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January thaw doesn't mean winter is over

Posted by David Epstein  January 7, 2013 08:30 AM

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This week, many folks will be talking about the warming trend on the way for tomorrow and continuing right into the weekend. Having such mild air in January is not that unusual nor is it a sign that winter is over. While we have not had a tough winter thus far, this is not last year. Many places in southern New England have seen from half a foot to close to two feet of snow this season. Boston, or more specifically, Logan airport has received just under 4 inches of snow which 75% below what we would expect. Logan sits out in the water and often isn't reflective of the rest of the area. For example, from Newton to Worcester, out to the Berkshires and north into northern New England snowfall is at or above normal for the season thus far. Even Providence, Rhode Island is closing in on a foot of snow for this winter. Let's chat more about the forecast on Twitter at @growingwisdom I also update weather information there regularly.

For me the getting through the whole winter season is a bit of a mind game that goes something like this. I have a love-hate relationship with winter. First, I love massive large snow storms. I have never seen a 30 inch snow storm and would love to be in one just once. However, I also hate, no loathe, driving in snow. I freak at what too much snow does to my gardens, and further it's a pain to clean-up after even an inch of the stuff. (I also feel for the industries that make a living on the "white gold" and I ski) My dogs are small and after about 6 inches the smallest one, needs me to shovel paths for him to just go outside. So around December 1st I start thinking that every day that goes by without a major snowstorm or cold outbreak is one day closer to spring. In my mind, spring arrives March 1st because even in the worst of March's we still have 12 hours of light and the temperatures are just not ever going to be that cold. So, here we are on January 7th and we have a week plus of mild weather, and that gets us all the way to January 15th. You see, I am still thinking about getting out of this winter as easily as possible. By the end of this weekend, using my logic, there are really only 6 weeks until spring! Of course I know some of the biggest storms ever in the northeast have occurred the first two weeks of March, so this is admittedly flawed logic. Remember, this MY mind game and it's how I get myself through this season. Truth be told, I do the exact same thing with July, because July can be brutally hot and dry and at least by August the sun isn't as strong and the nights start to cool off. I suppose thinking about what I am writing there are really 4 days of the year I am happy with the weather but I am a New Englander and complaining about the weather is in my blood.

Back to reality
The weather this week does look very mild. We will have a cold day today as highs remain in the 30s with sunshine. For the most part, the entire week is going to be dry. There is a chance of a few rain showers on Friday but, if they occur, they would be light and insignificant. What you will really notice, besides the dry weather, is how mild a few days of the next 7 or 8 will turn out. I think that we will get well into the 40s Wednesday and Thursday and we could easily make a run into the 50s by the weekend.

Some meteorology
One of the key maps meteorologists review to determine temperature is called the 850 millibar map. This map shows the air temperature at 5000 feet above the earth and is critical to determining how warm or cold it will be down here. The reason we use this level map is that the temperature of the air up there, gives us a great idea of the potential temperature here we live. The air at 850 millibars isn't greatly influenced by the sun heating the ground, so we get a clearer picture of where the various air masses are located. This in turn allows us to follow the air as it moves across the globe. If we tracked the air at the ground, it would be harder to know what was a different air mass or what was just a result of the heating of the day. (Our daily temperature can vary by 30 degrees or more) These daily fluctuations aren't seen at 5000 feet. The reason for the explanation of the temperatures at this levels is that I was reviewing the maps below for later this week and then the following one. I noticed a dramatic change in temperature being forecast . While temperatures this coming weekend could be in the 50s, if the predictions for the following weekend are true, high temperatures may not hit 20F. Additionally, Boston could be looking at a couple of sub-zero mornings. By the third week of the month, our air might be coming straight out of the North Pole! Forecasting two weeks into the future is risky business but, just like my winter mind game, is one I love to play. There are of course many factors that go into medium and long range forecasting. I asked a fellow meteorologist, Judah Cohen Ph.D., who is the Director of seasonal forecasting at Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), what he thought about the upcoming weeks. He is focusing, among outer things on the North Atlantic Oscillation. That is another factor which affects our weather. He said that he thinks "pretty much through the end of February the Arctic/North Atlantic Oscillation is predominantly in its negative phase. This does favor cold and possibly snowy weather in the Northeast but is no guarantee. " Bottom line, stay tuned.
850 temp January 13th.png
850 temp January 20th.png
This time of the year we don't have a lot of light so houseplants can suffer a bit. There are however, plants which do quite well in low light and are perfect for homes and offices. If you want to spruce up your desk at work, some of these plants are perfect.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this blog or any others. Please follow me on Twitter at @growingwisdom and check out my latest videos at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

David Epstein has been a professional meteorologist and horticulturalist for three decades. David spent 16 years at WCVB in Boston and currently freelances for WGME in Portland, ME. In 2006, More »
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