Not Our Worst Winter...Yet

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

A woman navigates around a large pile of snow at the corner of Charleston and Varick in SOHO. (Natalie Fertig/WNYC)

It's okay to say that it's been a bad winter.

There's been plenty of snow: Central Park has had 16 days of measurable snowfall since Dec. 8, according to Adrienne Leptich of the National Weather Service. As of Tuesday, that snow had added up to 57.1 inches.

It's been cold: Our most frigid day, Jan. 22, reached a high of 17 degrees — more than 20 degrees below the average high for that day. The low that day was a mere five degrees, also well below average. These temperatures do not include the wind chill.

There's been a shortage of salt: Before Tuesday morning's snowfall, the city's Department of Sanitation said it had used about 460,000 tons of salt, the most in recent memory. The number of snow events this winter has exhausted supplies of road salt and forced property owners to find other ways, like the magic of beet juice, to treat sidewalks and driveways. 

And it's been inconvenient: this winter has seen the most flight cancellations in at least 25 years.

But however it may feel, you can't say this season has been our worst...yet. That prize goes to the winter of 1995-1996, which dumped a total snowfall of 75.6 inches. It's the snowiest winter on record since the National Weather Service began its tallies in 1868-1869. Those tallies peg this current season as the seventh-snowiest so far.

David Robinson, a New Jersey State climatologist and Rutgers professor, said there are two notable points about the winter of '95-'96. First, every month from November through April had above average snowfall.

"That was a beginning to end snowy winter. It just seemed to want to snow," he said.

Second, the winter of '95-'96 had at least one major "signature" snow event. A January blizzard brought about 20 inches to the New York City metro area. Not so this year.

"We've had a number of moderate, really disruptive snow falls," said Robinson. "But we haven't had that one big signature storm."

But, for the snow-fatigued, Robinson notes that this winter might fall reasonably high on a "weariness index," if there actually were such a thing.

This winter has seen a number of storms, many of which were timed inconveniently in the overnight or early morning hours. Morning commutes have been messy. Suburban districts have called off school six or seven times. (New York City has had one snow day.)

"Winters like this when time and time again when people are having to look at the weather forecast — have to deal with the elements when it comes to travel, when it comes to any kind of planning — it becomes taxing."

That level of fatigue, Robinson said, does not come every winter. Also, he noted, winter's not over yet.



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Comments [7]


You really do have to factor in the temperature when assessing the worst winters. I do not recall so many days with temperatures in the teens and single digits as in this season. More days have required mittens, ear muffs, hats, boots, and even balaclavas than I can recall. I have used winter clothing items over a dozens times that have gone unused in past winters. So in the algorithm to determine worst winters, throw in sub-20 degree temps for at least part of the daylight hours, the wind speeds, and the number of snow, ice, and freezing rain events.

Feb. 19 2014 07:18 PM
Ron Schweiger from Brooklyn

The difference with this winter is the fact that the snowfalls were within a few days of each other. On top of that, there has been a prolonged cold spell that prevents any melting. The piles of snow turn to ice and many cars parked at the curb look like they will be there until April. I remember the winter of 1978-1979 very well. In January of '79 there were two MAJOR snowstorms within two weeks of each other. Each one had at least 15"-18" of snow. I remember driving down the streets of Brooklyn (after I finally got my car out)and it looked like I was driving through a canyon with snow piled high on both sides.

Feb. 19 2014 05:19 PM
David from New Jersey

The key to such bizarre winter weather in this area is not so much the amount of precipitation but the consistency of freezing temperatures for such a prolonged period of time allowing snow to pile up.

Feb. 19 2014 02:53 PM

I was falling in love in the winter wonderland of 1995-96. It may have been the snowiest, but it wasn't the worst -- it was the best!

Feb. 19 2014 01:30 PM

I seem to remember th winter of '77-'78 as among th worst (or best, depending on various factors) winters as far as snowfall and especially cold temps were concerned. But that winter never gets a mention; I'm curious?

Feb. 19 2014 10:25 AM
Linda of the Frozen North from Westchester

Before giving 1995-96 bragging rights, the reporter should compare the number of storms and the resultant length of time that the ground was continuously covered with snow, walks iced over, yards impassable, rural mail boxes vanished beneath plow drifts, gutters filled with slush. Then factor in the Polar Vortex and the fact that most days above freezing brought rain, drizzle, sleet or ice pellets. I'll bet the record shows the winter of 2013-14 the more miserable.

Feb. 19 2014 08:04 AM
stanchaz from Brooklandia

Where, oh where,
is that little boy or girl, deep within you? 
Where is that innocent child, 
the one with his nose pressed hard,
 against the frozen window pane?
 The urchin, gazing, in wonder and awe, 
at the miracle of a New York City snowfall?
 Every graceful, amazing, snowflake
-- unique and different! 
The City transformed, as if by magic, 
into a sparkling winter wonderland!
 Dancing snowflakes filling the sky,
 joining their tiny hands,
 as they flutter down and gently cover us, 
in a glistening white blanket!
To paraphrase Tex Antoine,
 that poor TV weatherman, 
who was fired some years ago in NYC 
(for some inappropriate on-air comments):
 "Sit back and enjoy it, Al Roker. 
For you may join me shortly, ....very shorty"

Feb. 19 2014 07:03 AM

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