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February weather preview: Early predictions, record events and more

Greg Murphy tries to dig out out his

Greg Murphy tries to dig out out his snow-covered Volkswagen in Valley Stream on Feb. 7, 1978. Credit: Newsday / Bill Senft

April might be the cruelest month, as T.S. Eliot wrote in The Waste Land.

But, no doubt Eliot might have rethought that line had he ever spent a single February on Long Island — a month notable for highs and lows like no other month in the New York metro area (as our own Walt Whitman likely would have schooled him, though Whitman's February Days, from 1878, actually had nothing to do with Long Island).

You want cold? Try a record minus-14 degrees recorded in Islip on Feb. 13, 1967, and again on Feb. 14, 1979. (The record for Central Park, whose records date to 1869 by comparison to Islip, whose records date to 1963, is minus-15 recorded on Feb. 9, 1934.)

You want hot? Try 68 degrees — we’re talking winter warmth here, baby — on Feb. 17, 1976. (The record for Central Park is 78 degrees, recorded on Feb. 21, 2018.)

The minus-15 degree temperature is the coldest ever recorded in the metro area, according to the National Weather Service, which reports that February also has the coldest monthly average on record — 19.9 degrees for February 1934 — as well as the greatest monthly snowfall total (36.9 inches in 2010), the largest snowfall from one storm (26.9 inches on Feb. 11-12, 2006) and the highest pressure ever recorded in inches of mercury (31.08 on Feb. 13, 1981).

And those aren’t just records for February. They are records for metro New York, period.

Who’s cruel now, T.S.?

February comes from the Roman holiday, Februa, which, it turns out, has nothing to do with Audrey Hepburn, but instead was a festival of cleansing. (And they didn't mean in some fancy Roman bath.) It's also the only month that adds an extra day every four years — leap year, of which this 29-day long February is one — and the only month that can pass without a full moon.

February also is a month of celebrations, from those that are of historical importance — like Black History Month — to the not-so-historically important — grapefruit month, hot breakfast month, canned food month and return shopping carts to the supermarket month. As if . . . 

Which, of course, doesn't even begin to take into account Groundhog Day.

Which, of course, doesn't even begin to take into account Groundhog Day. [Wink!]

Or, Valentine's Day. Or, as your significant other will likely point out, Valentine's Day.

HOW ABOUT THIS YEAR?

What will the weather be like in the month ahead? Well, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Climate Prediction Center is suggesting that, since this winter has the chance to be colder and wetter than normal, there's a good shot we'll see colder-than-normal temperatures this February.

Not to mention, more rain (and, possibly, more snow) than usual.

By how much? That's anyone's guess.

WHAT'S NORMAL, WHAT'S NOT

TEMPS

The warmest February recorded at Islip since 1963 was 39.1 degrees in 2018, and the coldest was 21.6 degrees in 2015. For Central Park, the range is even greater: 42 degrees in 2018, and 19.9 degrees in 1934.

11 hours, 16 minutes of daylight by month's end, with sunrise at 6:27 a.m. and sunset at 5:43 p.m.

That will be up from just 10 hours, 6 minutes of sunlight to start the month, when sunrise is at 7:03 a.m. and sunset at 5:09 p.m.

PRECIP

The normal amount of rain for February is 3.26 inches.

The wettest February on Long Island? Try 6.21 inches of rain in 2008. The driest? A mere 0.85 inch in 1980. For Central Park, it was 6.87 inches in 1869 and 0.45 in 1895.

SNOW

Normal average snowfall is 7.1 inches in Islip. The snowiest February ever recorded in Islip was 31.4 inches in 2013. In Central Park, it was 36.9 inches in 2010.

The snowiest February day ever recorded by the National Weather Service on Long Island? There are two: 16.7 inches on Feb. 12, 2006, and again on Feb. 8, 2013.

On the other hand, February does appear less kind to wanna-be snowbound lovers, with the highest-recorded snowfall ever on Valentine's Day being a mere three inches on Feb. 14, 1996.

Of the 10 snowiest months ever recorded in the metro area, four are Februarys and three are in the past 15 years: 36.9 inches in 2010 topping out the list, as well as 29 inches in 2014, 27.9 inches in 1934, and 26.9 inches in 2006.

WILD WEATHER

February 5-7, 1978

The 39-hour storm

 

Then the third-worst storm in recorded metro area history, the National Weather Service said the 1978 blizzard dropped 17.7 inches of snow, including 15.5 inches in Central Park and 16.5 inches in Islip on Feb. 6 alone. However, according to Newsday coverage of the big storm, private weather trackers reported as much as 26 inches in Ronkonkoma, as well as 24 inches in Riverhead, 23 inches in Plainview, Douglaston and Islip-MacArthur Airport, 22.5 inches at Kennedy Airport and 22 inches in Long Beach, Rosedale and at LaGuardia Airport in East Elmhurst, Queens.

In Albany, then-Gov. Hugh Carey asked then-Pres. Jimmy Carter to declare a "major disaster in New York State," while then-New York City Mayor Ed Koch declared a snow emergency and restricted travel on city streets, saying that at one point more than 120 city buses were left stranded.

