A Record Dry Driest Month and an Average Winter: February 2009 and Winter Overview

Dr. David A. Robinson
New Jersey State Climatologist
Center for Environmental Prediction, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences/NJAES, Rutgers University
March 4, 2009

February Findings

A preliminary assessment of precipitation averaged across the Garden State finds February 2009 to be the driest February since records commenced in 1895. An impressive "performance", given that climatologically, February is the driest month of the year. It was a somewhat mild month too, with dry, often sunny conditions resulting in maximum temperatures being more above average than minimums. Thus the diurnal temperature range (difference between daily maximums and minimums) was larger than normal. Snowfall was a few inches below average, with the largest snow event of the season for much of the state so far contributing the bulk, and in some areas, all of the month's total. Winds howled at times, with deadly winds gusting over 60 mph in some locations on the 12th.

There were not too many wet or white days in February. The snow event on the 3rd-4th melted down to between 0.20" in the north to 0.50" in the south. The other barely-notable event was the 0.10" in the south to 0.50" in the north on the 18th. Hamilton (Atlantic County) with 1.27" and Franklin Township (Gloucester) with 1.24" won top monthly honors, while Ewing (Mercer; 0.54") and Readington Township (Hunterdon; 0.55") had the least precipitation. The preliminary statewide average of 0.69" was 2.27" below average. As mentioned above, this was the driest on record (see below).

Rank Year Precip
1 2009 0.69"
2 2002 0.75"
3 1901 0.92"
4 1980 1.01"
5 1968 1.07"
6 1895 1.27"
7 1987 1.32"
8 1991 1.38"
9 1978 1.45"
10 1954 1.79"

The only significant snow event was on the 3rd into the early hours of the 4th. It was the largest statewide snowfall of the season thus far, with 2-5" in the north and 3-6" in central and southern counties. Only lower portions of Cape May County had less (1-3") and an evening thumping on the 3rd led to 6-9" totals in Gloucester County, with a report of 10.0" in Glassboro.

Statewide temperatures averaged 34.7°, which is 1.8° above average or the 29th warmest February of the past 115 years. Several cold mornings resulted from the early-month fresh snowpack. The 5th saw Walpack (Sussex) fall to -5° and three other stations to 0°. Berkeley Township (Ocean) took low honors on the 6th at -2°, with again three stations at 0°. As the cold eased, Walpack still got down to 0° on the 7th, though at the Atlantic City Marina the low was a "balmy" 31° that morning.

Maximum temperatures exceeded 60° at a number of stations on three February afternoons. This included a top value of 67° in Woodbine (Cape May) on the 8th. The thermometer topped out at 70° at Sicklerville (Camden) and Berkeley Township (Ocean) on the 11th, and only stayed below 60° along the coast and in the northwest. The 27th brought 67° to Hammonton (Atlantic) and Eastampton (Burlington). Yes, Berkeley had a 72° swing in temperature between the 6th and 11th!

Wind was a prominent environmental factor on quite a few days of the month. Gusts exceeded 50 mph at one or more locations on the 12th, 20th, 23rd and 28th and surpassed 40 mph on 10 days. The strongest winds were felt on the 12th, when gusts reached 69 mph at the High Point Monument (Sussex) and 65 mph in Hillsborough Township (Somerset), while also exceeding 50 mph in many other locations. Wantage (Sussex) saw 50 mph gusts on each of the 4 days mentioned above, maxing out at 53 mph on the 23rd.

Tragically, the winds on the 12th resulted in two fatalities from falling limbs in Union and Essex counties. A number of trees and power lines went down that day, including 6 utility poles on one stretch of road in Parsippany-Troy Hills (Morris). Over 17,000 customers lost power at one point during the event. A truck was blown over on the Bayonne Bridge (Hudson). Numerous roads were closed and train and airline delays ran into the multi-hour range.

No other notable disruptions were caused by weather conditions on other dates. The snow on the 3rd-4th fell on warm roadways, thus disruptions were few, although a number of schools had delayed openings on the 4th. A few brush fires broke out as the dry conditions prevailed, but none were reported to be serious or extensive.

Winter Wrap Up

Averaging weather and climate occurrences over any interval results in the loss of information concerning variability and extremes. However it can prove useful in providing feedback for assessments of that particular interval, for instance overall energy use, or for projecting future conditions, such as water resources in the season ahead. This certainly held true for winter 2008-2009, from December through February.

Statewide winter precipitation totaled 10.64", which is exceedingly close to the 1971-2000 average of 10.60". Within this season were the 5th wettest December and the driest February since records began in 1895. However, given that seasonal precipitation is not normally distributed (the bell curve of past totals is skewed, or leans to the lower precipitation side of the ledger), this made for the 42nd wettest winter of the past 115 years.

A similar, though less-extreme picture emerged for winter temperature. The three-month average temperature across NJ was 33.0°, which is exactly average. January was 3.4° below average, and was balanced out by the relative warmth of December (+1.4°) and February (+1.8°). The long-term temperature record is also negatively skewed, leaving the 2008-2009 winter as the 47th warmest on record.

Snowfall that began in October and continues into March has to date (March 4) been close to average across New Jersey. More on the white stuff will be included in the March summary, and should snow fly in April, in the April summary as well.

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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Past Climate Summaries