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May weather preview: Time of rebirth in nature

A man rides a bike on a warm

A man rides a bike on a warm afternoon in Eisenhower Memorial Park in East Meadow on May 20, 2019. Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

The world turns green and bountiful in May, now that April’s showers have rinsed away winter’s drab grays and browns.

Pick a color — no matter how brilliant — and you will find it in nature, as flora and fauna rush to multiply.

The rebirth enchants and enthralls poets and pagans, as it has for centuries. It does so for other lovers of the outdoors, from gardeners to beachgoers to students waiting for classes — held at home this spring — to finally let out for summer. 

Yet the approvals aren't unanimous. The famously acerbic contrarian Dorothy Parker put it this way: "Every year, back comes spring, with nasty little birds yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants."

HOW ABOUT THIS YEAR?

This May, Long Islanders might not be revving up for that first reviving ocean dip of the season. Beaches that usually open before month’s end probably still will be closed for swimmers, at least until the pandemic is more controlled.

New York probably will continue the cooler-than-usual weather seen in April, according to the Climate Prediction Center, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 

We also may have more rain than usual; the odds of that scenario are about 40%, the forecasters say. 

In their latest update on its website, the Climate Prediction Center said: “An area of increased chances of below normal temperatures was added to the Great Lakes, eastern Corn Belt, and parts of the Northeast due to a persistent and highly amplified upper level trough early in the month.”

And looking farther ahead, this might be an exceptionally active hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30, for the North Atlantic.

Penn State University’s Earth System Science Center has predicted about 20 named storms. Last year, it forecast around 10; there were 18.

The academics said their research is based on warmer ocean temperatures and “the development of mild El Niño-Southern Oscillation-negative conditions,” among other factors.

El Niño warms the U.S. Northwest while delivering more rain to the Southeast, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration says. It is a tropical phenomenon, occurring when the central and eastern Pacific Ocean heat up.

Equatorial winds weaken and sometimes these east-to-west breezes even reverse direction.

El Niño is the reverse of La Niña, when the same stretches of the Pacific are cooler than usual. And it tends to increase the number of North Atlantic hurricanes.

WHAT'S NORMAL, WHAT'S NOT

TEMPS

The mean temperature in May recorded in Islip since 1963 is 58.6 degrees — 9.5 degrees warmer than April’s average, according to the NWS.

The warmest May was 64.1 degrees in 1991; the coldest was 52.7 degrees in 1967.

On the warmest day in May — the 20th in 1996 — the temperature hit 98 degrees. The record low — 32 degrees — was in 2008 on May 1.

15 hours, 14 minutes of daylight by month's end, with sunrise at 4:23 a.m. and sunset at 7:37 p.m.

PRECIP

The normal amount of rain is 3.78 inches, less than April's 4.34 inches.

The wettest May was in 1989, with 10.14 inches of rain, the weather service said. The driest was in 2015, when there was 0.42 of an inch.

SNOW

Normal is zero for the month. The snowiest May day occurred in 1994 when a trace amount fell.

WEATHER

Consider the contrasts.

It was snowing in Boston on May 25, 1967. Winds were gusting up to 70 mph along the Cape Cod National Seashore. On Long Island, winds ranged up to 40 mph.

The New York area was running a total of about 177 degrees behind normal for the monthmeteorologists said. That averaged out to about 7 degrees a day, which forecasters said made for an exceptionally cold May.

The culprit, they said, was the jet stream, which strayed too far south, blocking the warm air from reaching the Northeast.

May 20, 1996, however, was a real scorcher.

Records wilted like a chocolate bar in sunshine as a mid-spring heat wave shot temperatures across Long Island into the high 90s, prompting many to wonder if this would be the year without a spring.

The summerlike temperatures were just the latest twist in a wild run of weather that produced the snowiest winter on record, an extremely rainy spring, and, just a week earlier, record low temperatures and frost that damaged some crops.

But now, outdoor workers were worrying about becoming dehydrated on the job, and gardeners were concerned about protecting their plants from heat.

cover
Newsday cover, May 21, 1996.

"We go from one extreme to the other," said Wally Grecki of East Northport, as he unpacked his golf clubs from his car trunk at the Dix Hills Park golf course. "The spring was kind of cold. The last frost I lost some plants in the garden. I was looking for it to go to 75, 80 degrees."

That same year, May closed out with another heat wave. 

As the only cool breeze she'd met in days rippled across the sands of Westhampton Beach, Robin Bell on May 30 lay beneath an uncooperative sun that had hidden behind a cloud. But with the way temperatures had been soaring, sunbathing wasn't nearly as important as breezebathing. 

"We just got out of Manhattan today," she said, laughing with a friend. "It certainly is cooler out here."

There was also a search for cool five years earlier, in May 1991.

Beaches, parks and ice cream parlors reported record numbers of folks to rival the temperatures for this early in the year. That May was destined to go down as the hottest one since they'd been keeping records in 1869.

"The mean temperature for May in Central Park so far is 67.9," Hank Berg, a meteorologist with Metro Weather Service in Valley Stream said as the month neared its end. "That ties the all-time record for the month. Today and tomorrow it appears we will break that record because we are continuing with high temperatures."

"The reason for the high temperatures is a Bermuda high-pressure system off the mid-Atlantic Coast, which came in very strongly early this year," said James Salerno, a National Weather Service meteorologist at the time. "Usually it moves around, but this year it remained stationary and pumped very warm air into this area from the Caribbean."

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