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Experts downplay LI's extreme winter weather

Commuters wait for their train in the snow

Commuters wait for their train in the snow during the snowstorm at the LIRR Merillon Avenue station in Garden City on Feb. 13, 2014. Credit: Newsday / Karen Wiles Stabile

With freezing cold and back-to-back-to-back snowstorms, Long Islanders have been buzzing this winter over extreme weather.

Climatologists, however, view as merely "active" the season that, since Dec. 1, has had 18 days of measurable snowfall at Long Island MacArthur Airport.

While it has "definitely been an active winter and definitely been cold -- below normal," such conditions are "not unheard of," said Jessica Spaccio, a climatologist with the Northeast Regional Climate Center in Ithaca.

"Overall, it hasn't been so extreme that we haven't seen this before," she said.

What makes this year seem worse is the relentlessness, with storm after storm. That's been courtesy of a pattern that finds the jet stream dipping further south, providing a consistent source of cold air that's needed for snow, said Joey Picca, a National Weather Service meteorologist based in Upton. The pattern has led to storm systems tracking close to the area, so, "repeatedly, the ingredients were there."

Unlike last year, with a February blizzard that dropped 27.8 inches at the airport, "we haven't seen any blockbuster event. . . . It's been the consistency of events," he said.

While this pattern is out of the ordinary for Long Island, it also can be seen as an anomaly that is "part of natural variations of our planet," said Brian Colle, professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University.

Still, the snow has mounted, with the airport recording a record 57.5 inches so far this meteorological winter -- December, January and February. Average snowfall for those months is 19.2 inches, according to data maintained since 1983 by the National Weather Service. In second and third place were 2009/2010's 53.4 inches and 2010/2011's 53.2 inches, Spaccio said.

What's more, why stop at winter's totals, as "the snow season expands beyond those three months," said Tim Morrin, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Upton.

While plows, snow shovels and the area's salt supply may have been put to the test this year, just look at the 1995 to 1996 snow season, October through April, when the airport had 73.5 inches of snow and Upton, a hard-to-beat 90.75 inches.

As for this winter's temperatures, the area has seen some interesting swings, in one case dipping from 55 degrees at the airport to 7 degrees in a 24-hour period.

As of Wednesday, the airport's average of 31 degrees would make it the sixth coldest winter, with 33 degrees being average, Spaccio said. Upton's lowest average winter temperature was 25.13 degrees in 1976/1977, and highest, 38.03 in 2011/2012.

Fridaywas expected to bring rain showers and temperatures around 50, and a look ahead indicates a return next week to cold temperatures and the potential for "a significant system on the East Coast" that, depending on its track, could bring more snow to Long Island, said Jack Boston, AccuWeather senior meteorologist.

Indeed, Colle said, the cold and stormy pattern is expected to return with no clear end in sight, other than the arrival of spring.

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