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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Beware the Month of March

Today officially marks the last day of meteorological Winter. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean that Winter ends at the stroke of midnight. There is a difference between meteorological Winter and astronomical Winter. Astronomical Winter began on December 21 when the Sun was the farthest from the Earth in the Northern Hemisphere. Meteorological Winter, on the other hand, is simply the period of the year when the Northern Hemisphere is the coldest. That lasts from December 1 through the end of February.

Tomorrow is the first day of March, and although it will feel good to turn the calendar page, the month is anything but serene. March is a transition month as Winter slowly yields to Spring. As for our weather, just about anything goes during the month. The best example of the unpredictable nature of March weather is illustrated on the 13th of the month. That's the date when the mercury reached 84 degrees in 1990, establishing records for the season, month, and date.

Just three years later, though, on the same date, the so-called Storm of the Century dumped over a foot of snow to the region, making it the second snowiest date on record for March at the time. Winds gusted over 40 miles an hour and wind chills were at or below zero. Most of the eastern third of the nation was affected by the massive storm, which stretched from Maine to Florida, including hurricane force winds, tornadoes, strong thunderstorms, and blizzard conditions.

And, five years ago, on March 13, 2010, we experienced an unforgettable Nor'easter which brought flooding rains, damaging winds, massive power outages, and two local fatalities. Peak wind gusts reached 50 to 60 miles an hour in most communities, resulting in downed trees and power lines. Many local roads were impassable, and rainfall rates of up to one-half inch per hour were reported across southwestern Connecticut.


So, what can we expect in March? Basically, anything and everything. Based on local climatology, the normal average daily temperature climbs eight degrees from 36 to 44. The average high temperature increases from 43 degrees at the start of March to 52 degrees by the last day of the month. The record high temperature is 84 degrees set on March 13, 1990, while the record low is four degrees established on March 19, 1967.

As far as precipitation is concerned, the average monthly total is 4.15 inches, making it the wettest month of the year. The wettest March on record occurred in 2010 when several storms brought 10.19" of rain, breaking the previous mark of 9.40" in 1953. The March 13, 2010, storm delivered 3.31" of rain. You may even recall the second wettest March day on record when 3.59 inches of rain fell on March 2, 2007. The average monthly snowfall is 4.3 inches, but there have been some memorable snowstorms. As late as March 22 nearly a foot of snow (11.1") fell in 1967.

The amount of daylight continues to grow during March, but this year we Spring ahead to Daylight Saving Time on Sunday, March 8, so the evening hours will be much brighter than usual. Sunrise on March 1 happens at 6:27, and by the end of the month it will rise at 6:37, due in so small part to the start of DST. Believe it or not, the Sun sets at 5:41 this evening, but by March 31 it will set at 7:17. Personally, it will feel odd to have brighter evenings so early in the year. Not that I mind, of course.

The Vernal Equinox is less than three weeks away. That's the when the direct rays of the Sun are above the Equator, technically marking "equal day and equal night" over the face of the Earth. We'll enjoy about 12 hours of daylight on the first day of Spring, and the amount of daylight will continue to increase through late June.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Snow Capped Wild Week of Weather Five Years Ago Today

Record rainfall, localized flooding, over a half-foot of snow, and school cancellations punctuated a four-day stretch from Tuesday through Friday, February 23 through 26, 2010.

According to the National Weather Service office at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, nearly a half-foot of snow (five inches) fell five years ago today, which set a new record for the date, eclipsing the old mark of three inches established in 2007. However, the heaviest snow fell West of Fairfield, with one spotter who lives in the Greenwich backcountry measuring 19 inches.

Sue Drexler of Greenwich sent two photos from the town's backcountry. The first is of Lissy with Holly and Maddy playing in the snow, and the second is of Sue and Holly cross-country skiing. It was a Winter wonderland in the Gateway to New England.



