A Taste of All Seasons: October 2008 Overview

Dr. David A. Robinson
New Jersey State Climatologist
Center for Environmental Prediction, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences/NJAES, Rutgers University
November 2, 2008

October is considered a transitional month, with leaves changing color, hours of daylight diminishing and the weather shifting from warm to cool season regimes. October 2008 will long be considered the poster child of such a month! As the month literally began, thunderstorms were sweeping across the state, in the first few hours depositing what for many areas would be the most rain (a few tenths of an inch) they would see until the 4th week of the month. The dry spell included some late summer-like days along with the first freezing temperatures of the season in most locations. It ended with several thousand acres of the Pine Barrens burning. The last week of the month began with tropical rains depositing welcome precipitation across the state, later to be followed by one of the most significant October snow storms on record over central and northwestern areas.

Despite the wide swings in temperature and precipitation, the averages of each variable were quite close to their long-term means. At 53.5°, the preliminary temperature was 0.7° below average, making for the 39th coolest October since 1895. The preliminary average precipitation was 2.87", right near the median of the past 114 years at 56th driest and 0.64" below average.

Notable precipitation fell during five events during the month. The early morning rain of the 1st brought under a half inch to mainly western portions of NJ. Northern areas had the bulk of the quarter to half inch that fell on the 5th. The 9th brought a tenth to quarter inch to central and southern locations. Meaningful rains fell on the 25th, totaling 2-3" in the far northwest, tapering to about an inch over the remainder of the state. Winds gusted over 40 mph along the coast (47 at Harvey Cedars). This event helped to extinguish the Pine Barrens fire that had been burning since the 21st. All told, about 2000 acres within Wharton State Forest, near the border of Atlantic, Camden and Burlington counties, went up in smoke. Structural damage was minor, however it resulted in some evacuations, road closures (including state route 206 several times) and even the closure of Hammonton schools due to the heavy smoke.

Monthly precipitation (rain and melted snow) ranged from under two inches in coastal counties to over five inches in west central areas. Stations in Lower, Middle and Upper townships in Cape May County received 1.29", 1.66" and 1.64", respectively, while low totals also included 1.45" in Hamilton Township (Atlantic), and 1.72" in Wall Township (Monmouth). Liberty (5.87") and Independence (5.61") townships in Warren County received the most, with High Bridge (Hunterdon) following at 5.14".

The most unusual event of the month occurred on the 28th. A powerful early-season nor'easter developed along a cold front that had come through the state late on the 27th. It moved up the Jersey coast during the morning, bringing with it early snow at the highest elevations in the northwest and rain elsewhere. By mid morning, as the strongest dynamics of the storm focused on central NJ, conditions evolved such that heavy snow began falling at lower elevations. As morning transitioned into afternoon, snow slowly tapered off in central areas, with some beginning to fall in south Jersey down to about the Atlantic City Expressway. Meanwhile, heavy snow continued accumulating in the northwest hills, and trees (many in peak fall colors) and power lines began to fall.

When all was said and done, snows totaled 14.0" at High Point (1500' in Sussex County), 11.5" in Mount Olive and on Schooley's Mountain (above 1000' in western Morris County) and 12.0" in Lebanon (1000' in Hunterdon County). These amounts surpass any previous October snow depths on record in New Jersey over at least the past century. The distribution of snowfall at lower elevations was quite varied. In the northwest, elevation was the major determinant as to how much fell. At 1000' in Wantage, 4.5" fell while at 500' in Sussex, hardly any accumulated. In central areas it all depended on where the dynamics were such that intense upward vertical motion was able to cool the atmosphere enough to change the rain to snow. With heavy snow falling, surface temperatures dipped to near freezing, while northeast and furthest southern areas remained in the 40s. Elevation certainly played a role in central areas, with 2-5" accumulating above several hundred feet, enough to bring down the trees and power lines. Lower elevations saw anything from the ground being whitened to and inch or two, bringing down some branches but not causing power outages.

New Brunswick was covered with 1.5", tying the record for the largest October snowfall and making it only the 5th time since 1894 that measurable snow (at least a tenth of an inch) had fallen in October. Lest you think that an early snowfall portends a wicked winter in these parts, the previous four October snow events in New Brunswick were followed by winters that saw totals of 38", 28", 22" and 3.4", the station's average being 26".

Where snows of greater than a few inches fell, roadways became impassable due to accidents and fallen trees and power lines. At one point 80,000 customers were without power, with some not regaining power until Halloween. While snows have fallen in recent memory on the 19th (1972), 10th (1979), 30th (2002), it will be a long time before many forget this year's event.

While precipitation events, or the lack thereof, dominated this month, some mention of temperatures is warranted. The first freezing temperature of the season occurred at Walpack, a valley location in Sussex County, on the 6th. Other valley locations in the northwest and portions of the Pine Barrens fell below freezing on the 8th. However it was not until the 20th that the majority of the state saw freezing temperatures and an end to the growing season. Walpack got down to 19° that morning, while West Cape May only dropped to 42°. By month's end, only a few coastal reaches, including Harvey Cedars on Long Beach Island (Ocean County) and urban stations such as Newark Airport, had yet to record a freezing temperature. The greatest warmth of the month was found in the second week, which saw daytime highs in the 70s several times, including portions of southern and central NJ making it to the low 80s on the 13th.

For those seeking more detailed information on hourly, daily and monthly conditions, please visit the following Office of the NJ State Climatologist's websites:

NJ Weather and Climate Network
NJ Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network
NJ Snow Event Reports

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