairfield: 15.0"
  • Greenwich: 14.5"
Once again, my neighbor, Todd, who owns a snowplow, drove me to work. Without question, it was the worst ride to work in my 18-and-a-half years of doing morning weather at News 12 Connecticut. I have never seen I-95 as snow-covered and as dangerous as three years ago today. There were several tractor trailers jacknifed, and the backup was extensive on the Northbound side in Westport. The heavy, wet snow made driving extremely difficult.

I woke up to the sound of muffled thunder shortly after midnight, and when I went to look out the window, I saw nothing but white. The snow was falling heavily, and I knew the storm had intensified due to the gusty winds, thunder, and lightning. This was no ordinary snowstorm. Nearly a foot of snow had accumulated by midnight. When Todd arrived at my driveway at 2:20, I couldn't get the kitchen door open because the snow was piled so high. Just walking to his plow was a chore in itself. Here's another shot from Devon three years ago this morning.


A blustery and cold day is ahead, but clouds will increase and flurries or snow showers will develop this afternoon. Flurries and snow showers will linger through early tomorrow before temperatures rebound into the mid-to-upper 30s Monday afternoon. Another Arctic cold front will arrive tomorrow night, though, and we'll be back in the deep freeze by the middle of this week.


Friday, January 24, 2014

Use Caution & Common Sense Before Lacing Up Your Skates Outside

The recent cold stretch has prompted many of my neighbors and friends to lace up their ice skates and hit the ice at Samp Mortar Lake. The average temperature this month (28.3 degrees) is nearly two degrees below normal, and the last two mornings have featured low temperatures of two and five degrees, respectively. In fact, six days this month have had double-digit below-normal average temperatures.

I can recall many years spending hours at a time skating on our nearby lake in early January. In fact, the biggest obstacle more often than not was clearing the snow from the ice before skating. The normal high and low temperatures for this time of the year are 37 and 23 degrees, respectively, but there were many years when the mercury didn't come close to normal.

First responders across Connecticut responded to multiple incidents of people falling through the ice yesterday. The Greenwich Fire Department rescued two boys who fell into a private pond. The teenaged boys have been released from the hospital and are expected to be okay.

During the rescue, crews put on special suits to protect themselves from the cold water temperatures that can cause hypothermia. Authorities urge anyone who falls through ice to stay calm and make as much noise as possible to get help quickly.

So, what precautions should be taken before venturing out on the ice? According to safesport. com, "If possible, choose a frozen-over shallow body of water. If you do happen to fall in, the depth will be low enough for you to safely walk out. The strength of the ice cannot be determined just by looking at it. Its strength is determined by many factors."

These factors include:

  • water chemistry, or whether it is salt or fresh water;
  • the daily climate, including wind, snow, rain, and temperature fluctuations; 
  • the presence of water currents at stream inflows and outflows;
  • the size and depth of the open water; 
  • distribution of weight on the ice; and signs of expansion cracks on the surface. 
Ice is generally considered safe for activities such as skating when it is at least four-to-five inches thick. Naturally, the thicker the ice, the better. To determine the ice thickness, chip or drill a hole through the ice and measure it. Keep in mind that one area of the lake, pond, or river may be thicker than another. 

Depending on the area you want to use, you may need to check the ice depth in more than one location. If the ice surface is covered with snow, the ice underneath all that light, fluffy whiteness has actually weakened, despite the freezing temperatures as snow acts as an insulator.

The best way to avoid falling through the ice is to do a thorough check of its strength. When possible, skate on designated areas. Nature is not perfect, though, and despite your best efforts to avoid weak spots, you still may happen upon them, causing you to fall into the frigid water. Bring along rope or a pole to assist in the rescue, just in case. Also, never go out onto frozen open water alone or at night.

Many years ago, the neighbors eagerly awaited an annual ritual which determined whether the ice was thick and safe enough for all of us to enjoy. One of my neighbors would drive his truck onto the ice as onlookers watched. Obviously, the driver took all the necessary precautions before his much-anticipated drive. Once his truck was safely on the ice, he'd give the "thumbs-up" sign to the cheers and delight of the onlookers.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

St. Thomas Aquinas School's Third-Graders Star as Weekly Weatherkids

I visited with the third-graders at St. Thomas Aquinas School in Fairfield this week. One of the students wrote a song about me, and the class sang it on the air. We had a great time.


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Latest Snowstorm Pushes Season Total Close to Two Feet

A major snowstorm dumped close to a foot of snow across parts of southwestern Connecticut yesterday, causing traffic problems, closing schools, and ushering frigid air into the Northeast. The snow began falling lightly just after 9 o'clock Tuesday morning and fell steadily through midday. Heavier snow fell after 2 p.m., bringing traffic to nearly a standstill in both directions along I-95.

Here are the official snow totals for many communities across the region, courtesy of the National Weather Service:

This was the view along the Post Road in Fairfield Tuesday morning as the snow started to fall. The town's public and parochial schools were dismissed early.

