Generally speaking, December marks a shift from fall to winter, though as we’ve seen from recent record cold and traffic-snarling snow, weather doesn’t exactly abide by firm time boundaries.
Still, we can see the basic makings of colder weather just by looking at the sun’s position in the December sky, says Bill Korbel, News 12 Long Island meteorologist.
You will notice “how low in the sky the sun is during the day,” climbing at its highest to just under a third of the way into the sky.
From sunrise to sunset that translates to roughly
9 hours, 15 minutes of daylight on the winter solstice Dec. 21, compared to the 15 hours of daylight we will get on the next summer solstice June 21.
And, less sunlight = more cold
December normally starts out with daily highs of 48 degrees* and overnight lows of 33. By month’s end, make that 39 degrees for highs and 24 for lows.
And now, what everyone’s waiting for — mention of nor’easters!
As we move through the month, “weather systems tend to get stronger and move faster,” Korbel said. “With greater temperature differences between cold Canadian and arctic air masses and the slowly cooling Atlantic Ocean waters, there is a potential for at least a few coastal storms, or nor'easters, as we are fond of saying.”
And, here’s a reminder to help manage expectations. “A slight shift in a storm track can mean rain rather than snow here on Long Island,” as “snow versus rain is one of our most difficult forecasts to make,” he said, even as the storm is right on our doorstep.
“December is the most festive time of the year. We have a family tradition of spending one day in the city … there's no place like NYC in December."Amaury Hernandez of Ronkonkoma reflects on December weather
Normal snowfall for the month is 5.4 inches — and let us give 2009 a shout-out for bringing a blockbuster 25.3 inches to Long Island MacArthur Airport.
For this December, meteorologists are expecting a couple of coastal storms during the month's first 10 days, Korbel said.
And, the stretch from Dec. 5 to 9 in our part of the Northeast was tilting toward temperatures averaging out cooler than normal, according to long-range forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center. As for precipitation, they didn’t have a clear enough signal to make a call for above, below or right around normal, meaning any of them is possible.
“Shoveling a 2 car driveway for the first time."Edward Gross of West Babylon reflects on December weather
HOW ABOUT A WHITE CHRISTMAS?
If you want to see snow falling on Dec. 25, lots of luck with that ...
Just 4 percent of Christmas days have had flakes flying for any measurable snowfall at Long Island MacArthur Airport.
Your slightly better bet? To have the white stuff already on the ground, with 1 out of 5 days having had an inch or more of snow cover already on the ground.
The Island did get a white Christmas in 1966, as snow started falling on Dec. 24, continuing into Christmas Day, leaving 7.6 inches in all at MacArthur Airport.
The Island’s first white Christmas in five years “brought plenty of frustration along with its beauty,” a Newsday article said.
Travelers were stranded at airports, some fallen branches led to scattered power outages, and frozen switches caused some delays on the Long Island Rail Road. Five people died in holiday traffic accidents, though there was no mention of their being weather related.
An abundance of sledding took place, said Newsday, which also featured a photo of a Syosset father and son constructing, block by block, an impressive igloo-like snow house.
THE HOLIDAYS — HOW THIS YEAR’S DATES HAVE FARED
First day of Hanukkah, this year on Dec. 2
Normal is 48 degrees for a high, but the day did warm up to 60 degrees in 1998 and had a record low of 12 degrees in 1989. The most snow was 1 inch in 2007.
Christmas Day, Dec. 25
Normal is 40 degrees for a high, but the day did warm up to 65 in 2015 and had a record low of 3 degrees in 1983. The most snow was 2.3 inches in 1966, after the storm had dropped 5.3 the day before.
First day of Kwanzaa, Dec. 26
Normal is 40 degrees for a high, but the day did warm up to 64 degrees in 1982 and had a record low of 5 degrees in 1983. The most snow was 11.3 inches in 2010.