Here is a sampling of the snowfall totals from across southwestern Connecticut from Friday, February 26. Remember, the average snowfall for the entire month in our region is 7.6" based on 40 years of climatology.
  • Wilton: 11.3"
  • Greenwich: 10.6"
  • Darien: 10.3"
  • New Canaan: 9.1"
  • Stamford: 8.1"
  • Norwalk: 7.8"
  • Bridgeport: 5.0"
Prior to the snow, the bigger weather story was the heavy rain. Nearly five inches (4.68") of liquid precipitation was recorded from Tuesday through Friday, highlighted by nearly two-and-a-half inches (2.36") of rain February 25, which established a record for the date. In fact, the first of two storms that week delivered 1.82" of rain cumulatively from Tuesday through Wednesday. Keep in mind that the normal average liquid precipitation for February is 3.15".

Here is a breakdown of the liquid precipitation recorded each day during the week of February 22 through 26, 2010:
  • Monday: 0.02"
  • Tuesday: 0.72"
  • Wednesday: 1.10"
  • Thursday: 2.36"
  • Friday: 0.50"


Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sun's Angle Much Higher in the Sky Two Months Into Winter

I'm sure you've noticed by now that the days are getting longer. It is especially obvious during the late-afternoon. In fact, today's sunrise and sunset times at Bridgeport are at 6:38 a.m. and 5:35 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, respectively. That's quite a difference from just over two months ago --- on the Winter Solstice --- when sunrise and sunset happened at 7:15 a.m. and 4:26 p.m., respectively.

Not only have we gained over an hour of daylight during the evening, but you may have also noticed that the Sun is much higher in the sky. Consider that on the first day of Winter, the Sun was positioned at 23 degrees and 26 minutes South of the celestial Equator. That's when the Sun is lowest in the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. However, by January 15, the Sun was located at 21 degrees and 16 minutes South of the celestial Equator.

Today, the Sun is located at nine degrees and 46 minutes South of the celestial Equator. The Sun will be at the celestial Equator on March 20, the first day of Spring, and then move higher above the Equator for the next three months. It will be located at 23 degrees and 26 minutes North of the celestial Equator on the first day of Summer.

The Sun's rays are becoming stronger every day, too. The average high and low temperatures today at Bridgeport are 41 and 27 degrees, respectively. The daily average high and low will climb to 49 and 34 degrees, respectively, by the first day of Spring. By April 15, the average high and low will be 57 and 40 degrees, respectively. 

So, even though we've experienced an extremely cold February, and the temperature is about to drop to near zero early Tuesday morning, we have "turned the corner." In fact, meteorological Winter officially ends this coming Saturday, February 28. Meteorological Spring begins one week from today.


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Cold & Snowy February Continues

The snow is falling this afternoon, and our snowy and extremely cold February continues. In fact, this is the 12th day out of 21 with at least a trace of snow this month at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford. The total snowfall this month through yesterday is 17.2 inches, which is more than double the normal snow for the entire month (8.1").

This has been an extremely cold month, too. The average daily temperature this month through Friday is just 19.7 degrees, which is an incredible 12.1 degrees below normal. It would take a lot of time to research the last time any month has been that much colder-than-normal across southwestern Connecticut.  The last 26 days have been much colder-than-normal at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford.

Record low temperatures were set just eight hours apart for February 19 and 20. The temperature dropped to nine degrees Thursday evening at 10 p.m., breaking the previous record of 10 set in 1959. Just eight hours later, the mercury plummeted to one degree early Friday morning, breaking the previous mark of two degrees set in 1966.

Friday's high temperature at Sikorsky Airport was just 20 degrees, which tied the record low maximum temperature for the date which was established in 1966. It was also less than half the normal high temperature for the date (41 degrees), and six degrees below the normal low for the date (20 degrees). It tied the lowest daily high temperature for this month, which happened twice before (February 13 & 16).

The temperature has not climbed above 32 degrees at Sikorsky Airport since Thursday, January 15. However, that streak should be broken tonight or early tomorrow as a southwest wind ushers milder air into the region. Travel is not recommended this evening, though, as the snow and ice will make roads quite slippery. A Winter Weather Advisory remains in effect through 8 o'clock tomorrow morning across all of Connecticut.

