The Winter That Almost Wasn't
February 2012 and Winter 2011/2012 Recaps

Dr. David A. Robinson
New Jersey State Climatologist
Center for Environmental Prediction, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences/NJAES, Rutgers University
March 3, 2012

February Overview

New Jersey's relatively mild and tranquil winter continued in February. Snow fell on occasion, temperatures dipped into the teens, and the 25th was a very windy day. However, on four days temperatures climbed into the 60s, early-spring flowers such as crocus and snowdrops were in bloom several weeks ahead of schedule, and there were reports of some early daffodil sightings and buds swelling on some trees. Greater concerns will arise for plant damage should early March continue to be mild followed by a late-season invasion of cold air.

The February statewide average temperature of 38.5° was 4.7° above the 1981-2010 normal. It was the 5th mildest February since records commenced in 1895 (Table 1).

Rank Year Feb. Avg. Temp.
1 1998 39.4°
2 1990 38.9°
3 1997 38.6°
3 2002 38.6°
5 2012 38.5°
6 1976 38.4°
7 1984 38.3°
8 1949 37.8°
9 1991 37.6°
10 1954 37.5°

Table 1. The ten warmest Februarys across NJ since 1895.

This marks the 13th consecutive month of above-average temperatures. In fact, 21 of the past 24 have been on the positive side of the ledger. The 55.5° average temperature over these 24 months is the highest of any 24-month period going back to January 1895-December 1896 (Table 2). The table shows that there have been three lengthy intervals since the late 1990s with warm episodes lasting longer than 24 months, including the one NJ is currently experiencing, one about five years ago, and another in the late 1990s. The highest ranking 24-month warm interval occurring prior to 1990 is March 1948-February 1950 (62nd warmest).

Rank End Month Year (of end month) 24-Month Avg. Temp.
1 Feb 2012 55.5°
2 Jan 2012 55.2°
3 Dec 1999 55.0°
4 Dec 2011 55.0°
5 Nov 1999 55.0°
6 Jan 2007 54.9°
7 May 2007 54.9°
8 Jun 2007 54.8°
9 Oct 2011 54.8°
10 Mar 2007 54.8°
11 Sep 1999 54.8°
12 Nov 2011 54.8°
13 Oct 1999 54.7°
14 Jul 2007 54.7°
15 Oct 2007 54.7°

Table 2. The fifteen warmest consecutive 24-month intervals in New Jersey since 1895. The ending month of the 24-month interval is displayed. There have been 1383 such intervals over this time span. Averages have been rounded to the tenth of a degree for display purposes.

Maximum temperatures exceeded 60° on four February afternoons. Rather remarkably, the first day of the month was the mildest. Cherry Hill (Camden County) reached 69° and six other stations of the 50 monitored on a daily basis within the NJ Weather and Climate Network got to 67°. All told, 43 of these stations reached 60° or higher, with the High Point Monument (Sussex) station the coolest at 52°. Temperatures reached into the mid 50s on the 7th and 17th, but it wasn't until the 22nd with Sicklerville (Camden) at 62° and eighteen stations at either 60° or 61° that the 60° mark was again reached. This was followed by 65° at Sicklerville and 64° at Mansfield (Burlington) on the 23rd, and 61° at Sicklerville, Howell (Monmouth), and Clayton (Gloucester) on the 27th.

Low temperatures dipped into the teens somewhere in NJ on twelve days during February (note that the often coldest station in Walpack (Sussex) is not included in this month's summary, as there is a problem with an inconsistent thermometer at this location). The 4th through 6th saw Berkeley Township (Ocean) take low honors at 19°, 17°, and 14° respectively. Pequest (Warren) fell to 18° and 15° on the latter two mornings. On the 9th Berkeley reached 18° and Pequest 19°, while they both dropped to 17° on the 10th. High Point Monument, at an elevation of 1755 feet, fell to 15° on the 11th, with the nearby High Point Mesonet station (370 feet lower in elevation) at 17°.

The 12th was the coldest morning of the month, with High Point Monument at 9° and 44 other stations between 10° to 19°. West Cape May (Cape May) was the least cold at 22°. The Monument station fell to 19° on the 13th. Berkeley and Pequest were 19° on the 19th, Berkeley and Pequest 13° and 15° respectively on the 21st, High Point Monument 19° on the 26th, and Pequest, Berkeley and Basking Ridge (Somerset) 17°, 18°, and 19° respectively on the 27th.

February statewide precipitation totaled 1.25" (rain and melted snow). This is 1.61" below average and ranks as the 6th driest on record, but only the 3rd driest of the past eleven Februarys (Table 3). The last month with a larger monthly departure was the -1.73" deficit in August 2010. As a result of the dry conditions, minor brush fires broke out on a number of occasions, though nothing major transpired.

It is important to note that despite moderate to heavy rain totaling as much as 1.88" in Woodbine (Cape May) and as much as 2.3" of snow in Wantage (Sussex) during the daylight hours and evening of the 29th, precipitation totals are only included through the early morning of February 29th at most stations. This is due to the fact that most National Weather Service Cooperative Observing station observations are taken close to 7AM, thus a day "officially" ends at that hour with precipitation later in the day counted in the next day's 1st-of-the-month observation. It is from these long-term stations that statewide totals and rankings are determined. The same observing practice holds at NJ CoCoRaHS locations. The 29th event will be included in March totals.

Rank Year Feb. Prcp
1 2009 0.67"
2 2002 0.75"
3 1901 0.92"
4 1980 1.01"
5 1968 1.07"
6 2012 1.25"
7 1895 1.27"
8 1987 1.32"
9 1991 1.38"
10 1978 1.45"

Table 3. The ten driest Februarys across New Jersey since 1895.

