Like so many other features of American life, Mark Twain got it right when he described spring fever, a phenomenon that, after all, is a contradiction in terms.
Spring is supposed be a time of balmy weather so beckoning that playing hooky seems mandatory. And fevers — now a terrifying symptom of the novel coronavirus — are generally supposed to confine themselves to winter.
Wrote Twain: “It’s spring fever. ... And when you've got it, you want — oh, you don't quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!”
But for many in New York and around the globe, this spring will be rather abstract, largely observed from behind glass.
For those whose jobs are deemed essential, the glories of the season — bounteous flowers, welcoming sunshine and soft breezes — will not offset the reality that they risk their lives when they step outside and encounter a possible coronavirus carrier as they go about their work.
While spring rains help flowers bloom and can make the air feel fresher, their impact on the virus appears neutral, experts said. Rain does not kill viruses, but downpours are unlikely to spread the disease.
“These particles can be swept up into the air, and travel much further, but they will be rapidly diluted and will not survive very long,” said Curtis Suttle, professor of Botany / Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences / Microbiology and Immunology at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.
Scientists hope that warmer weather will slow the transmission of COVID-19, though there is no guarantee. At least air conditioning does not appear to be a threat.
“There are no risks posed by COVID-19 in usual circumstances by air conditioning in residential or commercial buildings,” said Dr. Paul G. Auwaerter, who is the Sherrilyn and Ken Fisher professor of medicine and clinical director, Division of Infectious Diseases, at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.
The virus, carried through the air when a carrier sneezes or coughs, still obeys the laws of gravity. The doctor, a native of Bayport, explained by email that the droplets “are weighty, meaning they fall to the ground within 3 to 6 feet of an uncovered sneeze or cough.”
“Even if an infected person coughs into an air intake, the droplets would travel minimally and not circulate,” Auwaerter said.
HOW ABOUT THIS YEAR?
The month could be warmer than usual in both the Northeast and the Great Plains as the two regions have something in common — less snowpack, advises the Climate Prediction Center, an arm of the National Weather Service.
Snowpack is defined as the snow leftover from previous storms; compressed by its own weight, it hardens before spring thaws create what New England calls mud season.
“Across the eastern continental United States, model outlooks and trends favor above-normal temperatures, while anomalously low snowpack (with the exception of areas around the Upper Great Lakes) enhances odds over the Northeast,” the Tacoma Park-based agency said on its website.
And when it comes to rain, the computer models offer little guidance, suggesting equal chances of more, normal or less than usual.
“The precipitation outlook is more uncertain than the temperature outlook as trends are not monotonic and weak in the spring,” the Climate Prediction Center said.
WHAT'S NORMAL, WHAT'S NOT
The mean temperature in April is 49.1 degrees — 9.8 degrees warmer than March’s average, according to the NWS.
For the entire month, the warmest April was 53.4 degrees in 2017; the coldest was 44.4 degrees in 1965.
On the warmest April day — the 17th in 2002 — the temperature hit 94 degrees. The record low — 16 degrees — was in 1969 on April.
By the end of April, there will be 116 more minutes of daylight— with sunrise at 4:52 a.m. and sunset at 6:48 p.m. that day.
The normal amount of rain is 4.34 inches, which is just under March’s 4.44 inches.
The wettest April was in 1983, with 9.09 inches of rain, the weather service said. The driest was in 1978, when there was 0.98th of an inch.
Normal is 0.6 inches for the month. The snowiest April day occurred in 1982 when 16 inches fell on April 6.
Consider the contrasts
Mother Nature memorably interrupted what was the 16th day of spring in 1982, when a coincidental 16 inches of snow fell, the National Weather Service said.
Seed potatoes on the East End had been planted, Easter cards graced stationery stores, lilies brightened florist shops. But the weather April 6 matched the 1982 Farmer’s Almanac for that date: “In for a blow, plus more snow.”
There were 11 inches at Islip, 8 to12 inches across the rest of Long Island, and 9.6 inches in Central Park.
In Hauppauge, Deputy County Executive Howard DiMartini observed that most workers had gone home for the day and said, “I’m going to order six reindeer to take me home.”
Mail carriers, true to their creed, completed their appointed rounds. At least one turned the spring snow to their advantage: Albert Baum, 47, had difficulty making out the house numbers on his route through North Babylon because his glasses were fogged. But when one of the neighborhood dogs came at him, Baum said, “I threw a snowball at him.”
Frank Genna, a carpenter from Lake Grove, took the 2:22 from Penn Station, which arrived at Smithtown more than an hour late. “The train was a disaster,” Genna said. “It was packed and the idiot was still asking for tickets. He was lucky he didn’t get beaten to a pulp.”
Fast forward to April 17, 2002, for the reverse trials and tribulations: An extraordinary heat wave — the temperature hit 83 — that prompted some utility officials to gobble antacid tablets.
“I never thought I’d have the same pressure and tension in the middle of April as I did during the heat wave last August,” LIPA chairman Richard Kessel said.
Kenneth Knapp, a spokesman for the New York Independent System Operator, said the power crunch was not as bad as it could have been because many homeowners had yet to reinstall window air conditioners they had stored for winter.
He added a similar heat wave during the summer would have a more wilting affect because blacktop roads and buildings would be warmer to begin with.
“There isn’t much of a heat buildup yet,” he said at the time. “My garage is still cold because the concrete slab is still cold.”