New Year’s Eve Day, Dec. 31
Normal is 39 degrees for a high, but the day did warm up to 59 degrees in 1992 and had a record low of -1 degrees in 1963. The most snow was 6 inches in 2000.
Ice storm, Dec. 17, 1973
Norman Dvoskin, a retired News 12 Long Island meteorologist, says of the storm: “I remember my family and I carrying pillows and blankets down to the rec room to sleep in front of the fireplace the night of the storm."
At the time he was a research meteorologist with Grumman Aerospace Corp. in Bethpage. “I had seen many ice storms throughout my life but never one with this much damage and widespread extent” — at least not until one that hit five years later in January.
A Newsday article titled “Icy Legacy: Death, Delay and Shivers,” gave a rundown of “the Great 1973 Ice Storm” and its impacts — power and telephone outages, train passengers stranded for hours, and several deaths related to “makeshift” heating approaches, as well as those killed by fallen electrical wires.
There were also stories of coping and generosity, with one Munsey Park woman hosting 19 neighbors for “champagne and dinner by candlelight,” as hers was the only house with gas heat. A few more arrived than expected, she said. “I guess the word spread I had the only warm house in the neighborhood.”
Blizzard of 2009
In all, MacArthur Airport saw a whopping 23.9 inches over the weekend of Dec. 19 to 20. The good about the weekend timing? Little impact on the commute. The not so good about weekend timing? It was the last shopping weekend before Christmas, and weekend cleanup meant an overtime bill for towns and villages.
The snow, at one time “coming down heavily and horizontally,” brought “horrific driving conditions,” train delays, and immobilized airports, a Newsday story said.
Still, Long Islanders displayed their what-are-you-gonna-do and insightful natures.
“It’s the worst it’s been in a while,” said a woman in Sayville. Her fellow shoveler saw it this way: “I keep telling myself to get a snowblower, but I know the year I get one it will never snow again.”
“This is the worst I’ve seen it in a while,” said an Amityville man. “When I was a kid, it was worse, as far as I remember. Then again I was shorter then so the snow seemed higher.”
LONG ISLANDERS’ TAKE ON THE MONTH
We invited readers to share a special memory, ritual or association they have with conditions in the month that rounds out the year. They told us about the magic, the festivity, the hard-core reality. Some of their responses are sprinkled throughout this story, but here's one to highlight:
Frank J. Melillo, Holtsville, remembers that 1973 ice storm.
When he woke up that morning, “everything was coated with ice and glaze. Ice was accumulating on branches, trees, cars and on the streets. While I was waiting for my school bus to arrive in front of the house in Valley Stream, I've seen several branches snap and fell on the ground. … It wasn't much snow, but the ice was treacherous.
"It was so unique. … I always remember that day."Frank J. Melillo of Holtsville reflects on December weather
Later in the afternoon, the sun came out. What a beautiful sight! While the trees were still coating with ice, they all lit up against the dark blue sky!”
As a 15-year-old, he said, he “was old enough to appreciate the unusual weather. It was so unique. … I always remember that day. If it happens today, probably it would never match or be similar to what I remember the weather on December 17, 1973. Maybe it was magical??? I think so!”
Tell us your story! Click here to share your story about January weather. We may feature you in next month's roundup.
"The Oil Man Cometh ... ”Herb Hesse of Holbrook reflects on December weather
ALSO OF NOTE
For most of us, winter starts with the solstice on Dec. 21. For meteorologists, winter starts on Dec. 1 and runs through the last day of February. Want to know why? Read this. And this from a few years back.
As of Dec. 1, Atlantic Hurricane Season is officially over, wrapping up on Nov. 30. Here’s this year’s rundown.
*Records and normals are based on data for Long Island MacArthur Airport going back to September of 1963.
Sources: Norman Dvoskin, retired News 12 Long Island meteorologist; Northeast Regional Climate Center
Research help by: Newsday librarians; photo researcher Peggy Lundquist