First, let’s get this out of the way — Long Island practically never sees snow in May. (Meaning cheers or boos, depending on your winter weather inclination.)
In more than 50 years of record keeping, just one May day saw snow stick at MacArthur Airport, climatologists say. And that’s why, back in 1977, it was front page news, with Newsday confirming, “Snow – yes, that’s snow.”
It may have been technically just a trace, meaning less than a tenth of an inch, but additional elements of the surprise system meant it still kicked up quite the ruckus.
But in some cases, the month has delivered a different brand of drama — runaway brush fires. That’s when a spark meets up with high winds + air low in moisture + dry leaves, twigs and grasses. It’s called “fire weather,” said Tim Morrin, fire weather program lead with the National Weather Service in Upton, and it's a concern at this time of year.
Also, as we get longer stretches of daylight, leaves, grasses and flowers are flourishing. By the end of May, we're up to nearly 15 hours of natural light from sunrise to sunset.
How about this year?
"It looks to be warmer than normal, but it will stay wet with showers every two or three days for the first couple of weeks," said Bill Korbel, News 12 Long Island meteorologist. But, please, let's hold the groans, as there are silver linings, one being that plenty of rainfall lessens the chances of brush fires. “A dry spring can be a problem,” he said, “but ours has been very wet.”
WHAT’S NORMAL, WHAT’S NOT
May sees a big jump on average, with the month starting out with normal daily highs of 63 degrees and overnight lows of 45 degrees at Long Island MacArthur Airport. By month's end, that's 72 degree highs, with 55 the low.
But temperatures have risen as high as 98 degrees in 1996, and dropped as low as 32 in 2008.
By the end of May, we'll see sunrise at 5:24 a.m. and sunset at 8:17 p.m., adding,
55 minutes of daylight
On average, the month sees 3.78 inches of precipitation.
But, it’s recorded as much as 10.14 inches in 1989.
And as little as 0.42 inches in 2015.
Normal is no snow at all.
But a trace — meaning less than a tenth of an inch — accumulated on May 9, 1977
We scoured our archives — and memories! — and here are some of the most notable weather events and how Newsday covered them at the time.
May 9, 1977 'Snow—yes, that's snow'
Just when you think it’s safe to set up the patio furniture, along comes a system that delivers high winds, thunderstorms, likely hail, sleet, a splash of snow and something that’s very similar to a tornado. Add to that “raining glass,” when a big section of a Hauppauge office building’s glass facade “peeled away in the high winds and shattered on the promenade below.”
That’s according to a Newsday account that summed it up this way: “A freak winter storm turned May into mayhem.”
The storm, by late afternoon, had dropped close to a quarter of an inch of snow, mixed with rain, at MacArthur Airport, but just a trace of snow ended up sticking, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.
It was just around then that the Hauppauge building’s glass facade blew out, shortly after workers had left for the day.
Right at that rush hour time, also, a line of thunderstorms swept across the Island, which would explain the strong wind gusts and reports of hail, said Samantha Borisoff, climatologist with the regional climate center.
And, let’s hang on for that sorta tornado. Though none was confirmed, “a tornado-like funnel of swirling black winds” ripped into a Rockville Centre service station, Newsday reported.
“I had to get all my help down into the basement,” the owner said. “It lasted about 30 seconds and the whole building just shook.”
May 20, 1996 98 degrees
“Temperature records wilted like a chocolate bar in sunshine,” is how one Newsday writer put it.
That was when “a mid-spring heat wave shot temperatures across Long Island into the high 90s.”
Behind the heat-up was the absence of even a hint of a sea breeze, which brings in cooler air off the ocean. "The wind basically stayed out of the west,” a weather service meteorologist, said. “The ocean had no influence whatsoever."
And, with temps that even August would have found stifling, what did Long Islanders do?
Headed out for a dip, with about 30,000 people packing into Jones Beach State Park. That would be right on target for a Monday in July, the park director said. For a May Monday, it was three times as many as would typically show up.
Still, the water was a chilly 50 degrees, with a Huntington man saying, “God, it was cold...All my hair stood on end.”
Others opted for taking some golf swings. And it was at the eighth tee of a Dix Hills course that Newsday caught up with a Northport restaurant chef, who helped put the scorcher into perspective.
"It's not nearly as hot as in the kitchen," he said. "It gets up close to 120 degrees in there."
May 16, 1989 4.01 inches of rain
"Blessing Or Curse, It Fell In Buckets," was the headline for a deluge story, telling of a tree toppling onto a Long Island Rail Road car as it was pulling out of the Manhasset station. The rain also caused the stalling and spinning out of any number of cars and flooding more basements than could be counted.
The blessing? Firefighters, after an earlier spate of brush fires, breathed a sigh of relief. “Due to the rash of fires we had a few weeks ago,” one fire marshal said, “it’s always pleasant to see this type of weather.”
In all a daily record of 4.01 inches of rain fell at Long Island MacArthur Airport, which helped the month score “rainiest May” honors.
One Islip official marshaled 200 workers with 50 pumps to handle calls from the community. When asked what would happen if the rains continue as predicted, he replied: “Do you know the story of Noah? What can I tell you? We have no place to pump it.”
'... For me, it's the unofficial start to summer.'Josh Shnayer of Westbury
HERE'S WHAT NEWSDAY READERS REMEMBER:
We asked our readers what about May weather sticks out in their memories and Josh Shnayer, of Westbury, had this to say:
"Enjoying the Jones Beach Air Show usually tops most memories for May weather. For me, it's the unofficial start to summer."
NOTABLE DAYS AND HOW THEY'VE FARED
Mother’s Day, this year on May 12
Normal high is 66 degrees, but the day did warm up to 87 degrees in 1991 and fell to a record low of 37 degrees in 1969, 1983 and 1990. The most precipitation was 1.74 inches in 2006.
Memorial Day, this year on May 27
Normal high is 71 degrees, but the day did warm up to 88 degrees in 2014 and fell to a record low of 36 degrees in 1968. The most precipitation was 0.85 inches in 2008.
Records and normals are based on data for Long Island MacArthur Airport going back to September 1963.
Sources/research: Northeast Regional Climate Center; National Weather Service, Upton; Newsday librarians