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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Forty-Fifth Anniversary of Easter Sunday Snowstorm

Today marks the 45th anniversary of the unforgettable Easter Sunday snowstorm of 1970. Remember, a snowstorm this late in the season in southwestern Connecticut is extremely rare. The normal high temperature is almost 20 degrees above the freezing point, while the normal low temperature is 35 degrees. In addition, the higher angle of the Sun, its stronger rays, and more than 12 hours of daylight all contribute to a Springtime feel of the air.

That's why the March 29, 1970, snowstorm is so memorable. Adding to its uniqueness was the fact that it happened on Easter Sunday, a day on which many people travel to church services and to see relatives. Below are copies of the front pages from The Bridgeport Telegram and The Bridgeport Post from Monday, March 30, 1970, courtesy of Sarah Greenberg of the Bridgeport Public Library's Historical Collections Department.


Over a half-foot of snow fell in the Greater Bridgeport area and, to make matters worse, the mercury plummeted to 16 degrees the following morning at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford and 14 degrees in Norwalk.


According to The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, eight inches of snow fell in the city. The front page of the Norwalk newspaper (below) from the following morning, March 30, is courtesy of Judy Rivas of the Norwalk Public Library.

"The weatherman pulled a somewhat premature April Fool's Day gag on Norwalkers Sunday and in the bargain, turned the Easter Parade into a trek more fitting for Siberian slopes than West Avenue," the article stated. "The snowfall, which came shortly after the traditional Easter Sunrise Service at Calf Pasture Beach, caught many a midmorning churchgoer unawares."


Although Easter occurred quite early that year, an Easter Sunday snowfall hadn't been recorded in southern Connecticut since 1915, when eight inches of snow fell April 3 and 4. The 1970 snowstorm began at about 8:30 a.m. and persisted throughout the day until early evening, accompanied by wind gusts up to 30 miles an hour. Remember, the date on which Easter falls fluctuates each year. It is observed on the first Sunday following the first Full Moon after the Vernal Equinox.

"The state highway department began plowing roads Sunday, though reports indicated much of its snow-fighting equipment was stored away to begin Spring cleanup of sand and road trash instead of snow," according to The Hour. "State police, in a statewide survey of conditions, reported most roads were snow or ice-covered, with extremely slippery conditions."

The following day, Monday, March 30, was an unscheduled holiday for many area schoolchildren due to the snow, wind, and brutally cold temperatures. Only New Canaan and Darien opened their schools, "as most towns, faced with slippery roads and unplowed school yards, cancelled classes."

Although I was only 11 years old and in sixth-grade at the time, the memory of that snowstorm is as vivid today as it was 45 years ago. As a young child, I was excited that we didn't have to go to church or drive to grandma's house for dinner. Instead, our family spent the day at home, enjoying the snow and the holiday together. Oddly, four years later, 7.6" of snow fell at Sikorsky Airport on the same date.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Old Man Winter Delivers Vernal Equinox Snowstorm

Old Man Winter refuses to leave quietly. A late-March snowstorm on the Vernal Equinox brought a half-foot of snow to several local communities and caused most school systems throughout the region to dismiss early today. The snow began falling just after noon, and it became steadier and heavier throughout the afternoon, resulting in numerous fender-benders on local roads.

According to the National Weather Service official report, Weston led the way with 6.5 inches, followed by Norwalk (6.3"), New Canaan (6.3"), Shelton (5.5"), and Easton (5.5"). Just over five inches (5.3") fell at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford, which was just shy for the record for the date of 5.5" set in 1958.

The snowfall pushed the monthly snow total to 16.7", which is well above the normal (5.1") for the month of March. It also pushed the snowfall for the season to 57.8", which eclipses last year's total of 56.6" through the same date. The normal amount of snowfall through yesterday is just 25.7" based on 40 years of climatology.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Recalling the St. Patrick's Day Storm Eight Years Ago

St_patricks_day_pinEight years ago this morning, I had one of the most difficult drives to work in my many years of providing morning weather to our viewers, Saturday, March 17, 2007. My car was a block of ice. My kitchen door froze after I shut it, locking me out of my own house while I attempted to get into the car. The battle with the car door to get it open took me about 10 minutes. And, I had to wake my son out of a sound sleep to accompany me on my harrowing drive to work.

The drive was, without question, extremely difficult. The roads were covered with ice and snow, and snow plows created some embankments at intersections, making it difficult to drive through the mounds of snow and ice. I got stuck twice in "cakes" of snow and ice. Our morning news anchor told me he "did a 360" on the turnpike, and he was obviously unnerved before we went on the air.

According to Lieutenant Paul Vance of the Connecticut State Police who appeared on our morning newscast that day, "Troopers have responded to over 477 accidents. We've been non-stop, busy, constantly during this whole storm. There are really treacherous conditions out there," emphasized Vance. "Many motorists have been stuck."