Southern coastal NJ saw the most precipitation in February, with stations in Woodbine (Cape May) receiving 2.08" and 1.98", and one in Dennis Township (Cape May) reporting 2.02". On the dry side was the west central area with 0.61" in Mt. Olive (Morris), 0.63" in Alexandria Township (Hunterdon), and 0.64" in Oxford Township (Warren). These totals were taken from amongst 89 CoCoRaHS stations that submitted reports on all 29 days, 24 with 28 days reported, and eleven with 27 days (the latter two groups were evaluated to make sure missing reports were not on days where they might have experienced precipitation).

Snowfall was rather meager, with many stations coming in with less than a 2.0" total for February. Medford Lakes (Burlington) topped the list at 4.3", with Medford Township (Burlington) next at 3.9", followed by the Hunterdon County townships of Holland and Bethlehem at 3.6" and 3.5" respectively. Statewide, an average of 2.1" fell in February, which is 5.9" below average and is the 23rd least snowy February of the past 118 years.

There were five events in the month (again not counting the 29th) where at least 0.20" of rain or rain/melted snow fell. The first was on the 4th when extreme south Jersey saw 0.22" in Middle Township (Cape May) and 0.21" at Linwood (Atlantic). Coastal areas received the most precipitation on the 8th, with 0.32" in Woodbine, 0.25" at Wildwood Crest, and 0.24" in Sea Isle City, all in Cape May County. A swath of snow fell across central NJ that day, with 1.7" and 1.5" in Bethlehem and Holland townships (Hunterdon) and 2.0" in the Monmouth County communities of Howell and Freehold.

A complex system on the 11th brought two periods of snow along with some rain around the state. About an inch of snow fell in central areas in the morning, while heavier snow fell in central portions of south Jersey in the evening. Medford Lakes (Burlington) received 4.0", Medford Township (Burlington) 3.6", Hammonton (Atlantic) 3.4", and Buena Vista (Atlantic) 3.0". Precipitation (rain and melted snow) for the event was greatest in the Burlington County communities of Moorestown (0.57"), Mt. Laurel (0.54"), and Medford Lakes (0.49").

The wettest storm of the month was from the 23rd-24th. The heaviest rain fell in the southeast with a secondary maximum in the northeast. Dennis Township (Cape May) topped the list at 1.17", with Woodbine (Cape May) stations catching 1.12" and 1.13", followed by Egg Harbor Township at 1.03". Late-afternoon thunderstorms occurred in Cape May and Atlantic counties. Higher elevations in the north saw some snow, with 3.0" at the High Point State Park (Sussex), 2.3" in Wantage (Sussex), and 1.5" in Vernon (Sussex) and West Milford (Passaic).

February was not a particularly windy month, though on seven days gusts equaled or exceeded 40 mph at one or more locations. High Point Monument gusted to 40 mph on the 3rd. This site reached 40 mph on the 11th when Wantage (Sussex) topped out at 43 mph. The Monument station reached 48 mph on the 12th, with Seaside Heights (Ocean) at 43 mph. Stewartsville (Warren) gusted to 50 mph on the 24th, with Wantage reaching 40 mph. The 25th was a very windy day, accompanied by snow squalls in portions of central and north Jersey. Peak gusts were 62 mph at both Wantage and High Point Monument. Atlantic City Marina (Atlantic) and Seaside Heights reached 53 mph and 52 mph respectively. Meanwhile, fifteen stations saw peak gusts between 40-49 mph. Fortunately, there was no significant damage or power outages accompanying these gusts. The 26th had gusts of 45 mph at High Point Monument and 40 mph in Wantage, with these two stations having 46 mph and 43 mph gusts respectively on the 28th.

It is hardly surprising that the monthly low barometric pressure of approximately 29.30" was achieved on the 24th with the highest pressures of the month in the mid 30.40"s range arriving on the 26th and 27th (the 3rd also had similar high values). This explains the strong winds that occurred on the 25th as a strong pressure gradient became established between the departing low pressure system and an arriving high.

Winter Overview

Mild conditions prevailed throughout the bulk of the winter. Monthly anomalies of 5.2°, 4.1°, and 4.7° from December through February made for a seasonal mean temperature of 38.2°, which is 4.7° above average. This ranks as the 4th mildest winter on record in New Jersey (Table 4). On nineteen winter days, the high temperature was 60° or higher at one or more locations in the state.

Rank Year Winter Avg. Temp.
1 2002 39.2°
2 1932 38.9°
3 1998 38.5°
4 2012 38.2°
5 1949 37.3°
6 1937 36.8°
7 1991 36.6°
8 1999 36.6°
9 1953 36.5°
10 1950 36.4°

Table 4. The ten mildest winters (Dec-Feb) across New Jersey since 1895. The year listed applies to the year in which January falls.

Winter precipitation totaled 8.57", which is 1.68" below average and ranks as the 30th driest on record. Given the heavy rains of 2011, NJ's hydrological situation is good. This includes ground water, rivers, and reservoirs.

Snowfall was meager throughout the winter months. The 20.0" long-term average for the three months far exceeds the 4.9" winter total resulting from no snow in December, 2.8" in January, and 2.1" in February. Statewide, snowfall has averaged 7.7" since the first flakes flew on October 29, 2011. The northern third of the state has totaled 12.0", the central region 9.4", and the south 4.6". Were not a flake to accumulate the rest of the season, this would be the 6th least snowy winter since records began in the winter of 1895-1896.

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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