This year, November was a relatively quiet month until the 27th, just before Thanksgiving Day. The storm of the month that day gave us very heavy rain accompanied by damaging winds. Over an inch and a half of rain was measured in Salem. However, our monthly rainfall was considerably below average with a total of 2.71 inches. A few flakes of snow were seen gently falling twice during the month.
Overall, our late fall temperatures were just a little below average. Our high was a pleasant 70 degrees, and the lowest temperature was a chilling 17. The winds during the period of very low temperatures were strong and blustery from the northwest with gusts to 48 mph in Salem that resulted in wind-chill temperatures in the single numbers.
Now winter is upon us. On the 21st, the winter solstice will arrive at 12:11 p.m. On this day, we will have the fewest hours of daylight for the year. With much less sunshine, we will certainly feel the wintry chills. At the beginning of the month, our daytime high temperatures will climb into the mid-40s and drop into the low 30s by dawn. Toward the month’s end, highs will run in the mid- to upper 30s and plummet to the chilling lower 20s or upper teens by sunrise.
To the far north over Canada and Alaska, there are now very few daylight hours, and the air covering these regions is very cold and very dry. In contrast, we find the still warm, moisture-laden air masses dominating our southeastern states. The warm and cold air masses will be on the move, and when they meet, our storms will develop, sometimes explosively.
According to records for the past 34 years, we experienced our highest December temperature of 78 degrees in 1998. On the other hand, our lowest reading was 11 degrees below zero in 1980.
Usually, our snowfall for December is about 8 inches. However, we have had four very impressive December snow amounts recently. We were dumped with 30.5 inches in 1995, 33.0 inches in 2003, 32.5 inches in 2007, and 30.7 inches in 2008.
One of the biggest single snowstorms we have had here was just after Christmas Day in 2010. We had 18 inches of snow that blanketed Salem and its vicinity. In addition, the incessant blustery northerly gale winds gusted over 70 mph along our coastline and resulted in drifts of several feet. In contrast, we had two Decembers in a row (1998 and 1999) with no snow whatsoever!
Although December is our first winter month, we may have some days with bright sunshine, crystal-clear visibility and vivid deep blue skies. Even with the colder temperatures, the clean, crisp air from the north country can be very invigorating. Since these conditions usually follow the passage of a fast-moving northeast snowstorm, the landscape is often quite spectacular with its brilliant cover of glistening whiteness.
A little light fluffy snow would be a delight for Christmas holidays. Let the heavier snow come next year in January.
Arthur Francis is a Salem meteorologist who also works at Salem State University.