Snow will continue this evening before mixing with sleet and freezing rain after midnight. Three-to-six inches of snow are possible before the changeover. An additional one-tenth of ice accretion is likely tonight. Although the high temperature is expected to climb to the upper 30s tomorrow afternoon, it will become frigid once again next week.


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Today Marks 12th Anniversary of Presidents Day Blizzard

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the unforgettable Presidents Day Blizzard of 2003. It ranked as the snowiest day on record at the time at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, tying the previous mark of 16 inches established on December 19, 1948, over a half-century ago. In New York's Central Park, where records date back well over a century, the 19.8 inches ranked as the fifth snowiest single day total. The weather map below is from midday February 17, 2003.


The snowfall totals across southwestern Connecticut were impressive. Darien and New Canaan measured the most snow (20 inches), while Westport (19"), Bridgeport (17"), Norwalk (16"), and Milford (15") also posted impressive totals. New Fairfield, in Northern Fairfield County, led the way locally with exactly two feet of snow. Here is the satellite image of the massive storm.


The magnitude of the storm was quite impressive. It spread heavy snow across the major cities in the Northeast from Washington to Boston. In fact, it was the biggest snowstorm on record in Baltimore (28.2") and Boston (27.5"). The storm actually developed in the southern Rockies on February 14 and moved through southern Missouri and the lower Tennessee Valley over the next two days. Eventually, the storm brought heavy rain and severe weather to the deep South.

In the Northeast, Arctic air helped slow down the storm and kept all of the precipitation in the form of snow and some sleet. By late Sunday evening, February 16, the snow reached the New York City area, and by midnight, it was snowing across all of southwestern Connecticut. A secondary area of low pressure developed off the Virginia coast the morning of February 17, turning the Nor'easter into a full-blown blizzard.

A storm system is sliding to the South this morning, resulting in slick roads and some travel difficulties. However, it won't be anything like what we experienced 12 years ago today.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Blizzard Crippled Region 57 Years Ago Today

According to our weather record book, over a foot of snow fell on this date, Sunday, February 16, 1958. A front-page article from The Bridgeport Post dated Monday, February 17, states "The prostrate Fairfield County area today began to shake off the crippling effects of a howling blizzard which slammed into the region late Saturday and dumped 14 inches of snow before tapering off late last night."


Sustained winds were clocked at 20 to 30 miles an hour during the height of the storm, and wind gusts reached as high as 55 miles an hour. There were eight deaths reported in Connecticut as a result of the storm, including one in Stratford and three others in Fairfield County. Snow drifts reached as high as 15 feet in some places, and schools and many factories were shut down.

Making matters worse, the temperature dropped to near zero inland the following morning. Back roads were described as impossible to navigate due to the high snow drifts. A spokesman for United Illuminating Company reported that the service crews and office staff were nearly 100 percent on duty throughout the storm. Crews concentrated on snow removal operations around substation sites. Fortunately, electric service during the blizzard continued uninterrupted, according to UI officials.


I am always fascinated about local weather history. I subscribe to a Web site which archives local newpapers, including The Bridgeport Telegram and The Bridgeport Post. Naturally, I typed in the date and found the front-page articles about the blizzard. I enjoy looking at the headlines and reading the stories in the newspaper. You can click on the images to enlarge them and read more about the blizzard which happened over a half-century ago today.


Sunday, February 15, 2015

Stretch of Brutally Cold Weather Continues Into Fourth Week

This has been one of the coldest Winters in recent memory. In fact, today was the 21st straight day at Bridgeport with a colder-than-normal average temperature. The last day which featured an average temperature above normal happened January 25. All but 13 days this calendar year have been colder-than-normal. I took this photo of the Sun reflecting off the window at the base of the steeple of my church this afternoon.

Adding insult to injury is the current spell of dangerously cold weather. Today's high temperature at Bridgeport was 23 degrees, which occurred at 12:23 a.m. EST. The mercury dropped through much of the day. However, the gusty Northwest winds produced wind chills of -10 to -20 degrees today. The peak wind gust at Bridgeport was 51 miles an hour, and the peak wind speed was 36 mph. The average wind speed today was just over 20 mph.

