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Long Island saw wet and wild weather in 2018

A 'bomb cyclone' in January. Four nor'easters in March. Two tornadoes in October. And stretches of above-normal precip, and above-normal temperatures.

A so-called bomb cyclone snowstorm Jan. 4 snarled

A so-called bomb cyclone snowstorm Jan. 4 snarled traffic on the LIE in Brentwood.  Photo Credit: James Carbone

The year’s weather on Long Island certainly delivered some surprising swerves and major course reversals.

So much so that “Jekyll and Hyde” is how Jase Bernhardt, assistant professor and head of Hofstra University’s new meteorology minor program, describes those wide swings.

Was it exceptionally warm, wet and muggy? Yes, it was.

Did it also bring bitter cold and record snowfall? Yes, it did.

Were there a couple of wild moments? We need look no further back than the Nov. 15 surprise traffic-snarling snow to know the answer to that one.

The year reflected all the natural variations that weather can bring year-to-year, said Joe Pollina, National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton.

Still, looking ahead, climatologists point to certain features that are expected to become increasingly prevalent, as the atmosphere and oceans continue to warm.

The Northeast is expected to continue to see warmer and wetter conditions, said Jessica Spaccio, climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center, based at Cornell University.

So, are nippy temperatures and nor’easters dumping a foot of snow going away any time soon?

Not at all, she said. However, “we are seeing fewer days with snow on the ground, as we are seeing more midseason warm-ups and a shorter snow season.”

FIRST UP, A ‘BOMB CYCLONE’

In the remorseless Mr. Hyde corner, we had the year launching with a rapidly intensifying storm Jan. 4, which sent everyone scurrying to look up the word “bombogenesis.” That refers to quickly dropping air pressure that whips up high winds and an abundance of heavy snow, hence, the “bomb cyclone” nickname.

Indeed, “blizzard conditions lasted more than six hours” at Long Island MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma, “and snowfall rates approached 3 inches per hour,” said Samantha Borisoff, also a climatologist with the regional center. In all, the airport saw 16 inches of snow that day.

In addition, the month started out bitterly cold, with the days following the storm seeing highs of just 21, 12 and 19 degrees — not even counting wind chill.

FEBRUARY, IS THAT REALLY YOU?

This is the month that, on average, edges out January for top snowfall honors around these parts. February’s average monthly total is 7.1 inches, and, then, we also have blockbuster years, such as 2013 and its record-breaking 31.4 inches.

In 2018? A meager 1.4 inches of snow.

That was not for lack of precipitation, which came in at a healthy 2.95 inches above normal and tied the month’s wettest record.

No, it was for want of the other essential ingredient — cold air.

As it turned out, the month grabbed the title for warmest February on record, Borisoff said. And, in “quite the abnormal seasonal progression,” Bernhard pointed out that February also came in at 1.1 degrees warmer than March.

1, 2, 3, 4 NOR’EASTERS

By the end of March, Long Islanders’ snow fatigue was so well established that when the last of the month’s four nor’easters was approaching, the public had little need or inclination to make those ritual runs that can be such a boost to hardware and grocery stores.

With those storms a major factor in a staggering 31.9 inches of snow that fell — normal is 4.5 inches — it can be little surprise that the month ended up the snowiest March on record, and also made a major contribution to spring walking away with the record for top snow producer, Borisoff said.

In fact, the climate center’s roundup blog post for the month was titled, “March — All Lion, No Lamb.”

WET AND WILTING, WILL IT EVER END?

Apart from those who revel in soggy, stifling conditions, who on Long Island didn’t tire of a relentless stretch of hot temperatures, high humidity and those chances of showers and thunderstorms?

Unfortunately, with “a warmer atmosphere [that] can hold more water,” such humidity could become more common, Spaccio said, also with “extreme, flood-producing events” continuing to happen more frequently.

It was late June that “we flipped to that icky, seemingly interminable warm and very humid pattern,” Bernhardt said. Humidity, along with associated mild nights, “was the major story.”

The first day of July brought a high of 95 degrees at MacArthur Airport, as “soaring temperatures kicked off the week of the Fourth of July throughout the Northeast,” Spaccio recalled. “The high humidity, along with temperatures in the 90s, made it feel as though it were over 100 degrees in some areas.”

Indeed, July through October “was a consistent, considerably above normal stretch,” Bernhardt said.

The airport had its fourth warmest August on record, with its fifth warmest summer overall, Spaccio said.

Now, as for the rain . . .

With two of the wettest months — a record for November and tie for February — along with above normal precipitation for August through October, “we are unsurprisingly near the top of the list for wettest year ever,” Bernhardt said.

As of day's end Dec. 28, the airport had seen 62.91 inches of precipitation since Jan. 1, making it the third wettest on record, so far. More rain was expected on New Year's Eve. 

Port Jefferson was the recipient of especially heavy rain Sept. 25, which led to flash flooding that forced “businesses to be evacuated, drivers to abandon their cars and firefighters to call for reinforcements when their firehouse became waterlogged,“ Newsday reported.

TWISTERS, MAKING A CURTAIN CALL?

Just how unusual was it to see two tornadoes this October on Long Island?

Well, from 1950 to 2017, New York State has recorded only 10 twisters in that month, but this October delivered five, with two of them in Suffolk County, Borisoff said.

As Newsday described it, on Oct. 2, “a tornado that ‘sounded like a freight train’ hit a Ronkonkoma neighborhood . . . toppling trees onto homes and cars, and jolting unsuspecting residents” in the vicinity of Mohican Avenue and Iroquois, Seneca and Ontario streets.

Deemed the lowest grade of EF0, it still caused “quite a lot of damage,” Ross Dickman, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s Upton office, said at the scene, but, “fortunately there were no injuries.”

October twisters on the Island are “extremely rare,” he said, but the necessary conditions — severe thunderstorms, variations in wind velocity, moisture in the air and strong winds in the upper atmosphere — were all present.

“All the ingredients, at least for two minutes, came together,” he said.

That was the case again Oct. 29 when Fishers Island, at the eastern end of the Long Island Sound, got an unwelcome visit from an EF1, the next level up.

At its strongest, with estimated wind speeds of 90 mph, it snapped and twisted large hardwood trees, several of which were downed and uprooted.

JUST A DUSTING, THEY SAID

What can we say about the arrival right around rush hour of gusty winds and as much as 6 inches or so of wet, heavy snow in some spots — when not much more than a dusting had been forecast?

“Thursday’s snow jam will go down as a day that will live in Long Island traffic infamy,” is how a Newsday writer described the surprise wintry punch on Nov. 15.

“By 6 p.m., the commute to and from Long Island had slowed to a crawl,” another Newsday article reported. “Motorists on the Long Island Expressway could only wait in miles of bumper-to-bumper traffic while major bridges and tunnels in the region abruptly shut down, stranding drivers for hours.”

At the root of this was the unforeseen continuation of colder air, forecasters said.

“The cold air stayed longer over our area,” said Pollina, weather service meteorologist. “Much depends on what the wind coming off the Atlantic is doing, since the ocean is the source of the warm air that would keep the precipitation falling as rain.”

The forecast bust speaks to the complexities of predicting precisely what the atmosphere is going to do, especially in complicated scenarios.

“As good as we have gotten, things like this will occasionally happen,” said News 12 Long Island meteorologist Bill Korbel. “The perfect forecast is not possible now or for the foreseeable future.”

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