By Arthur A. Francis
---- — January seemed to fly by this year. It was remarkable how little snow we had. Here at Salem we received only 5.3 inches for the entire month. The most snow we had in one day was only 3.2 inches. So far this winter season we have had only 1.5 inches in November and 3.7 inches in December, making the seasonal total 10.5 inches. Even rainfall was minimal — just over an inch, far below normal.
Temperatures for January were above average, and they took a roller coaster ride throughout the month. We started off very cold with early morning readings in the single digits. A warming trend began on the 4th, and we enjoyed mostly above normal temperatures until the 20th. We even had a welcome January thaw from the 12th until the 15th, during which time we had our highest temperature for the month — a warm 63 degrees on the 14th.
Thereafter, the weather became much colder, and Salem reached its lowest temperature for the month — a chilling 1 degree above zero on the 24th. Finally, at month’s end we had another thaw with two days in the low 60s, as a fast-moving storm approached and passed us on the 31st. The temperature reached 61 degrees early in the morning. As the storm approached, our winds increased markedly with violent gusts as high as 60 mph here in Salem. As the associated cold front swept through, a brief, very heavy squally shower occurred and a delightful rainbow was observed. Finally, the temperatures took a plunge below freezing as January departed.
Now February has arrived. During this month our daytime temperatures are usually found in the mid-30s, while early morning readings dip into the low 20s. However, cold waves are possible, often accompanied by temperatures that can plunge below zero. During the past 30 years, our lowest February temperature was 5 degrees below zero in 1996, while our highest was a spring-like 71 degrees in 1985.
Most people in New England think of February as a month of big snowstorms. It can be when the overall favorable weather conditions take place at precisely the right time.
The recipe for our impressive nor’easters calls for certain important ingredients — a strong, cold, dry air mass to our north and a warm, moisture-laden air mass to our south. Very cold air sweeps down from Canada to New England, and a cold northeast wind results over our region. In the meantime, the warm, moist air to the south moves northward. This warm air rises over the colder air below. Heavy cloudiness results, and as the storm intensifies, our precipitation begins. If our surface temperatures are cold enough, it will be snow.
Some storms intensify explosively, and the winds cause the snow to drift and coastal locales become subject to disastrous erosion and flooding. If, perchance, the storm slows to a standstill and we have astronomical high tides (as in the case of the Blizzard of 1978), prolonged blizzard conditions will prevail.
On the other hand, if the important ingredients do not mix according to the recipe, our weather can be on the more pleasant side. Last year there was very little snow during the month, just about 1 inch total. There were only six days that were completely cloudy.
SALEM’S JANUARY WEATHER
High 63 degrees, low 1 degree above zero
Average 30.5 degrees (3.2 degrees above normal)
Prevailing wind southwest
Peak gust 60 mph on the 31st
Rainfall 1.36 inches
Snowfall 5.3 inches