Thursday, August 27, 2015

Late freeze, wimpy winter?

Data suggests don't give up on winter just yet.

Late freeze, wimpy winter?

Snow briefly fell in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving, then a few days later, the freezing mark was hit for the first time this season.
Snow briefly fell in Philadelphia on Thanksgiving, then a few days later, the freezing mark was hit for the first time this season. David Maialetti / Staff Photographer

As Peter Mucha noted in our online story, the stubborn thermometer at Philadelphia International Airport finally cracked the freezing barrier during the weekend.

This constitutes the longest wait for the first official 32-degree or lower reading in 71 years in Philadelphia.

Back in 1931, when the National Weather Service's official thermometer was at 10th and Chestnut, and in 1939, when it was a block away at the old Custom House, the first freezing reading didn't show up until December.

If you're a winter-phile, you don't want to hear about 1931. The subsequent winter turned out to be the warmest in the 137-year period of record, with an average temperature of 43.3. As for snow, the seasonal was 8 inches.

The average winter temperature in Philadelphia for the Dec. 1-March 1 period is 34.4, and the average snowfall around 22 inches.

Eight years later, the first official freeze didn't occur until Dec. 11, the all-time record latecomer. Yet the winter played out with a rather astonishing normality. The seasonal snow total for 1938-39, 22.3, was dead-on normal, and the temperature, 32.7, was slightly below.

Looking at the winters that followed the 10 latest freezes, it would be premature to assume that a late freeze ices an uneventful winter.

For example, 1978 was in the top 10 for late freezes, but the subsequent winter was colder than normal, at 31.4 -- in the top 25 for chill -- and with 40.2 inches of snow, it was a respectable sequel to one of the snowiest winters on record.

That was by far the highest total on the top 10 late list, with the winter of 1918-19 bringing up the rear at 4.5 inches.

Among the 10, half the subsequent winters had normal or above-normal snowfall.

As for when the region will see its first true snow this season, right now nothing shows up in the forecast, although the models are hinting at something for next week.

Inquirer Weather Columnist
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Everyone talks about the weather, and here we write about it.

When we’re around and conditions warrant, we’ll keep you updated about what’s coming, but we will do our best always to discuss weather and climate developments in context and remind you that nothing in the atmosphere happens in a vacuum.

Tony Wood has been writing about the atmosphere for The Inquirer for 26 years.

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