The storm began on Friday, March 16, 2007, with a moderate snow blanketing the region. The numbers were very impressive for mid March. Easton (6.5 inches), Fairfield (6.4"), New Canaan (6.0"), and Darien (6.0") each received at least a half-foot of snow unofficially. Even Bridgeport (5.0") had substantial snow. The average monthly snow for March is 4.3 inches based on 40 years of climatology. One of our viewers sent this photo from Norwalk.


"It was a tough storm," admitted John Kerry of the Department of Transportation storm center. "We're telling people that if they can hold off on their travel they will probably be in a lot better shape. We are seeing spin outs because the roads are slippery." One snow plow driver was asked by News 12 Connecticut's Kristi Olds if this was the worst storm of the Winter. "This one was," he answered immediately. "This one was by far the toughest. All the snow, the ice, and wind. It was tough!"

Nora Massella of Milford, who is a devoted viewer to our morning newscasts, sent this photo of her home and neighborhood. Nora wrote, "Paul, my husband, Mike, tried to get out and it was impossible. When he put down onto the snow, it was thick, thick ice. In order to get rid of this ice, you have to chop it and crack it in order to get rid of it. Our cars are frozen closed."


The Vernal Equinox is just three days away, but Winter is refusing to let go. Spring officially arrives this Friday!


Friday, March 13, 2015

Unforgettable Day in Local Weather History

Three of the most unforgettable weather events in recent history happened on this date. Two powerful storms and an all-time record high temperature for the season occurred on March 13, highlighting the unpredictability of the weather this time of the year. If you're of a certain age, I'm sure you remember all three weather "events."

As hard as it may seem to believe, the temperature climbed to an incredible 84 degrees at Sikorsky Memorial Airport on March 13, 1990. That established a record high for the date, month, and the Winter season. The normal high temperature for this date is only 45 degrees, and the normal low is a chilly 31.

During March, a battle rages between the Spring and Winter seasons, and that makes predicting the temperatures during this month as difficult as any time during the year. The amount of daylight continues to grow each day, and the Vernal Equinox, the first day of Spring, is a week away. But, Old Man Winter has no intentions of packing his bags just yet.

I distinctly remember watching the temperature climb that day due to a strong Westerly wind. The wind direction was extremely important, since the flow didn't come from the cooler waters on Long Island Sound. I was the evening weather anchor at News 12 Connecticut 25 years ago, and our "weather video" showed people flocking to a local beach to soak up the sun and warm temperatures. I'll never forget that day.

Then, just three years later, Saturday, March 13, 1993, the famed Storm of the Century pounded the Eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine. Locally, over a foot of snow fell across southwestern Connecticut, winds gusted over 40 miles an hour, and wind chills hovered at or close to zero throughout the day. It was the second snowiest day on record for March, and it will always be remembered because it affected such a large area.

Very heavy snow accumulated in the south. Birmingham, Alabama, picked up a foot of snow. Snow covered the ground from Mississippi to the Florida Panhandle. The heavy snow spread northward along the East Coast to Maine. On Saturday, March 13, every airport in the Eastern states was closed. Snowfall ranged up to four feet on Mount Mitchell, North Carolina. Atlanta, Georgia, picked up three inches. Chattanooga, Tennessee, received up 21 inches. During the peak of the storm, about 30 percent of the entire country was hit by the rough weather.


Very warm, humid air moved across central Florida and, combined with the energy of the storm, helped spawn the 27 tornadoes. Winds were clocked at 99 mph on an oil platform off the Louisiana coast. Overall the storm took 285 lives, mostly because of tornadoes. The storm became the costliest nontropical storm in Florida's history. States of emergency were declared throughout the eastern portion of the country. The adjacent map shows the total snowfall for the storm.

I was called in for storm coverage that Saturday morning, and we remained on the air for more than 12 hours. Aside from the heavy snow, what I remember most from that day was the rapidly falling barometer. The pressure dropped to 28.35 inches in parts of New England, which is usually only observed in hurricanes. They peak at almost the exact opposite time of the year. By comparison, the normal average barometer reading for southwestern Connecticut is 30.02 inches.


The storm was deepening and intensifying as it moved toward New England, and the howling winds didn't let up. In the wake of the storm, back-to-back record low temperatures of 16 and 12 degrees were established on March 14 and 15, respectively, at Sikorsky Airport.

Then, five years ago, a powerful Nor'easter hammered Connecticut and, specifically, Fairfield County. The damaging wind gusts of 60 to 65 miles an hour, flooding rains, massive power outages, impassable roads, and week-long school closings won't soon be forgotten. We received incredible videos and photos of the widespread destruction across southwestern Connecticut. The following photos were sent by News 12 Connecticut viewers.


