Northeast confronts weather whiplash, with record warm-up after record cold
Feb. 6, 2023 Updated Mon., Feb. 6, 2023 at 9:58 p.m.
Just one day after Boston experienced its coldest temperature since 1957, weather whiplash ensued and temperatures spiked 60 degrees or more in just over 30 hours.
The city began Saturday at a bone-chilling minus-10 degrees, and strong breezes brought the wind chill down to minus-29. Trees exploded as their sap rapidly expanded in the sudden Arctic blast, with “frost quakes,” or cryoseisms, shaking the ground across New England. By Sunday, Boston spiked to 51 degrees during the afternoon (compared with an average high of 37), Providence peaked at 50 and even Worcester, Massachusetts, which a day before had been at minus-13, enjoyed a mild afternoon high of 48 degrees.
Hartford’s Bradley International Airport hit 9 below zero on Saturday for the first time since 2018, and Burlington, Vt., got down to minus-15. Providence, Rhode Island, also hit minus-9, and even Hyannis, Massachusetts, on Cape Cod, sank to minus-8.
Shots of Arctic air as frigid as what New England experienced in recent days are rare – only coming once every 5 to 10 years on average – and are not usually as intense. What’s especially unusual is how fleeting this weather was.
In fact, the temperature rebounds that occurred into Sunday may have set more records than the actual cold itself.
Here’s a roundup of some impressive statistics:
• Boston temperatures jumped 59 degrees in the 30 hours between 7 a.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday, increasing from minus-10 to 49 degrees. That obliterates the previous 30-hour record temperature rise of 49 degrees, which occurred between 7 a.m. on Dec. 28, 1984, (22 degrees) and 1 p.m. on Dec. 29, 1984 (71 degrees).
• Providence climbed 57 degrees during the same window, climbing from minus-9 to 48 degrees. That was also a record; bookkeeping dates back to 1948 at T.F. Green International Airport. The previous record was a 53 degree leap from 5 degrees to 58 degrees in February of 1949.
• Hartford’s Bradley International Airport did not nab a record 30-hour spike (the jump was 56 degrees, compared to a 59-degree jump in 2016).
The most dramatic warmups were over Upstate New York near the Tug Hill Plateau. While Rochester’s 30-hour jump was officially 52 degrees (minus-7 to 45 degrees), some places saw a spike of closer to 60 degrees.
The catapulting temperatures were owed to the overarching weather setup. The cold was initially brought on by a funneling effect of the winds. Frigid Canadian air was squeezed in between a counterclockwise-spinning low over Ontario and a clockwise-spinning high over the Great Lakes. That meant northwesterly winds in between.
Once the high shifted to the east, however, winds quickly switched out of the south, pumping in more temperature flow.
There are signs that the warmth should linger for quite a while. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center is calling for high confidence in odds of above-average temperatures over the Northeast for the next two weeks, with average to slightly above-average temperatures expected for the remainder of February. Long-range weather models concur.
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