The total snowfall at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford from Tuesday through early Wednesday morning was over a half-foot (6.7"), pushing the season's total snowfall to 22.8" which is less than seven inches from the average for the entire season. January's snow total (11.9") is more than double the normal (5.8") and well ahead of last year's pace (3.5") through the same date. 

The following graph shows Sikorsky's snow totals from the three snowiest decades on record.


Friday, January 17, 2014

Fairfield Country Day School's First-Grade Boys Enjoy Weatherkids Spotlight

The first-graders at Fairfield Country Day School, a private school for boys, were this week's featured Weatherkids. The boys enjoyed my weather experiments, trivia, games, and having the opportunity to be on television. I had just as much fun as the boys did.


Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Record Low Temperature of Five Below Zero Set on This Date in 1957

A record low temperature of -5 degrees was established on this date in 1957 at Bridgeport. Take a look at the front page of The Bridgeport Post from Thursday, January 15, 1957. Please click the image below to enlarge.

According to the article, "An Arctic cold wave held the area in an icy grip as the U. S. Weather Station at the Bridgeport Municipal Airport, Stratford, reported a reading of five degrees below zero, its lowest since the facility was established in 1938."

The article states, "A check of low temperatures around Fairfield County upheld Sandy Hook as the most popular spot for snowmen with a reading of 18 degrees below zero reported. Unofficial lows in other sections are as follows: New Milford -17, Newtown and Stevenson -14, Easton and Botsford -12, Monroe -10 & -15, Weston -12, Fairfield -7 to -12, Danbury -11, Norwalk and Stratford -5, and Westport and Milford -4."


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

January Full Wolf Moon Rises Tomorrow Evening

I'm sure you noticed the waxing Moon rising in the sky after sunset over the course of the last few days. In case you're wondering, the Full Wolf Moon officially happens late tomorrow evening, Wednesday, January 15, at 11:52 p.m. EST.

Since the length of daylight is still relatively short, the full Moon will appear for nearly its longest duration of the year. In fact, Wednesday's moonrise happens at 4:45 p.m., and Thursday's moonset is at 7:07 a.m. That means the Moon will be "out" for nearly 14-and-a-half hours. During the Summer, when the Sun rises earlier and sets later, a full Moon isn't "out" nearly as long since the daylight is much longer.

The Moon rises about 30 to 70 minutes later each day, so the Moon is out during the daytime as often as it is out at night. As the Moon wanes, it becomes a half Moon and a crescent Moon on the way to a new Moon. The complete phase cycle is about 29.5 days average duration. The time in days counted from the time of New Moon is called the Moon's "age." Each complete cycle of phases is called a "lunation."

So how did the name of the January full Moon originate? Amid the cold and deep snows of midwinter, the wolf packs howled hungrily outside Indian villages. Thus, the name for this month's full Moon. Sometimes it was also referred to as the Old Moon or the Moon After Yule. Some called it the Full Snow Moon, but most tribes applied that name to the next Moon.

As far as our weather is concerned, unseasonably mild temperatures will continue through tomorrow. Today will be mostly sunny and breezy with a high temperature in the upper 40s, well above the 38-degree normal for this time of the year. Tonight will become mostly cloudy and not as chilly with a low of 35 to 40 degrees. Periods of rain are likely tomorrow with a high near 50 degrees. Cooler air arrives by the end of this week.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Wild Weather Happened Eight Years Ago This Week

An incredible stretch of weather brought just about everything, except the kitchen sink, to southwestern Connecticut eight years ago this week. Several storms brought heavy rain, accumulating snow, damaging winds, and dangerous icing to the area over a three-day period which began on Saturday, January 14, 2006, and continued through Monday, January 16, 2006. The wild weather ride actually didn't end until nearly a week later.

I recorded the following entries in my weather log, which I chart daily. Although most days are rather mundane, I highlighted these three days for obvious reasons. The weekend included record-high temperatures, record rainfall, tropical storm force winds, bitter cold wind chills below zero, icy roadways, and three-and-a-half inches of snow.

Saturday, January 14, 2006 --- A powerful Winter storm came barreling into the Northeast, producing record heavy rainfall of 1.59 inches, which broke the old mark of 0.91 inches, established in 1958. Strong southerly winds ahead of a well-defined cold front (51 miles-an-hour wind gust) brought down trees and power lines, and mild temperatures (56 degrees at 7:53 am) began a 36-hour stretch of severe weather across southwestern Connecticut.


I took each of these photos of the damage in my neighborhood from the storms. The first two show a truck and a car which were destroyed by falling trees in 50+ mile-an-hour wind gusts from January 14.


Sunday, January 15, 2006 --- Continued strong wind gusts (48 miles-an-hour) out of the North behind the front delivered much colder air (32 degree high and 11 degree low), and 3.5 inches of snow, creating a nightmare for local residents as power outages, below zero wind chills, and icy roadways punctuated the day's weather. The damage from the wind was extensive, as evidenced by the many trees which came tumbling down.


