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January weather on Long Island: Early predictions, record events and more

January holds the title for coldest month, historically, and in the past, Long Islanders have endured crippling ice storms and below-freezing temperatures.

This is what Greenlawn looked like after an

This is what Greenlawn looked like after an ice storm in January of 1978. Photo Credit: Newsday/Stan Wolfson

Look at it this way. As we step into January, one third of winter is over, meteorologically speaking.

Of course, the worst is possibly yet to come with January holding the coldest month title, historically, just barely edging out February, which ranks a smidgen higher in the snow department.

By coldest, we’re talking about temperatures, on average, heading up to 38 or 39 degrees during the day, and cooling down overnight to 23 to 24 degrees.  

The snowiest January on record* brought

34.4 inches of snow

to Long Island in 2011.

  • The warmest on record was in 1998 when temperatures averaged 39.1 degrees.
  • The coldest was in 1977, averaging 20.8 degrees.
  • The highest temperature reached, on record, was 69 degrees on Jan. 29, 2002.

-8 degrees

was the lowest temperature reached on Jan. 18, 1965, according to records.

Ice, snow and below-freezing temps: January 1978 had it all

It was a month described as “our Marquis de January,” by a Newsday writer, who ticked off five major storms, one “the most crippling ice storm in Long Island recorded history,” in which “thousands of ice-laced limbs broke and fell through brittle, icy wires.”

Shortly after that storm, another one that lasted from Jan. 19 to Jan. 20 dropped 20.2 inches of snow, so heavy, Newsday reported, that the dome of a $3.5 million auditorium at what was then known as C.W. Post College collapsed under the weight of it. According to NOAA, most major highways on Long Island were closed to traffic.

And 16 days of the month were below freezing ... all day long!

In all his years of forecasting for this area, it’s this January that stands out most to Bill Korbel, News 12 Long Island meteorologist. Here’s his account:

“My wife and I had recently moved into our first house in Merrick when we were hit with a vicious ice storm on the 13th. We, along with 300,000 Long Islanders, lost electricity for several days. We kept from freezing thanks to a portable heater, but all of my tropical fish died.  I started to wonder if buying my own house was a good idea after all.”

“We kept from freezing thanks to a portable heater, but all of my tropical fish died.  I started to wonder if buying my own house was a good idea after all.”

Bill Korbel, News 12 Long Island meteorologist

“Then, only a week later we were hit with a big snowstorm.  I was working at WOR Radio at the time and could not get home.  It was very strange to see no cars moving in the Times Square area … just people walking and more than a few people on skis.  Got home two days later. What a month.”

Other significant January storms:

  • 1996 Blizzard: Islip had a two-day snow total of 17 inches from Jan 7 to Jan. 8 of this year. Travel was impacted, and some roofs collapsed under the weight of the snow. A restaurant and three houses on Fire Island collapsed and washed out to sea.

  • 2015 Blizzard.  Islip’s greatest two-day snowfall for January is 24.9 inches, which fell from Jan. 26 to Jan. 27 of this year. Wind gusts were up to 50 mph at Islip, with blizzard conditions for five hours

  • 2016 Blizzard. Islip’s greatest one-day snowfall for January is 23.4 inches, which fell on Jan. 23 of this year. The area experienced wind gusts up to 58 mph and blizzard conditions for 8 hours

Source: Northeast Regional Climate Center

January is getting warmer, but snowier over time

Since 1964, January temperatures have been slowly on the rise, especially low temperatures of the day, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center, which is based out of Cornell University and tracked temperatures in the Islip area.

During that same time period, January has also seen an increase in snowfall, on average.

The holidays: How this year's dates have fared in the past

New Year’s Day, Jan. 1

  • 39 degrees is the normal high for the day
  • 63 degrees is the record high, set in 1966
  • 6 degrees is the record low, set in 2018

At least four polar bear plunges are scheduled for the day in Montauk, Northport, East Hampton and Wainscott, and First Day Hikes at eight sites across Long Island including Jones Beach and Sunken Meadow state parks. 