Former Governor M. Jodi Rell announced that the storm caused more than $7 million in damage statewide, and she requested a visit from Federal Emergency Management Agency officials to assess the damage. The Connecticut Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security estimated $2.8 million worth of damage in Fairfield County alone. Fairfield County qualified for federal disaster assistance.


Preliminary damage estimates in Norwalk totaled more than $335,000, and damage to private homes was even greater. Damage to public buildings and parks, and the cost of funding police, fire, and city employee overtime reached about $335,065, according to the city's director of finance. The scoreboard at Brien McMahon High School was the single most expensive piece of property destroyed in the storm. It was estimated at $18,000.


Stamford officials estimate private property damage at $3.58 million. Damage to public property was estimated at $262,000, and total overtime for city crews at $143,086. Tens of thousands of people lost power, and three school systems were closed for a week. Heavy rain delivered up to one-half inch per hour during the afternoon of March 13. Here is a sampling of area rainfall totals for that day:
  • New Canaan: 4.34"
  • Easton: 4.33"
  • Wilton: 4.01"
  • Stratford: 3.33"
  • Woodbridge: 3.12"
  • Westport: 2.97"
  • Milford: 2.91"

This is certainly a date which will be remembered for dramatic weather three times over the last quarter century.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Today Marks 127th Anniversary of 'Great White Hurricane'

08fig02I've always maintained that the most difficult months to forecast the weather are March and April. The transition from Winter to Spring can bring just about any kind of weather to the region. Although our weather has been relatively quiet over the last two weeks, another storm will bring rain, wind, and some snow to the region later tomorrow.

Did you know that this week also marks the 127th anniversary of arguably the most famous snowstorm in American history? The famous Blizzard of 1888 has been known as The Great White Hurricane due to the heavy amounts of snow, ferocious winds, and prolonged duration. The storm actually lasted from March 11 through March 14, 1888.

Remarkably, the days leading up to the blizzard were unseasonably mild, with temperatures in the 40s and 50s along the East Coast. The storm initially brought torrential rains to the Northeast, but on March 12th the rain changed to heavy snow, temperatures plunged, and a ferocious wind began. The rest, as they say, is history.

The storm continued for the next 36 hours. Sources vary, but the National Weather Service estimated that fifty inches of snow fell in much of Connecticut and Massachusetts and forty inches covered New York and New Jersey. Winds blew up to 48 miles an hour, creating snowdrifts forty to fifty feet high. Snowdrifts of 10 to 13 feet high and over a mile long were reported in Bridgeport, Connecticut!

The storm paralyzed the East Coast from the Chesapeake Bay to Maine. The photo above shows the depth of the snow in New York City between 5th and 6th Avenues. In fact, much of the telegraph system in New York City was demolished. The telegraph and telephone wires snapped, isolating New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Washington for days. According to various sources, more than any other event, it was this storm that popularized the practice of burying communication lines instead of placing them above ground. 

In addition, two hundred ships were grounded, and at least one hundred seamen died. Fire stations were immobilized, and property loss from fire alone was estimated at $25 million. Overall, more than 400 deaths were reported. The photo below of the horse-drawn sleigh is courtesy of the Historic National Weather Service Collection. It dramatically illustrates the magnitude of the storm.


The Vernal Equinox is just nine days away, and the battle between Old Man Winter and Mother Nature is just heating up. Winter refuses to lighten its grip, while Spring is eager to take control. That clash has led to many memorable weather events over the years. In fact, one of the worst ice storms in recent memory occurred on March 17, 2007, when it took me almost three hours to get to work. Spring can't some soon enough.


Friday, March 6, 2015

Spring Ahead to Daylight Saving Time This Sunday Morning

The Winter cold continued today, with a record low temperature of nine degrees at Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford. That broke the previous record low of 11 degrees set four years ago. The last time the average daily temperature was above normal happened January 25, which was exactly 40 days ago. This Winter has been harsh, especially over the last six weeks. However, slightly milder air will arrive by the beginning of next week.

Spring officially begins two weeks from today. Don't forget to "Spring ahead" to Daylight Saving Time this Sunday morning at 2 o'clock. Traditionally, the start of Daylight Saving Time was originally set on the first Sunday in April. However, former President Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005 in August of that year. The Act changed the date for Daylight Saving Time.

Aside from the benefits of brighter evenings and commutes home from work, one of the biggest reasons we change our clocks to Daylight Saving Time is that it saves energy. Energy use and the demand for electricity for lighting our homes is directly connected to when we go to bed and when we get up. Bedtime for most of us is late evening through the year. That's when we turn off the lights and TV.

According to the energy commission, in the average home, 25 percent of all the electricity we use is for lighting and small appliances, such as TVs, VCRs and stereos. A good percentage of energy consumed by lighting and appliances occurs in the evening when families are home. By moving the clock ahead one hour, we can cut the amount of electricity we consume each day.