Monday, January 16, 2006 --- Bitter cold wind chills greeted early-morning risers as temperatures hovered between zero and ten degrees at daybreak. The high (29 degrees) and low (10) were well below normal for mid-January. Although the wind began to relax somewhat, we still had a peak wind gust of 31 miles-an-hour. United Illuminuating crews were out in full force attempting to restore power to many residents who were braving the ice, wind, and extreme cold for several days.


Personally, what I remember most from that weekend was losing power Saturday night, January 14, while my son and I were watching the New England Patriots' playoff game at Denver. We awoke to frigid, snowy, and icy conditions the following morning. However, fortunately for us, we were one of only a handful of families in our neighborhood to have power restored late the following morning. The majority of homes in our neighborhood remained without power for several days.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Today Marks 18th Anniversary of the Blizzard of 1996

Did you know that today marks the anniversary of The Blizzard of 1996? That snowstorm still ranks as one of the most memorable in my nearly-19 years of providing the morning weather forecasts at News 12 Connecticut. In fact, it was one of only two times I stayed the night and slept in the weathercenter due to the heavy snow and strong, gusty winds.

The storm actually started late-morning, Sunday, January 7, as light snow overspread the entire Northeast. The snow gradually became heavier through the afternoon, and by evening, roads were just about impassable due to the rapid accumulation. By the time the storm began moving away the following day, nearly two feet of snow blanketed much of southwestern Connecticut.

The two-day snow total at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Statford was 15 inches, including seven inches on January 7 and eight on January 8. That eclipsed the snow total of the so-called March 13, 1993 "Storm of the Century," which was 10.8 inches. Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks received 18.2 inches, just shy of the 21-inch record snowfall at the time, but more than the 14.8 inches just three years earlier.

Central Park in New York City recorded 20.2 inches of snow, making it the third highest snowfall at the time. Staten Island measured more than 27 inches of snow, and  LaGuardia International Airport recorded 24 inches, which exceeded the normal for the entire season of 22.6 inches.

An Arctic air mass covered New England as a massive storm developed over Virginia. The storm was actually energized by a 60-degree surface temperature contrast across western Montana which propelled a 175-mile-an-hour wind in the jet stream southward into the Plains causing the storm to form. This storm eventually brought the heavy snow from western North Carolina to southern New England.

Incredibly, the eastern slopes of the Appalachian Mountains from northern Virginia to Pennsylvania measured more than three feet of snow. The following map shows just how impressive the storm was. Southwestern Connecticut fell within the 15 to 20 inch range as far as total snow accumulations, with the heaviest amounts of 30 inches across southeastern Pennsylvania. The lightest amounts, oddly, fell well to the North.


It's hard to believe that 18 years have passed since the January blizzard of 1996. There aren't any worries about significant snow over the next few days, but brutally cold Arctic air will be with us through tomorrow. Today's high temperatures will only reach the lower teens, and tomorrow's highs will climb into the mid 20s. Bundle up. It sure is cold outside.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Earth Is Closest to the Sun Today in Its Annual Orbit

Even though this morning's low temperatures featured some of the coldest readings in quite some time, the early Winter is the time of the year when the Earth is nearest to the Sun. In fact, this morning at 7 o'clock, when the temperature was in the single digits, the Earth was closer to the Sun than at any other time in 2014. This is when the Earth is at perihelion.

Since last July, the Earth has been falling ever closer to the Sun. Every moment since then, our planet has edged closer to the nearest star in the universe. The Earth’s orbit around the Sun is not a perfect circle. It’s actually an ellipse, so sometimes we’re closer to the Sun, and sometimes farther away. Various factors change the exact date and time every year, but aphelion (when we’re farthest from the Sun) happens in July, and perihelion (when we’re closest) in January.


At perihelion, our planet is about 91 million miles from the Sun. It moves outward to about 95 million miles from the Sun at aphelion. So, the Earth is about three percent farther from the Sun at aphelion than it is at perihelion. Naturally, some people have the mistaken impression that our seasons are caused by the changes in Earth's distance from the Sun, but this is not the case.

The temperatures and the seasons are not affected by the proximity of the Earth to the Sun or even the rotation of the planet on its axis. Rather, it is the tilt of the Earth that determines the climate. When it is at perihelion in January, the Earth is tilted away from the Sun in the Northern Hemisphere, and the sunlight is not "getting a direct hit" on the Earth's atmosphere. However, when it is at aphelion in July, the Earth is tilted toward the Sun.

So, as you bundle up and head outside today, take comfort in the fact that the Earth is closer to the Sun than it is in the middle of Summer. I'm sure that's of little consolation, though. This morning's low temperature at Sikorsky Memorial Airport was three degrees. Temperatures will hold in the 20s under mostly sunny skies through this afternoon.