By John Lawrence
Many records for snowfall and extreme cold were set in February. Some might think this is a sign of the nonexistence of global warming, but they would be wrong. Maybe the terminology should be more appropriately “climate change,” but global warming still holds if the average surface air temperature sets records as it did in 2014 despite extreme cold in the northeast US. It remains to be seen if extreme heat elsewhere in the world will make up for the extreme cold over much of the eastern half of the US in 2015.
Amid the extreme cold and snowfall records in the eastern half of the US, February also set a record for carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. For the first time in February the earth’s average carbon dioxide level was above 400 ppm. Last year, the monthly average didn’t go above that level until April, which was the first month in human history with carbon dioxide levels that high. Levels stayed that high for three months, and they are likely to stay that high for many more this year. In a few years they will be that high permanently.
The important point is what’s happening at the poles, and there warming temperatures are melting icecaps raising sea levels worldwide. The frigid air infusing the US that’s normally centered over the North Pole is being replaced by warmer air over the pole. Air temperature at the poles is where it’s really important since melting icecaps and consequent rising sea levels are the main threat to civilization as we know it as so much of contemporary civilization lies close to the oceans. In the US, Miami, New Orleans and New York City will be extremely impacted if the polar ice caps continue to melt at the current rate.
On February 20, temperatures in the state of Michigan were only a few degrees warmer than temperatures at the North Pole. Roscommon, MI dropped to -39° that morning. At the same time the North Pole was -44°. Previous record low temperatures were shattered in many Michigan cities. The average temperature for the entire state of Michigan at 8 AM was 18.5 degrees below zero, which made Michigan easily the coldest state in the country at that time.
In the Midwest and Northeast, February 2015 ranked as one of the coldest Februaries on record for many major cities. In Syracuse, New York and Bangor, Maine, it was not only the coldest February on record, but also the coldest of any month since records began.
Other locations experiencing record cold: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Williamsport, Pennsylvania; Erie, Pennsylvania and Youngstown, Ohio. The average temperature in Buffalo, NY was 10.9 °F, the all time coldest month on record. Niagara Falls as well as the Great Lakes froze over.
The average temperature in Bangor, Maine, was 6.2 degrees which was about 15 degrees below normal and easily beats the old record of 8.4 degrees, from January 1994. A February record low of 13.8 degrees was also set in Portland, Maine. The average temperature in Syracuse, New York, was 9.0 degrees which shattered by 3 degrees the old record set in February 1934.
Extreme cold persisted across the south which normally escapes extreme winter weather. The temperature dipped down to 4 below zero at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, on Feb. 24, shattering the previous record of 14 degrees. That record was set in 1967.
Snowfall records were broken too – most significantly in Boston where the 64.8 inches in February beat the old record by 2 feet! To date 106 inches of snow have fallen this winter just an inch and a half shy of the snowiest winter on record. Numerous roof cave-ins were the result. There were 150 roof collapses in Massachusetts in February.
Boston has smashed several snowfall records, including snowiest February and snowiest all-time month, as one snowstorm after another pummeled New England. It’s also been one of the coldest months ever, breaking the record in Boston for most sub-freezing days ever seen in February.
There was so much snow that Boston didn’t know where to put it. It piled up several stories in some places. Snow farms were developed where snow melters were brought in to convert the stuff to water.
Thousands of flights were canceled making travel a miserable nightmare. Since Dec. 1, 2014, there have been about 4,384 cancellations and 17,750 delays for flights departing or arriving at Boston Logan Airport.
Week after week storms pounded New England. There were four major snowstorms in three weeks. Blizzard conditions with wind gusts up to 70 mph sent wind chill factors as low as thirty below zero.
Boston got more snow in three weeks – over 100 inches – than Chicago has ever gotten in an entire winter. There were white out conditions from dawn to dusk. On Valentine’s weekend there were well over 100 auto accidents from Boston to Toledo. At least six were killed on the Ohio Turnpike. Trains weren’t moving; switches were frozen. There was thundersnow in Plymouth. 100 million Americans were under some sort of winter weather advisory.
Eastport, Maine had a record 109 inches of snow in 23 days.
On February 14, there was a 107 car pile-up on I-90 in Erie, Pennsylvania. In Indiana there were even more pile-ups.
On the 16th a major storm covered most of the south from Kentucky to Washington, DC with treacherous ice in Tennessee. Nashville saw the most severe ice storm in 20 years. Tens of thousands of people were without power in Tennessee. Ice crippled roads throughout the south. Freezing rain coated trees. Adding insult to injury, a CSX oil train derailed on the 16th near Mount Carbon, West Virginia, leaking oil into the Kanawha River. Louisville, Kentucky had minus 20 degree temperatures with wind chill factored in.
Schools and businesses were closed throughout the month as the extreme cold and precipitation made it almost impossible to function. Power outages due to storms contributed to dangerous conditions in sub-zero temperatures and impassable roads. Melting snow caused flooding.
Cold air from Siberia called the Siberian Express flowed over the North Pole and reached as far south as the gulf coast. Record low temperatures were recorded throughout the south. Miami had a record low of 39 degrees F. Fifteen people died from hypothermia. More than 60 kids were treated in Nashville hospitals for sledding related injuries.