Studies done in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Transportation show that we trim the entire country's electricity usage by about one percent each day with Daylight Saving Time. We also use less electricity because we are home fewer hours during the "longer" days of Spring and Summer. That's certainly welcome news for those of us living in southwestern Connecticut. If you're a parent like I am, you probably find yourself telling your children to turn off lights and any electrical devices they are not using.

Most people plan outdoor activities in the extra daylight hours. When we are not at home, we don't turn on the appliances and lights. A poll done by the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that Americans liked Daylight Saving Time because "there is more light in the evenings (and they) can do more in the evenings."

AlarmSo you may be wondering if there are any drawbacks to the switch. For one, it will be darker in the morning. Next Monday, March 9, the sunrise in southwestern Connecticut will happen at 7:12, which is the time the Sun normally rises in early-to-mid December. Unfortunately, it will stay darker longer in the morning, and many high school students will be waiting for the bus in the dark.

Another negative is that the earlier change to DST puts the United States out of sync with the rest of the world for longer than usual, almost certainly disrupting not just computers but the business and travel schedules of workers and travelers. Most internal clocks in computing devices were programmed for the old daylight-time calendar, which Congress set in 1986. And, don't forget, we lose an hour of much-needed sleep, too.

How do you feel about starting Daylight Saving Time nearly a month earlier? As far as energy savings are concerned, I'm all for it. However, I think it will give many of us a false sense of Spring. I prefer the start of DST on the first Sunday of April, even though the Sun won't set until 6:53 Sunday evening.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Full Worm Moon Happens Today

The Full Moon happens this afternoon at 1:05 EST. This month's Full Moon is known as the Full Worm Moon. However, the March Full Moon has also been called the Crow Moon, Crust Moon, Sap Moon, and Lenten Moon. The nearly Full Moon illuminated last night's clear sky, but we shouldn't see it tonight with a storm system passing to the South.

Full Moon names date back to Native Americans, of 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.

As the temperature begins to warm and the ground begins to thaw, earthworm casts appear, signaling the return of the robins. The more northern tribes knew this Moon as the Full Crow Moon, when the cawing of crows signaled the end of winter; or the Full Crust Moon, because the snow cover becomes crusted from thawing by day and freezing at night. The Full Sap Moon, marking the time of tapping maple trees, is another variation. To the settlers, it was also known as the Lenten Moon and was considered to be the last full Moon of Winter.

This time of the year, the sunlight is getting stronger, temperatures are slowly rising, and the frozen ground begins to thaw. You can tell the worms have begun to come awake when you find the little curly mounds of dirt on the ground. These mounds, or castings are part of nature's way of preparing the Earth for new growth. Then the flowers and herbs and trees and green grass suddenly burst out and let us know Spring is here.


Monday, March 2, 2015

March Roars Like a Lion

March began where February left off. A snowstorm socked southwestern Connecticut with an average of a half-foot of snow Sunday. Officially, five inches of snow fell at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, tying the record for the date. However, Weston (7.5"), Darien (7"), Stamford (6"), and Fairfield (6") received at least a half-foot of snow. Here is the official report from the National Weather Service.

The five inches at Bridgeport brought the season total to 46.1" which is more than double the normal amount (22.4") through March 1. However, it still paled in comparison to last year's amount of 56.5" through the same date. It was also the 17th day in the last 29 since February 1st with at least a trace of snow at Bridgeport.


Sunday, March 1, 2015

Coldest Month on Record Comes to a Close

It was a month for the record books. Not only was last month the coldest February on record, it was also the coldest month ever on record at Sikorsky Memorial Airport. The average daily temperature in February was 19.9 degrees, which broke the previous record for the month of 24.1 degrees set in 1978. In addition, it was also the coldest month on record, breaking the previous mark of 21.9 degrees, established in January of 2004.

So, just how cold was it? Every day last month was colder-than-normal. The temperature dropped into the single digits 14 of the 28 days (50%), with a record low temperature of -2 degrees February 16. Eighteen days featured an average daily temperature at least 10 degrees below normal, and three days were at least 20 degrees colder-than-normal. Fifteen of the last 16 days of February brought average daily temperatures at least 10 degrees below normal.

Nearly two feet of snow (21.5") fell last month, easily topping the average snowfall for the month (8.1). Sixteen days featured at least a trace of snow, with the jackpot of 10.3" on Groundhog Day, February 2. Nearly four inches of snow fell February 21, and there were four straight days with at least a trace of snow from February 7th through the 10th.

However, as far as liquid precipitation is concerned, just over two inches (2.23") fell in February, which is more than a half-inch below normal (2.79"). The greatest 24-hour precipitation total was just about an inch (0.99") from February 1 through February 2. The greatest snow depth was 14" on February 4 & 22. What a month, to be sure!