Martin Luther King Jr. Day, this year on Jan. 21

  • 38 degrees is the normal high for the day
  • 58 degrees is the record high, set in 1974
  • -3 degrees is the record low, set in 1984

Libraries, community centers and houses of worship throughout Long Island will be hosting events and services to mark the day.

"Jan. 19, 1953: My father had to drive through a blizzard from Queens to Lutheran Hospital in Manhattan to get my mother to the hospital to give birth to me. They made it after the car slid through the streets of Manhattan. My mother told this story to me on every birthday."

Janet Healy, Syosset 

What's the forecast for this January, so far?

Unlike last January — which started off with a blizzard on the fourth day that dumped over a foot of snow on the Island and was followed by several days of bitter cold — the first 10 days to two weeks of this year should be relatively quiet, according to Korbel.

Any storms that develop will be rather weak, move fast and have little moisture, because of a general west to east orientation of the jet stream, he said, adding, "For snow lovers, that means if there is any snow, it will be light."

Also, arctic air will remain trapped far to our north, so temperatures will average near or a bit above normal through mid month, he said. 

"After that, maybe the pattern will change. We'll just have to wait and see what Mother Nature decides to do."

"Years ago, I decided to do a 90-day count down to make it through the dreary days from Jan. 1 to March 31 ... January becomes much more bearable, even in a blizzard, when I'm thinking '23 days down, only 67 to go.'

Dan Oppenheimer, of Hempstead

Long Islanders' takes on the month

We invited readers to tell us their thoughts about January weather on Long Island including memories, rituals and other associations they have with the month. Some of their responses are sprinkled throughout this story, but here's one to highlight: 

"In all of the commotion, I hardly realized that my contractions were coming quickly and I needed to get to the hospital."

Elizabeth Horan, Massapequa

Elizabeth Horan, of Massapequa, recalls a roof collapse, then contractions

"January will always remind me of the series of snowstorms leading up to the roof collapse at the Waldbaum’s in Massapequa on Jan. 12, 1996. I was a pharmacist for Waldbaum’s at the time and pregnant with my first child. The storms had taken their toll on our vehicles, leaving us without a car as we watched the news intently, hoping to hear that all involved were safe."

A portion of the roof came crashing down on shoppers and employees in the late afternoon during a heavy rainstorm and left 25 people injured, according to previous Newsday reporting. An engineering report found there had been as much as 3 feet of snow on the roof at the time.

"In all of the commotion, I hardly realized that my contractions were coming quickly and I needed to get to the hospital.

"Fortunately, a family member was able to give us a ride to Winthrop University Hospital and my beautiful daughter was born about two hours later. Ironically, she is currently studying to be a pharmacist too!"

Tell us your story! Click here to share your story about January weather and see what others are saying.

Lastly ... Brush up on your winter weather lingo

"Bombogenesis" was all over The Weather Channel (and social media) last January, but do you remember what it is? How about "polar vortex"?

Bombogenesis: This is “the rapid intensification of a low-pressure system” — think strong storm moving up the coast — “in which the barometric pressure of the system drops at least 24 millibars in 24 hours” and can also be “referred to as ‘explosive cyclogenesis’,” according to merriam-webster.com.

Translation for Long Island, depending on the storm’s track, watch out for high winds and heavy snow.

The term is not yet in Merriam-Webster Dictionary, but it’s on their “Words We’re Watching” list. 

Polar vortex: This is “a large area of low pressure and cold air surrounding both of the Earth’s poles,” the National Weather Service says. “It ALWAYS exists near the poles, but weakens in summer and strengthens in winter.” Usually, the counterclockwise flow of air helps to keep the colder air in place near the Poles.

However, many times during winter in the Northern Hemisphere, “the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream. This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of arctic air in the United States.”

The term started gaining attention on Jan. 6, 2014, thanks to “a blanket of media coverage,” according to merriam-webster.com.

*Records are based on data for Long Island MacArthur Airport going back to September 1963.

Sources: Norman Dvoskin, retired News 12 Long Island meteorologist; Northeast Regional Climate Center

Research help by: Newsday librarians; photo researcher Peggy Lundquist

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