By Arthur A. Francis
---- — SALEM — January took us on a temperature roller coaster ride, giving us temperatures much colder than average (26 degrees this month). Even so, we had two “January Thaws.” The first was the beginning of the month with a high of 54 degrees. Later, we had an extended warm event of five days duration. This one peaked out at 57 degrees, the highest reading for the month. We also had a brief thunderstorm during the thaw.
On the other hand, we had six days with readings in the single digits or below. There were two days with temperatures below zero. On the 4th, the mercury plunged to 5 degrees below zero, the lowest for the month. To make matters worse, the wind chill temperatures during the cold outbreaks were far below zero. Yes, the Montreal Express was in full force over New England.
There was only one significant storm during the month. On the 2nd and 3rd, we received 15 inches of snow accompanied by temperatures at and below zero! One of our smaller snow events produced snowflakes of unusually large size. The show of beautiful, puffy, fluffy flakes was a delight to behold. There were cloud buildups in the layered clouds producing up and down drafts. As the smaller flakes were rising and descending (over and over), they coalesced and finally produced our dramatic, spectacular winter scene. Our total snowfall for the month was 23.6 inches.
Now February is here and pairs with January to give us the worst of our winter weather. At the beginning of the month our daytime high temperatures usually reach to the middle 30s and drop to the to lower 20s by sunrise. Then, toward month’s end, the high readings are found in the upper 30s, while nighttime lows drop to the mid-20s.
Our records for the past 34 years indicate that we experienced our highest February temperature of 71 degrees in 1985. Our lowest reading was a bone-chilling 5 below zero in 1996.
Most New Englanders think of February as the month for big snowstorms. It can be. Our average snowfall for February is about a foot. However, we had 44 inches in 1994. In contrast, there was no snow here at Salem during February 1984.
In February, conditions often become ideal for our infamous nor’easters to develop. This happens when decidedly strong cold, dry air masses to our north slide southeastward toward New England at the same time that warm, moisture-laden air masses to our south move northward. It is when they meet precisely in the right place, under the right conditions, that strong coastal storms can develop explosively.
Of course, most of us remember the infamous Blizzard of 1978. This storm brought the whole state to a standstill traffic-wise. It was not only the blizzard snow conditions of that memorable storm that paralyzed us. The near hurricane-force winds were incessant and of long duration. There was a series of many extreme astronomical high tides that resulted in catastrophic coastal damage from the pounding surf.
As recently as 2003, we had the remarkable two-day Presidents Day storm. This storm gave us 21 inches. The total snow for that month was 38.3 inches.
Looking at the bright side, we may not have any severe storms this month. Only the passing of time will reveal what is in store for us this year.
Arthur A. Francis is a Salem meteorologist.