The Icing on the cake

  • Graphic of the cold temperature plunge in eastern parts of the USA

    Satellite image of the snow over Washington DC, on 03 Jan. Image: Nasa

  • The Icing on the cake
    04.01.2014 17:29

    Snow; 'atmospheric water vapour frozen into ice crystals and falling in light white flakes or lying on the ground as a white layer' - The English Dictionary

    Following on from Laura's story about snow in the Alps, let us look at what has been happening in the USA.

    On the evening of the 2nd and into the 3rd January a low pressure system located over eastern parts of USA tracked north-east. A high located over the Midwest helped funnel cold air from Canada down into south-eastern parts of the USA. When this cold air met with the far warmer air in the south-east a sharp heat gradient was created. This brought particularly cold temperatures and heavy snow to many eastern states. The snow reached as far south as Nashville, Tennessee. The cold air continues to push east.

    The unusually cold temperatures were at their worst on the morning of the 3rd. The cold had penetrated as far as Texas with -7 Celsius measured in northern parts of the state where the average is around 2 Celsius. However the coldest temperature was registered in Ely, Minnesota in the upper Midwest at -36 Celsius with the average minimum for this state around -18 Celsius and the coldest temperature recorded at -41 Celsius. At Newark Airport, New York temperatures went as low as -14 Celsius 10 Celsius lower than the average minimum temperature for January around -4 Celsius.

    New York and other eastern states were also hit by a fair amount of snow, with over 13cm in 6 hours recorded at Newark Airport. Washington DC saw 5cm deposited over the White House and surrounding areas. In northern parts of New England 61cm was reported to have fallen in some towns, where locals were forced to dig themselves out of their houses.

    The low temperatures caused a few fatalities and special services were put on to make sure people on the street had some form of shelter. Many transport links were disrupted and thousands of workers were unable to get to work due to the adverse weather conditions. With usually more than 87,000 flights a day in the USA, over 3,000 flights were reportedly cancelled and more than 12,000 delayed, with Newark and Philadelphia, some of USA biggest airports worst hit.

    The low which caused the snow and cold temperatures now heads across the Atlantic towards the UK. However, it will be greatly modified be the Atlantic Ocean and will be unlikely to bring the same cold temperatures here but no doubt continue our succession of wet weather and powerful storms that have been so frequent over the last month.

    The high which started over Canada has spread into the eastern parts of the USA and has helped the cold temperatures remain over eastern areas. Although temperatures have already begun to increase slightly since the 3rd, they are still below average. They are expected to return to normal in a few days. However another band of snow and rain is expected to spread across eastern states of the USA on Sunday.  

    By: John Griffiths