Today is the first day of spring, which cannot arrive soon enough for many in South Jersey.
But despite what the calendar says, the weather is still stuck in the same unusual pattern it’s been in all winter — a “unique” winter of record or near-record levels of cold and persistent snowstorms, intermixed with occasional days of springlike warmth.
“Somebody 30 years old hasn’t seen too many winters like this,” New Jersey state climatologist Dave Robinson said. “It’s been a tough ride.”
The winter has seen so many wild fluctuations in temperature that while four daily records for lows were set in Atlantic City — minus 3 degrees Jan. 4 and 30, 15 degrees Jan. 22 and 2 degrees March 3 (the lowest ever for all of March) — the winter also saw three record highs: 61 degrees Jan. 11, 69 degrees Dec. 21 and a summerlike 71 degrees Dec. 22.
The disparity in temperatures is due to a persistent “trough” pattern that affected most of the Midwest and East Coast, National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Szatkowski said.
“It pulls down cold air out of Canada, and a couple times” — but not every time, he and other experts said — “the polar vortex reached all the way down and really brought the cold air.”
The jet stream that serves as a boundary between polar air and mid-latitude air was also “wavy” this winter, and while it often dipped to the south and brought colder air, it has also trended north and brought up warmer temperatures.
“It vacillated enough for some wild temperature swings,” Robinson said, including a drop from a high of 56 degrees Jan. 6 to a low of 5 degrees Jan.7, and from 52 degrees March 2 to a low of 2 degrees March 3.
As it happened, many of the warmer days were on weekends this winter — including a practically balmy Super Bowl weekend — but several times, those warmer days were followed by snowy weekdays, sometimes almost immediately.
That’s because storm tracks often tend to follow the same jet stream patterns that temporarily brought up warm air, Robinson said. And because of moisture in the air, that meant snow — a lot of it.
The latest snowfall on Monday brought the total to 39.6 inches at Atlantic City International Airport this winter, bringing the season into the top 10 for snowfall for the region. That’s less than the record of 58.1 inches in 2009-10, but that winter saw “significant snowfall events,” including two blizzards, Robinson said.
Instead, this year was seemingly one moderate-sized snow event after the other, with 13 days seeing an inch or more. Statewide, Monday was the 19th time that 2 inches or more fell somewhere in the state, he said, with six of those snowfalls seeing 10 inches or more somewhere — in Monday’s case, Wildwood Crest saw 10.5 inches.
South Jersey even managed to get a break during February, with just 6.1 inches of snow compared with more than 30 in Newark, which saw a snowstorm followed by an ice storm followed by a snowstorm all within 10 days. Then came March, and the situation reversed — South Jersey got slammed with two storms, while North Jersey got practically nothing.
“It just so happens that the past two storms to impact (South Jersey) featured an arctic cold front slipping through and providing cold enough air behind it to allow for all snow to fall,” said National Weather Service meteorologist Greg Heavener. “ March snow is not unusual, but to have two significant storms in March is rather rare.”
Is this the new norm? Maybe not.
Part of the reason the winter feels like such an outlier is that the area is coming off a long stretch of moderate winters. At an average of 33 degrees, this was the third coldest winter since 1982, Robinson said, but go back 120 years, and it was only the 34th coldest.
While the outlook for the rest of March appears colder than normal, Szatkowski said, there is good news.
The three-month outlook (for April, May and June) has temperatures getting up to near-normal conditions,” he said. “And not much sign of precipitation. A lot of folks would look forward to that. Including me.”
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