On Long Island, houses along Dune Road in Westhampton Beach tumbled into the surf from the Atlantic Ocean surge and the Long Island Rail Road pledged "minimal service" using a dozen diesel engined trains after dozens of stalled trains stranded thousands in the snow, some as long as eight hours. Meanwhile, motorists who abandoned their cars on major highways later had to scramble to figure out where they had gone, since on some of those roads, it turned out, vehicles were towed to storage lots while others were just moved to the side of the road.

Seven deaths in New York City and Long Island were attributed to the storm.

Only the December 1947 storm (26.4 inches) and the storm of 1941 (18.1 inches) were worse in 20th-century Long Island and New York City history, though Newsday accounts of the storm reported that the Infamous Great White Hurricane of '88 — that would be 1888 — left behind 21 inches of snow.

Stories from the Storm of '78 abound: Then-Babylon Village Mayor Gilbert C. Hanse suggesting to a woman in labor being evacuated from her apartment by snowplow that she could name the kid "Snowflake," which went over like a lead balloon; a then-United Airlines flight manager named Roy Miller, who told Newsday how he had left his job at Kennedy Airport at 12:30 p.m. Feb. 6 and, 24 hours later, had only made it halfway home to Centerport; a restaurant in Calverton, where almost four dozen stranded motorists slept on newspapers and under tablecloths; and at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, where more than 200 found themselves stuck in the storm — and one doctor even took to catching some shut-eye atop at X-ray table.

There also was the scene at the Village Green School in Huntington, which then-Supervisor Kenneth Butterfield dubbed "The Huntington Hilton" after scores of commuters were stranded there. (The real Huntington Hilton wasn't built until 10 years later, in 1988, by the way.) As volunteers handed out food to weary, weather-fatigued commuters, one man told Butterfield, "I don't want a ham sandwich," then another man accosted him to insist that all cars belonging to residents from the East End of Long Island — Newsday reported the man was from Center Moriches — be dug out and towed to the East End before any other clean-up was done.

And at the Melville firehouse, Newsday quoted one fireman as saying they had complaints from stranded motorists "because the fire department wouldn't provide beer."

Still, it was all better than it was in the rest of the Northeast, as Army troops were called in to help recovery efforts across New England and Harvard University closed its doors for the first time in its then 342-year history, according to news reports.

Officials at the Long Island Association estimated Island-based businesses lost millions of dollars as the result of store closings and residents complained that streets had gone unplowed days after the storm had come and gone. The New York Islanders hockey team canceled its game at Nassau Coliseum against the then-Minnesota North Stars. And amid all the fuss, then-Town of Babylon Supervisor Raymond Allmendinger told Newsday about how he had gotten a call at Town Hall from a man wondering if he could come in and pick up a marriage license. "Are you crazy?" Allmendinger said. "In a storm like this?"

The man told Allmendinger he had no idea what he was talking about, to which Allmendinger asked if he had looked out the window.

Yes, the man told him, except he was in Charleston, South Carolina.

Turned out the man was marrying a woman from Babylon and was planning to fly to Long Island that morning to get the license.

"Live in sin," Allmendinger told him.

February 11-13, 2006

The blizzard of 2006

A nor'easter that dumped at least a foot of snow from Baltimore to Boston, the North American Blizzard of 2006 dropped 26.9 inches of snow on New York City (at the time, the most since at least 1869) and, in one single day — Feb. 12 — dropped 16.7 inches in Islip.

In addition to major snowfall totals, the storm brought coastal flooding and storm surge, and caused three fatalities — one in Virginia, one in Maryland and one in Nova Scotia — though thankfully, none in New York City or Long Island. All three metro area airports, plus MacArthur, were closed for the first time together since Sept. 11, 2001.

The storm didn't meet the actual criteria to historically be called a blizzard, since the winds weren't strong enough. Still, folks here called it a blizzard.

The Long Island Rail reported at least eight trains that became stranded in snow for hours, while downed trees and power lines knocked out electrical service to tens of thousands on Long Island and hundreds of thousands in New York City, resulting in millions of dollars worth of damage.

It was estimated that snow removal in New York City cost $27 million.

According to the Weather Underground website, "What appeared to be a rather ordinary nor'easter on the computer model forecasts Saturday intensified dramatically on Sunday as the center moved out over the warm waters on the Gulf Stream." The result was "the kind of 'snowburst' one seldom sees except in lake-effect storms in the lee of the Great Lakes."

In fact, snowfall rates of 2-4 inches per hour swept across New York City and Long Island.

State police reported that troopers responded to 22 accidents in Nassau and Suffolk. A 79-year-old Northport man was seriously injured when a neighbor lost control of his 2000 Dodge on the icy roads, striking him as he used his snowblower, Newsday reported.

Crews had 15,000 tons of salt to put down in Suffolk, officials said, while Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray said 10,000 tons were spread there. The Long Island Power Authority, then the agency in charge of power supply, said it had 200 repair personnel working 16-hour shifts to maintain power to Long Islanders.

One big factor in the impact of the storm was that the bulk of it hit on the weekend and many people could remain home.

"After a quiet winter season in the months of December and January, winter finally made an appearance by mid-February," the National Weather Service said in a statement recapping the historic storm.

However, two men, both from Russia, told a Newsday reporter the snow was all much ado about nothing.

"We come from Moscow," one of them said, adding: "For us, this was nothing."

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