February Weather Potpourri
and a Winter 2010/11 Overview

Dr. David A. Robinson
New Jersey State Climatologist
Center for Environmental Prediction, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences/NJAES, Rutgers University
March 5, 2011

February Overview

The second month of 2011 did not disappoint those who have a penchant for all kinds of winter weather. While not much snow fell during the month, plenty was still on the ground in many locations early in the month, with some northern reaches hanging onto snow cover all month long. An ice storm started the month, with some subzero cold following. Mid month brought record warmth, considerable snow melt and a moderate wind storm. Toward month's end the first rain storm since early December on the heels of the melting snow brought some streams and rivers to bank full levels. Finally, the month was trumpeted out by unseasonable thunderstorms crossing the state during the morning hours of the 28th.

When all was said and done, the widely varying conditions resulted in month averages that were not too far from normal. The statewide average temperature of 33.8° was 0.9° above average. This ranks as the 34th warmest February since 1895. Precipitation (rain and melted freezing rain, sleet and snow) totaled 2.93", which is just 0.03" below average and ranks as 53rd wettest.

The most disruptive storm of the month brought snow, sleet, freezing rain and rain to New Jersey on the 1st and 2nd. Northern reaches received as much as 4.2" of snow and sleet in Wantage (Sussex County) and 4.0" in both West Milford (Passaic) and Vernon Township (Sussex). While in most locations much less snow fell, the pressing problem was freezing rain. It is fair to say that had there been several more hours of the moderate to heavy freezing rain that fell on the morning of the 2nd, had temperatures been a few degrees colder, and had there not been considerable melting during the afternoon of the 2nd when winds picked up considerably, this might have been a crippling event for central and northern NJ. As it was, the 0.3" to 0.5" coating of ice led to numerous traffic accidents and downed limbs, trees and power lines that resulted in scattered power outages and property damage. Numerous schools were also closed. When the various forms of precipitation were melted down, storm totals were over 0.50" across the state, with as much as 1.40" in Vernon Township, 1.28" at Blairstown (Warren) and 1.23" in Wanaque (Passaic).

Light freezing rain and rain brought light statewide totals on the 5th. Blairstown received 0.37" and Saddle Brook (Bergen) 0.36". Another light rain event on the 7th-8th saw 0.33" fall in Berkeley Township (Ocean) and 0.25" at Mansfield Township (Warren).

Conditions were quite dry through mid month until back-to-back snow events sandwiched the state in fresh snow on the 21st and 22nd. The first of these clipper storms brought out the snowplows in northern NJ on the morning of the 21st. A sampling of totals include: Newton (Sussex) 8.0", West Milford (Passaic) 7.9", Butler (Morris) 7.8", Mahwah and Oakland (Bergen) 7.6". A second fast-moving storm brought moderate snow to southern areas overnight from the 21st into the 22nd. Notable totals included: National Park (Gloucester) 6.0", Medford (Burlington) 5.5", Pittsgrove Township (Salem) 5.3", Somerdale (Camden) 5.2", Buena Vista (Atlantic) 5.0", Greenwich Township and Newport (Cumberland) 4.5", and Cape May Courthouse and Wildwood Crest (Cape May) 4.5". Central areas escaped much snow from either event, with, for instance, Hillsborough (Somerset) catching 1.1" from the first one and only 0.2" from the second event.

A moderate storm brought most of NJ 0.50" to 1.00" of rain from late on the 24th to mid day on the 25th. Jefferson Township (Morris) received 1.23" and Lavallette (Ocean) 1.20". A light coating of freezing rain fell in higher elevations of the northwest but otherwise this was the first pure rain event for the state since December 12. Fast moving thunderstorm cells awakened some during the early morning hours of the 28th. Mid-morning cells brought yet more lightning and thunder. Most rain totals across NJ were under 0.50", while Woodbine (Cape May) and Lavallette (Ocean) both caught 0.77".

As mentioned previously, the statewide average monthly precipitation was 2.93". Higher local totals included 4.21" in Oakland (Bergen), 4.19" in Boonton Township (Morris) and 4.16" at Blairstown (Warren). On the lower end, Merchantville (Camden) received 2.25", Burlington (Burlington) 2.26", and Mount Laurel (Burlington) 2.33". Snowfall totaled as much as 12.0" and 11.0" at two Wantage (Sussex) recording sites and 11.5" at West Milford (Passaic). On the low end, Belmar (Monmouth) saw 0.2" and Brick Township (Ocean) 0.3".

An examination of approximately 50 stations within the NJ Weather and Climate Network (NJWxNet) found five February days with maximum temperatures of 60° or higher at one or more locations and eleven days with minimums below 10°. On the cold side, the 3rd saw lows of 6° at Pequest (Warren) and 7° at Kingwood (Hunterdon). Pequest followed with a -3° minimum on the 4th and 9° on the 5th. A string of cold mornings from the 8th to 12th found High Point Monument down to 7° (8th), Pequest 2° and High Point Monument 3° (9th), Pequest 3° and Kingwood 5° (10th), Pequest -5°, Kingwood -3°, and Basking Ridge (Somerset) -1° (11th), and Pequest and Kingwood both at 6° (12th). The warmest morning of the month found only Basking Ridge (32°) down to the freezing mark on the 18th.

