Today marks the 18th anniversary of the warmest May day on record. The mercury soared to 97 degrees at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford on Monday, May 20, 1996, nearly 30 degrees higher than the average high temperature for the date. In fact, only one other Spring day has been as warm, and that happened on June 9 of 2008. What made the record high of 1996 so memorable was that it happened just 40 days after nearly a foot of snow capped the snowiest Winter on record, and just days after much colder-than-normal temperatures.
“Just over a week ago, the climate got rewound to Winter,” wrote N. R. Kleinfield of The New York Times in an article dated May 21, 1996. “Six inches of snow coated parts of upstate New York (as if the year required more snow). In the city last week, the high temperature dipped to the 50s. Spring, you might have noticed, either got lost or just forgot to come. Then came yesterday (May 20, 1996). It all got fast-forwarded to August. Bathing suits instead of ski parkas,” he continued.
“Turn off the heater and turn up the air-conditioner. What’s going on? Is this Earth or is this Mars? People could be excused for being mystified, discombobulated, distraught, furious, dazed, crazed, tentative, dizzy and, of course, just plain really, really hot.” The temperature reached a record high of 96 degrees in Central Park, eclipsing the previous record of 91 set in 1959, and a new record was established in Newark, where it was 99 degrees. Incredibly, just over a week earlier, on the weekend of May 11 and 12, 1996, it snowed in upstate New York.
Remember, the first two-and-a-half weeks of May in 1996 were unseasonably chilly. The record heat and outages at two power plants, one in Westchester and one in upstate New York, reduced the electricity reserves of New York state’s power pool, leading Consolidated Edison to ask customers to curtail electricity consumption. With air-conditioners thrumming away, demand in New York City reached around 9,000 megawatts, well above the normal 7,000 to 8,000 megawatts for this time of year.
Twelve years later, a late Spring scorcher, which included another 97-degree Spring day, forced area schools to dismiss early and close in early June of 2008. Temperatures soared to 90 degrees or hotter on Sunday, June 8 (90 degrees), Monday, June 9 (97), and Tuesday, June 10 (96). The normal high temperature for the first week of June is 74 degrees. It’s the first time in recent memory that school systems shut down due to the oppressive heat.