New York

Cold Winter Temperatures Are Disappearing Fast as Warmer Temps Take Over

Erica Grow is an AMS-certified meteorologist for NBC 4 New York's Storm Team 4. She sits on the American Meteorological Society's Board on Enterprise Communication.

A warming trend is happening in the tri-state area.

Last month was so warm that it set a new high bar for the warmest February on record at Central Park. The average temperature of 41.6 degrees was 6.3 degrees warmer than the 30-year average (which currently is computed from 1981-2010).

This blew away the previous record of 40.9 degrees, which was set just a few years ago in 2012.

The month of March also got off to a very warm start, with many inland spots in New Jersey reaching into the 70s.

However, the record-breaking warmth of late is just a small part of an ongoing trend. Since 1990, Central Park has had 57 months which rank in the top-ten warmest on record, with information dating all the way back to 1869.

By comparison, in the entire rest of the record’s length, from 1869 to 1989, New York City only tallied 92 months that ranked in the ten warmest. Meanwhile, the cold records have almost completely disappeared.

Since 1990, only five months have been cold enough to rank in the top-ten coldest category. The graph below shows how the trend of setting records has shifted from record cold to record warm in recent decades. 

The trend of record-breaking months is a better indication of our warming world than the often-cited daily temperature records. While a daily record high can be caused by a brief spike in temperatures or an unusual weather pattern, the monthly average temperature takes it all into account.

Remember early February, when we had a few days that barely got above freezing? Even so, we still managed to handily defeat the previous record for February warmth. 

Bernadette Woods Placky is the chief meteorologist for Climate Central, a nonprofit organization researching and reporting on climate change. "February will go down as one of the hottest months, by comparison to normal, for the United States. In fact, winter is the fastest warming season for much of the country, including New York," she says.

"And while warmer winters might sound good to some, they come with consequences - throwing seasonal timing patterns for farming and gardening out of whack, creating longer and stronger allergy seasons, and hurting winter tourism industries throughout the state.”

This same warming trend is reflected in the yearly temperature data. Again, this takes into account the high and low temperatures for every day on the calendar. Notice that the list of coldest years on record completely consists of dates before the Great Depression. Meanwhile, the list of warmest years is almost completely populated by dates since the Cold War came to an end. 

(Charts: StormTeam 4)

The disparity is almost impossible to display in a chart, because the hottest years on record and the coldest years on record do not overlap at all. New York City is just one location, but the data are very similar across much of the country.

In fact, the change is even greater in high-latitude climates, such as those found in Alaska. These trends show that the average temperature is increasing. 

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