February has been especially harsh. Every day this month has been colder-than-normal, including the last two days, which featured daily average temperatures of 19 and 14 degrees below normal, respectively. The average temperature at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford this month is 22.1 degrees, which is a whopping 9.2 degrees below normal. The highest temperature this month is 36 degrees, which happened February 10 and 12.

The record low temperature for tomorrow, February 16, at Bridgeport is four degrees, which was set in 1987. I believe we'll break the record fairly easily. The coldest temperature thus far this Winter at Bridgeport is two degrees, which occurred February 3. This will most likely be the coldest night of the Winter. Take a look at the following graphic, produced  by the National Weather Service office in New York. Please click to enlarge.

Stay warm.


Friday, February 13, 2015

Classic Nor'easter Delivered Over a Foot of Snow to Region One Year Ago Today

A classic February Nor'easter delivered heavy snow and strong winds to southwestern Connecticut one year ago today, nearly paralyzing local roads and closing schools. The heavy snow pushed the season's total well over four feet. The snow began falling lightly just after 1 o'clock Thursday morning, February 13, and the heaviest snow fell between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. Here is the surface map from 7 a.m.

There were white-out conditions during the morning with snow rates of one-to-three inches an hour. Another round of light snow developed early the following morning, padding the snow totals. Cumulatively, nearly a foot-and-a-half of snow fell in Darien and Fairfield, and over a foot of snow was reported in New Canaan, Weston, Norwalk, Stamford, and Sikorsky Memorial Airport. Here are the snowfall totals from February 13 & 14 for southwestern Connecticut.

The storm's cumulative snow total of 12.2" at the airport pushed the monthly snowfall to 27.8" through February 14. It also marked the fifth day with measured snow in two weeks. Local climatologist Ralph Fato created this video showing the key highlights of the storm. The snow tapered off later in the afternoon.


Sunday, February 8, 2015

Historic Blizzard Dumped Three Feet of Snow on Fairfield Two Years Ago Today

A historic snowstorm dumped nearly three feet of snow in Fairfield and snow drifts of four-to-five feet from Friday, February 8, through Saturday, February 9, 2013. The snow began falling just after 7 o'clock Friday morning, February 8, and became steadier and heavier throughout the day and night. A Blizzard Warning was issued for the entire state, and heavy snow combined with gusty winds to produce near-whiteout conditions Friday night.

By the time all was said and done, it was almost impossible to open my kitchen door and go outside late Saturday morning. The snow-level was so high that the door would not open easily. The daunting task of shoveling the snow off the steps, sidewalk, and driveway almost seemed impossible when I stepped outside. I knew that I had to take my time due to the 40-plus mile-an-hour wind gusts, wind chill values in the teens, and my advancing age. After about an hour, I began making progress.

According to the National Weather Service, Fairfield hit the jackpot with the most snow in Fairfield County with 35 inches. However, regionally, Milford topped the list with 38 inches. That's more than the normal amount of snow for the entire Winter season. The snowiest Winter on record, however, happened 19 years ago when Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford reported 78" from 1995-96. Here's a view of my street from Saturday afternoon, February 9, 2013.

Here are the totals from the National Weather Service:
  • Milford: 38"
  • Fairfield: 35"
  • Stratford: 33"
  • Monroe: 30"
  • Bridgeport: 30"
  • Weston: 26.5"
  • Shelton: 26.5"
  • Westport: 24.5"
  • Greenwich: 22.5"
  • Darien: 22.1"
  • Norwalk: 22"
  • New Canaan: 22"
  • Danbury: 21.5"
  • Stamford: 19"
  • Newtown: 17.1"
  • Bethel: 16"
  • Ridgefield: 12"
The storm was the result of a combination of a strong coastal low which moved up the Atlantic seaboard and an approaching front to the North and West. The two systems merged and the storm exploded Friday night. Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy closed the state roads, much like the late-Gov. Ella Grasso 35 years earlier during the Blizzard of 1978. A snowplow driver got stuck in the snow in front of my house and abandoned his vehicle Saturday morning. It sat there for more than two days.