Mid- and late-month warmth saw the thermometer climb to 65° at both Woodbine (Cape May) and Egg Harbor Township (Atlantic) on the 14th, and Sicklerville (Camden) to 71° along with seven other stations reaching 69° on the 17th. The warmest day of the month was the 18th, when Egg Harbor Township reached 71° and six stations made it to 70°. Even the barrier island community of Harvey Cedars rose to 65° on the 18th, with High Point Monument the coolest location at 58°. Hammonton (Atlantic) reached 67° on the 25th, when five other stations rose to 65°. The last day of the month brought a wide range of maximum temperatures to NJ, with the 70° mark reached at Woodbine and Upper Deerfield (Cumberland), while the snow covered north was as cool as 48° at High Point Monument.

The highest barometric pressures of the month were recorded on the 15th, when many locations were close to 30.45". The lowest pressures were in the 29.20" range on the 25th. A parade of highs and lows through the eastern US in February resulted in notable pressure gradients on a number of occasions. This led to winds gusting to 40 mph or higher on fourteen days. The 2nd brought a 48 mph gust to Wantage (Sussex) and 44 mph at Stewartsville (Warren). Wantage reached 44 mph on the 2nd. Atlantic City Marina (Atlantic) peaked at 63 mph on the 5th and 46 mph on the 6th, with Harvey Cedars (Ocean) at 48 mph on the 5th and Wantage 52 mph on the 6th. The 8th saw Seaside Heights (Ocean) at 55 mph and Wantage at 51 mph.

The windy 12th-15th period saw gusts at Wantage reaching 45 mph on the 12th, 66 mph on the 14th, and 53 mph on the 15th. During that interval Atlantic City Marina reached 40 mph on the 13th and High Point Monument 50 mph on the 14th. The windiest stretch of the month was the 18th-20th. This included a 54 mph gust at Seaside Heights on the 18th, with Kingwood (Hunterdon) and Harvey Cedars at 53 mph. Damaging winds howled on Saturday the 19th, with Wantage and West Creek (Ocean) peaking at 58 mph, seven other NJWxNet locations reaching 50-54 mph, and thirteen others up to 40-49 mph. The winds fanned several brush fires in southern NJ Wind, resulted in some road closings, felled trees on houses and automobiles, and power outages to over 20,000 customers. A woman in Elizabeth (Union) was struck by a falling limb but fortunately survived the incident. Winds did not calm until after the 20th, when guest reached 58 mph at Wantage and 47 mph at High Point Monument.

Strong winds accompanied the lowest pressure of the month on the 25th. Gusts reached 55 mph at Atlantic City Marina and Bivalve (Cumberland) and exceeded 50 mph at three other observing sites. Finally, the 28th saw gusts of 44 mph at High Point Monument and Wantage.

Up to a half foot of snow still covered the northern quarter of NJ as the month ended. This is far less than the 10" or more blanketing the northern half of the state at the start of the month, when only the southeastern counties were primarily snow free. Between 2" and 3.5" of water was locked up in the glacier-like central and northern snow pack early in the month. This raised concerns of significant flooding of streams and rivers should the pack melt too rapidly, especially if accompanied by rain. Fortunately, the melt was "well behaved", with most of the snow disappearing during the mid month warmth when hardly any precipitation fell. This brought some smaller rivers to bank full capacity on the 18th-19th, and back to that level on the 25th-26th with the ground saturated and rain falling on the 25th. However, much as with the ice storm on the 2nd, NJ escaped far more serious circumstances.

Before the measurable snow (an inch or more on the ground) disappeared at New Brunswick (Middlesex) by the morning of the 19th, 54 consecutive days of cover had been recorded (December 27-February 18; New Brunswick observations are taken at 7AM). This marked the 3rd longest streak since records at this benchmark station began in the winter of 1893/94. Only 60 consecutive days (January 14-March 14, 1978) and 55 days (December 26, 1947-February 18, 1948) exceeded this year's persistent cover.

Winter Overview

The December 2010 through February 2011 interval will be remembered for a five-week core that included two major snow storms and plenty travel woes. Below average December and January temperatures and a milder February resulted in a 30.6° seasonal average. This is 2.4° below normal and ranks as the 34th coldest winter since records commenced in 1895. Seasonal precipitation (rain and melted snow) was 10.10", which is 0.50" below normal and 55th wettest. Each month was just slightly below average; an unusually consistent string of near-normal monthly anomalies.

Through February, snowfall for the season totaled 42.7" according to a new statewide database. All but very minor amounts of this fell from December 26th-February 22nd. This marks the 6th snowiest October-February interval since records commenced in the 1895/96 snow season. Through February, northern counties ranked 8th with 46.0", central counties 5th with 47.5" and southern counties 5th with 38.6"*. Should another flake not fall in March or April it would rank as the 8th largest snow season on record (the snowiest being 62.8" in 1995/96).

(* The county breakdown is as follows. North: Sussex, Passaic, Bergen, Warren, Morris, Essex, and Hudson; Central: Hunterdon, Somerset, Union, Middlesex, Monmouth, Mercer; South: Burlington, Ocean, Camden, Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, Atlantic, Cape May.)

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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