On February 20 there were 27 states with sub-zero temperatures. Pellston, MI had -35. Frankfort, KY had -21. Lynchburg, VA had 11 below zero. Across the country more than 500 daily record lows were broken that week. 21 states hit records in the double digits below zero. There were massive water main breaks in Nashville. The economy suffered as much as a $5 billion loss due to the record cold. Governments spent about $2 billion on snow and ice control. In 2014 the Polar Vortex cost the economy some $15 billion.
More than 100 million people in 30 states suffered through the brutal cold and never ending piled up snow. By Saturday the 21st, the Arctic cold was responsible for 37 deaths. In Georgia I-75 was shut down. In Alabama cars were trapped for hours forcing many drivers to spend the night on the highway. As temperatures warmed up above freezing snow turned to sleet and rain which then froze on the roads overnight as temps dipped below freezing.
On February 21st freezing rain made roads treacherous in Texas. Tennessee had declared a State of Emergency. Thousands of flights were canceled. Roads were impassable. Power lines snapped. Trees were down. Many died from hypothermia. On February 23rd much of Dallas was a ghost town paralyzed by icy roads. A massive 25 vehicle pile-up blocked one of Texas’ interstate highways as up to 2 inches of sleet and freezing rain fell in a single day. Snow was on the ground in every state except Florida and Hawaii. Schools were closed in 21 states.
On the 24th, states from Idaho to the east coast had below zero temperatures. In Tennessee alone the weather related death toll was up to 30. In Kentucky the National Guard was rushing to deliver bottled water after burst pipes and frigid weather cut off water service to more than 40,000 people.
On the 25th Boston shattered a snowfall record with 100 inches of snow to that date for the winter. More than 70 vehicles smashed into each other on I-95 near Bangor, Maine. 17 people were injured. Poughkeepsie, NY hit -12 degrees. Dozens of schools and government offices shut down throughout the south. In Florida farmers used helicopters to keep air flowing around their citrus crops.
On the 26th hundreds of drivers were stranded on I-65 overnight. From the Midwest to the deep south there was punishing cold and snow. There was more than a foot of snow in Alabama. There had been more than 11 feet of snow in Maine. Tens of thousands still were without power in North Carolina. Cleveland, OH was on pace for its coldest February on record (15 degrees). Syracuse, NY and Bangor, ME were set for their record coldest month ever (6 and 9 degrees respectively).
On the 27th, icy conditions and white outs led to hundreds of accidents in North Texas. There was a 20 car pile-up on US 75 outside Dallas. In Fort Worth interstates 30 and 35 were completely shut down. It was the same old story: schools shut down, flights canceled. No relief in sight. Yada. Yada. Yada. One more day to go!
On the last day of the month, the winter weather advisory was still in effect. Road conditions were hazardous. In Florida torrential rains and strong winds interrupted play at the Honda Classic Golf Tournament. There was flooding in Miami where they got as much as 6 inches of rain. Spring is here!
However, winter weather continued into March where cars piled up on Interstate 65 in Kentucky:
Dozens of vehicles have been stranded for hours on Interstate 65 in Kentucky due to Winter Storm Thor, according to local reports.
The heavy snow has piled up around cars, trapping drivers inside. The shutdown occurred on a stretch of the freeway between Elizabethtown and Louisville.
“We’ve been stuck since like 10:15 last night, and the snow has piled up so high that when we open the car door, it pushes the snow out of the way,” said Sue Ellen Kilgallon, one of the drivers trapped on I-65, in an interview with The Weather Channel Thursday morning.
Larry Weas spent a cold night hunkered down in his car after getting caught in a logjam along Interstate 65 near his hometown of Elizabethtown, the Associated Press reported. To conserve fuel during his 11-hour ordeal, he kept his car turned off for long stretches of time and scooped snow into a bucket to have something to drink.
“This has been a lesson of survival,” said the 54-year-old man, who is diabetic.
Extreme cold in the US was offset by extreme warmth in Australia :
February was a warm month for Australia as a whole, and for most areas of the country. Averaged nationally, maximum temperatures were the second-warmest on record for February (2.35 °C above average) and minimum temperatures were the fifth-warmest for February (1.00 °C above average). Maximum temperatures were above to very much above average everywhere except along parts of the east coast, the far northern tip of Queensland and an area around the central Northern Territory.
While the US east coast experienced record cold temperatures, the west coast experienced record warmth. The average temperature in Las Vegas was 60 degrees, a record warm temperature for February. A record for warmth was also set at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport: 48.8 °F.
There was too little snow in Anchorage, Alaska to host the Iditarod dog sled race this year. Anchorage has only gotten 20 inches all winter. Compare that to the 106 inch total for Boston to date – nearly seven feet more than Anchorage and close to an all time record. They had to move the race north to Fairbanks – 200 miles from the Arctic Circle – where even there the winter has not been as snowy as in Boston. They trucked in snow to Anchorage for the ceremonial start of the race on March 7.
Climate change can lead to seemingly bizarre weather events – extreme cold in some areas and seasons with concomitant extreme heat in other areas. Of utmost importance are the rising temperatures at the poles which cause more and more icecap melting. This in turn raises sea levels which will cause devastating coastal flooding: many more Katrinas and Sandys. Eventually, as sea levels continue to rise, south Florida will be permanently inundated and New York City will have major flood control problems as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise steadily and permanently above 400 ppm.