The second part of the storm entered into a colder environment late Friday night and with plenty of moisture it resulted in intense banding and a powdery, wind-driven snow between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m. That resulted in snow totals which were much greater than expected. Fortunately, damaging winds and severe coastal flooding issues were not as severe and certainly not as widespread as feared. However, many people lost power.

Meteorologist Geoff Fox took a time-lapse video of the snowstorm from inside looking out at his deck. He wrote, "This time lapse starts just after 6:00 AM and goes past 11:00 PM. It stops because there’s nothing left to see! There are a bunch of web postings saying the GoPro’s battery is only good for 2.5 hours of time lapse. That’s why I plugged it into an AC adapter and propped it up against a glass paneled door to the deck."



Friday, February 6, 2015

Today Marks 37th Anniversary of 'The Blizzard of 1978'

Today marks the 37th anniversary of the Blizzard of 1978. The unforgettable storm was "born" on February 5, 1978, with the merger of a Canadian high-pressure system to the North and a dense mass of low pressure off the Carolina coast. It will be remembered as one of the most destructive storms in recent memory.

What do I most remember about the blizzard? Connecticut's late Governor Ella Grasso closed all state highways due to the heavy snow; local schools were closed for several days; my next-door neighbor lost his car keys in a snow drift and didn't find them until the Spring; and I worked two straight days at WNAB where I had just landed my first radio job as the overnight announcer a half-year earlier.

The station program director, the late Tiny Markle, called me early in the day and asked me to prepare to work a 24-hour shift. Naturally, I was thrilled, but it took awhile packing my belongings for the trip to East Washington Avenue in Bridgeport. I watched as over two feet of snow fell, and the experience punctuated my fascination for weather.


As for the powerful storm, strong winds reached speeds of 86 miles per hour with gusts of 111 miles per hour during its peak. The lowest central air pressure was 980 millibars, which made the storm comparable to a strong Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale. Click here to listen to a clip of Walt Devanas' weather forecast on WICC in Bridgeport from the morning of February 6, 1978.


Arriving at the time of a new Moon, the storm produced heavy coastal flooding along the New England shoreline. Beachfront homes were washed away due to strong winds and coastal flooding. More than 1,700 homes suffered major damage or were destroyed, and 39,000 people took refuge in emergency shelters. Federal disaster assistance totaled $202 million.

Snow fell at a rate of four inches an hour at times during the storm, which lasted for 36 hours. The unusual duration of the 1978 Nor’easter was caused by the Canadian high, which forced the storm to loop East and then back toward the North. Thunder, lightning, and hail were seen in the blizzard as it blanketed the Northeast with over three feet of snow. Drifts in parts of New England were reported to be 15 feet deep.

Traffic came to a standstill as major corridors like I-95 shut down. During the storm several people died on Route 128 around Boston from asphyxiation, since snow had blocked the tailpipes of their idling automobiles. In New York City, skiers could be seen sliding up Fifth Avenue.


I will never forget the Blizzard of 1978.


Thursday, February 5, 2015

Happy National Weatherperson's Day

WeatherMan Although I've never been an umpire or referee, I think I know what it must feel like. It's been said that nobody ever notices the umpire when he does a fine job. However, when the ump makes a bad call, everybody's on his back. You see, I  was a television weather forecaster for southwestern Connecticut for the last 25 years. I never heard a word from anybody when the forecast was "right on the money." But, if my forecast was off the mark, the phone didn't stop ringing and the emails kept coming.

Today is National Weatherperson's Day. It's the one day during the year to acknowledge the work of weather forecasters across our country. The day commemorates the birth of John Jeffries in 1744. Jeffries was one of America's first weather observers. He actually began taking daily weather observations in Boston in 1774, and he took the first balloon observation in 1784.
Jeffries was an American physician and scientist who pioneered the use of balloons in scientific observation. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, he graduated from Harvard University in Cambridge in 1763 and studied medicine in Boston and abroad. After receiving his medical degree from Marischal College in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1769, Jeffries returned to Boston and practiced medicine there until 1771.

