2014 winter could be one for record books

02/20/2014 6:00 PM |

A pair of ponies in a snowy field on River Road in Calverton Friday morning. While this winter could shape up to be the second-snowiest in the past 30 years, warmer temperatures have been a welcome relief over the past couple of days. (Barbaraellen Koch photo)

With a month of winter still left, snowfall totals are just over an inch away from making 2013-14 the second-snowiest Long Island winter on record, meteorologists said.

The current winter season has already brought 57.5 inches of snow, according to National Weather Service recordings at Islip. 

While that falls short of the highest snow total since record-keeping began in 1984 — 73.5 inches during a 1995-96 winter season that saw a nor’easter paralyze much of the East Coast — this year’s totals are a mere 1.4 inches away from becoming the second-snowiest season, beating out 2003-04, according to the National Weather Service.

The record for most snow in February is also within sight. This month has seen 23.9 inches of snowfall; the record was set just last year when a blizzard dumped 31.4 inches at the NWS station in Upton, said meteorologist Tim Morrin.

“We still have a lot of winter left,” Mr. Morrin said. “It is not out of the question that we could break that record within the next ten days.”

This year’s winter season hasn’t produced a major blizzard, weather experts said. The highest single-event total so far was roughly a foot of snow from a storm on Jan. 22 — a lot of snow, though not something out of the ordinary for the season, said meteorologist Joey Picca.

But if this season has failed to deliver a massive storm, it has more than compensated for that with constant draining snowfalls, each slowly adding to the total and sapping residents’ patience. The cause of the consistently snowy weather is a pattern of wind streams that have made it easy for “stout but not overly strong” storms to form, Mr. Picca said.

“We’ve been almost wire-to-wire since the cold season began … with a favorable pattern in the jet stream,” he said. The jet stream has kept cold air flowing over the region and this year’s track has steered storms into the Northeast. While February temperatures normally hover around the low 40s, this year — most aptly characterized by the “polar vortex” that struck the East Coast in January — has seen several weeks of below-freezing temperatures.

“System after system has been able to tap into the cold air across the area, just cold enough to produce snowfall,” Mr. Picca said.

Huge storms haven’t formed this year because the jet stream pattern is moving storms quickly across the East Coast, rather than slowing them down with high-pressure winds that would allow them to stall and gather power.

Those types of storms may seem commonplace, with recent years logging high snow totals. Half of the top 10 winter snowfall totals from the last three decades years have been recorded in the last five years, according to NWS records. But that doesn’t necessarily mean winters are becoming more harsh, Mr. Picca said. In between the big snow seasons have been years of relatively little snowfall.

For example, only 4.7 inches fell in Islip in 2012, Mr. Picca said, making it an unusually warm winter.

Speaking of which, a batch of warmer air is expected to head our way by Friday. Temperatures are expected to reach into the low 50s, melting off much of the snow still left on the ground. Longer outlooks hint that cold weather may return by next week, however, bringing one of this year’s final chances to break more snowfall records.

psquire@timesreview.com