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January 4, 2013

A rainy December ended the year in Salem

This year, our December temperatures were close to normal and ranged from 58 degrees on the 3rd to a low of 17 degrees on the 31st. On the other hand, our December precipitation was nearly 3 inches above normal. We measured 7.08 inches, primarily rain. Our heaviest precipitation occurred during the storms from the 13th to the 18th and the 25th to the 27th, when 4.31 inches of rain was observed.

There was very little snow during the month. However, the very light snowfall that commenced early Christmas Day gave us a festive look for several hours in the morning. Although impressive snowfall amounts occurred over much of New England on the 29th and 30th, the North Shore had just a little over 2 inches. This was because the wind was blowing over the warm coastal waters, keeping our temperatures higher than inland locations. Our total snowfall for the month was 3.7 inches.

Now January is here. What can we expect? Our weather never seems to be normal. However, we do know that January is usually our coldest month of the year. Our daytime high temperatures are found in the mid-30s, while early morning readings drop into the chilling lower 20s or upper teens. During the past 30 years, our highest January temperature here at Salem was a warm 71 degrees during a welcome January thaw in 2007. We can contrast this to our lowest bone-chilling 15 degrees below zero in 1984.

We have had some truly dramatic snowstorms. During our 30-year period of records, our greatest January snowfall was an unprecedented 60 inches in 2005. The lowest amount of snow that we recorded here was only 0.3 inches in 1980.

In January, there can be marked contrasts in temperature and moisture. Look for warm tropical, moisture-laden air masses located over the Gulf of Mexico or warm Atlantic. Then we see far to the north over Canada bitterly cold, dry air masses. It is at this time, when these two vastly different types of air masses meet, that a new winter storm is spawned. These storms are our infamous nor’easters and can develop quite explosively and race toward New England.

Yes, as the new year begins, we can look forward to the many meteorological events that continue to amaze us with their ever-changing dramatic sequences that run the gamut from spectacular nor’easters to the welcome, springlike thaws.

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Arthur A. Francis is a Salem meteorologist.

SALEM IN DECEMBER

Temperatures: High 57, low 17, average 37

Peak wind gust: 55 mph on Dec. 27

Rainfall: 7.08 inches

Snowfall: 3.7 inches

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