Weather Anomalies of Winter 2010
To the average person, the weather this winter, especially in February, has certainly been a departure from those winters of the past few years. There has been record snowfall in the mid-Atlantic region, bitter cold in the Deep South, and remarkably mild weather for the Pacific Northwest and New England. However, if the United States can be taken as a whole, some more modest trends appear.
NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has conducted a study of winters going back to 1895. This "State of the Climate" report for winter 2010 states that temperatures were below normal for the contiguous United States. The winter was wetter than normal; however, precipitation in February alone was only slightly above average.
First, let's analyze the temperatures in the United States. About 63% of the country had below average temperatures, the biggest exception being Maine which had its third warmest winter. The average temperature in the US for February was 32.4 degrees F, 2.2 degrees below the long-term average. These dipping temps could be most clearly felt in the Deep South, Plains states, and the mid-Atlantic which were hit by several frigid Arctic air masses.
Precipitation this winter has been quite varied for different regions. For those of us on the East Coast, we know all too well this year’s departure from the norm. The winter wallop became a February fury, and eventually a Snowmageddon. Major snowstorms on February 4-7 and 9-11 dumped record setting snow on the DC area and spread from North Carolina up to Maine. These were followed up by a third major storm which hit southern New England on February 23-28. The following cities shattered their previous record seasonal snowfalls:
Baltimore: 79.9 inches (62.5 inches, 1995-96)
Washington (Dulles): 72.8 inches (61.9 inches, 1995-96)
Wilmington, DE: 66.7 inches (55.9 inches, 1898-99)
Philadelphia: 71.6 inches (65.5 inches, 1995-96)
Areas in the southeast and southwest also experienced above average precipitation.
On the other hand, as a whole, the US had only slightly above average precipitation in February due to the below average precipitation in the northwest, from Washington to Wyoming as well as the lower Mississippi valley, and the Ohio valley north to Michigan. Wyoming and Idaho had their eighth and ninth driest winters, respectively.
This winter's bizarre weather, especially on the east coast, has had significant negative economic impacts. Many workweeks were cut short, businesses were closed, and deliveries delayed. Airlines, already facing economic troubles, had to cancel flights and then struggle to get back to normal. Emergency crews worked overtime to restore downed power lines and trees, as well as other weather-related accidents.
Cleanup efforts also proved quite costly to those areas with little expectations of heavy snowfall. Local and state governments scrambled to get a federal disaster declaration to help ease the financial burden. New York City Mayor, Michael Bloomberg has said the blizzards cost taxpayers $1 million for each inch of show that fell. Virginia exhausted its $79 million snow removal funds plus a $25 million emergency reserve. Maryland’s $26 million snow budget dried up after snow in December alone.
In Washington DC, the snow made for some obvious shovel-ready projects, but provided little stimulus. Taxpayers not only footed the bill for the cleanup effort, but also for the over 230,000 federal employees who stayed home for days in a row. The snow also became a political football for those on either side of the climate change issue (that is another article altogether).
However, not all impacts were negative. Supermarkets could barely keep their shelves stocked with staple items. Hardware stores did well selling shovels, snow blowers, and ice melt. Private snow removal companies such as landscapers and anybody with a snow plow made out with higher profits. Snowboard and ski resorts had a great winter. As can be expected for any natural disaster, alcohol sales went through the roof. But the biggest winners were probably the millions of adults and children who were able to stay home from work and school and experience a truly beautiful winter wonderland.
For further information: http://www.noaanews.noaa.gov/stories2010/20100310_cooler.html