Much to the chagrin of this modern-day weather forecaster, Jeffries supported England during the American Revolution. He served on British naval vessels and in British military hospitals, and he fought alongside British troops in the final campaign of the war. After the war, he moved to England and resumed practicing medicine.

Jeffries became interested in the possibility of using balloons to observe the upper winds and the atmosphere at various altitudes. On November 30, 1784, Jeffries and French aeronaut Jean Pierre Blanchard made an ascent from London, reaching a height of 9309 feet and taking a series of air samples.

Blanchard_Balloon A few weeks later, on January 7, 1785, they made the first aerial crossing of the English Channel, traveling in a balloon from Dover to the Forest of Guines, near Calais. Jeffries paid all expenses for the two ascents and provided a number of the best available observational instruments, including a thermometer, a barometer, an electrometer, a hygrometer, and containers of distilled water. The air samples taken on the first ascent were the first scientific data ever obtained from these altitudes.

Many of us take weather information for granted. Turn on a light switch, you get light. Turn on your television or radio, or check a web site, and you get the weather forecast. It’s easy to forget that around the clock, dedicated meteorologists and weathercasters are creating forecasts to help you plan your day and issuing warnings to help keep you safe.

Happy National Weatherperson's Day!


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

February's Full Snow Moon Happens This Evening

You may have noticed how the Moon has been growing --- or waxing --- over the last two weeks. We didn't see much of the Moon the last two nights, but we will be able to see when it reaches Full Moon stage. That happens at 6:09 p.m. EST this evening. The Moon will rise at 5:16 p.m. local time this afternoon and sets at 7:02 a.m. tomorrow.

So, how did the February Full Moon get its name, anyway? Since the heaviest snow usually falls during this month, native tribes of the North and East most often called February's Full Moon the Full Snow Moon. Some tribes also referred to this Moon as the Full Hunger Moon, since harsh weather conditions in their areas made hunting very difficult.

Remember, Full Moon names date back to the days of the Native Americans, who lived in what is now the Northern and Eastern United States. The tribes kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each recurring Full Moon. Their names were applied to the entire month in which each occurred. There was some variation in the Moon names, but in general, the same ones were current throughout the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior.


This Moon has also been known as the Full Storm Moon and Full Candles Moon. A Full Moon rises at about the same time the Sun is setting. Since the length of daylight continues to grow each day through the Summer Solstice, today's Full Moon will rise a little later than it did in December or January. In addition, this Full Moon will appear still fairly high in the sky since we're still in Winter.


Monday, February 2, 2015

Snowstorm Results in Three-Day Super Bowl Weekend

For the second straight year, snow began falling in southwestern Connecticut immediately following the Super Bowl, late Sunday evening, February 1, 2015. As confetti fell in Phoenix to honor the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, snow fell across much of New England, and many people enjoyed a three-day weekend due to the storm.

Officially, nearly a foot (11") of snow fell at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford from late Sunday evening through Monday afternoon. Nearly an inch (0.7") was recorded Sunday just before midnight, and 10.3" were recorded Monday. Schools and many businesses were closed Monday due to the significant snow.

Weston reported the most snow in Fairfield County with just over 14 inches (14.3"), and Wilton (13") also received over a foot. Darien (11.3"), Bridgeport (11"), Easton (10.5"), New Canaan (10.5"), Stamford (10"), and Danbury (10") had at least 10 inches of snow. Here is the official snowfall report from the National Weather Service.

The snow became steadier and heavier Sunday night into Monday before mixing with sleet and freezing rain. However, the precipitation turned to all snow Monday afternoon, and became even heavier, creating near-white-out conditions in Fairfield County. Travel was extremely treacherous on main roads and especially secondary roads Monday afternoon. I took these photos during the Monday afternoon snow.

Monday's 10.3 of snow broke the previous mark of 3.2" which was set in 1985. Making matters worse, the temperature was expected to drop to between 10 and 15 degrees early Tuesday morning, causing icing of roads, driveways, and walkways. School delays of 90 minutes to two-and-a-half hours were anticipated Tuesday morning.