Baby, it’s warm outside: Record temperatures shake up central New York

Kiran Ramsey | Senior Design Editor

The temperature reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit or above for three consecutive days in February last week, just the third time that happened since 1930.

Unseasonably warm temperatures swept across much of the Northeast last week, bringing to central New York a glimpse of springtime several weeks early. The record-high temperatures prompted students to bask in the sunshine, toss Frisbees on the Syracuse University Quad and hit the fairways of Drumlins Country Club.

Last week, the temperature reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit or above for three consecutive days in February, just the third time that happened since 1930. Sandwiched between two daily records — 69 on Thursday and 68 on Saturday — was a 71-degree Friday, marking the first 70-degree February reading in Syracuse since records began in 1902. The temperature also hovered around 70 degrees for much of Wednesday of this week.

While Syracuse became the first large city in the U.S. to eclipse 100 inches of snow this year, and temperatures are expected to revert back to normal this weekend, it’s been a mild winter across much of New York state. Experts said it’s not necessarily a result of climate change.

High pressure east of the Rocky Mountains — more common during the spring and summer months — has pushed cold air north into Canada. Typically this time of year, Artic Oscillation brings cold air to the eastern U.S.

But this year, the oscillation has stayed farther north, allowing warm air from the south to fill the void. That has shaken up the central New York region, bringing record highs, said Brian Donegan, a meteorologist based in Cortland, New York.

“It’s been a dominant pattern over the Eastern Seaboard,” Donegan said.

Nationally, temperature hikes have shattered century-old records. More than 400 locations in the U.S. have broken their all-time record for highest temperatures in February, according to The National Weather Service. Chicago recently set a record-long winter streak without a one-inch snowfall. On Tuesday, only 5 percent of the Great Lakes was covered by ice. On the same date in 2015, 87 percent was covered.

Burlington, Vermont; Fort Collins, Colorado; Wichita Falls, Texas; Minneapolis; Iowa City, Iowa; and Ann Arbor, Michigan, are among locations to have broken all-time February records this year.

“That’s pretty ridiculous,” said Jon Nese, assistant professor and associate head of undergraduate programs in the department of meteorology at The Pennsylvania State University. In mid-February, State College, Pennsylvania, completed its warmest seven-day stretch during the month since records began in 1893, said Penn State Lecturer of Meteorology Steven Seman.

Also aiding in the warm spell is an extra amount of sunshine. Two months after the winter solstice, the sun is far from its highest point in the sky, yet much higher than it was in December. The late-February sun can have a significant impact on temperatures, Nese said.

The relatively warm temperatures in the region were replaced by cold air Friday morning, when thunderstorms rumbled through upstate New York. And after what could be another record high on Wednesday, temperatures in Syracuse will stay around 20 degrees Fahrenheit this weekend.

The average February high in central New York is about 35 degrees, but has hovered around 50 to 60 over the past week. In January, Syracuse’s 8.4-inch snowfall marked the least-snowy January since 1950. Still, Syracuse has had 103.7 inches of snow since October, a couple of inches above average and more than any other large city in the U.S., including Rochester and Buffalo, Donegan said.

“We’ve gotten the snow,” Donegan said. “It just hasn’t stuck around long.”

Both Donegan and Nese hesitated to point the much-warmer-than normal temperatures to climate change. The uptick in temperatures can be explained, they said, without evoking global patterns. There are small-scale drifts throughout history that could lead to blips, they said.

“We should not connect a warm period like this with a straight line to climate change,” Nese said. “That said, events like this would tend to become slightly more common as average temperatures go up. You have to be careful connecting individual events to climate change, but it’s not unreasonable to surmise that these kinds of events would become more common.”

Over the last few weeks, Liverpool Golf Club director of special projects Stephen Schmitt has seen an uptick in players. On a typical February day, 10 to 15 people take to the course that is located about eight miles north of Syracuse University.

Last Thursday, about 150 to 200 golfers came out, even though there was an hour-long wait for golf carts. Drumlins Country Club on Nottingham Road saw an increase of about 50 to 70 players last weekend.

“This is nice coming out of the winter,” Drumlins Head Golf Professional Sean Dadey said. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing.”


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