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Queens Chronicle

Wild swings in the weather last week

From blizzard to frigid to thaw and frigid again, all in only 100 hours

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Posted: Thursday, January 9, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 10:57 am, Thu Jan 16, 2014.

They say if you don’t like the weather in New England, wait five minutes.

Well, Queens isn’t in New England, but it’s close enough.

The weather this winter — and especially in the last week — has been, well, weird.

Queens received anywhere from 8 to 12 inches of snow on Thursday night and Friday in what is so far the biggest snowfall of the year. Then the temperatures plummeted into the single digits, some of the coldest air in a decade. That was followed by a spring-like thaw with temperatures hitting the mid-to-upper 50s with some rain, followed by a 50-degree drop in temperatures to the coldest air recorded in nine years.

And that’s all in less than 100 hours.

Last Friday’s snowstorm was not an uncommon occurrence. As with most snowstorms, it was born out of a coastal low-pressure system that formed off the Mid-Atlantic Coast and rushed into coastal Canada, spinning moisture around it.

The storm created blizzard conditions at times in parts of Queens, but the hardest hit areas were Nassau and Suffolk counties. The storm was so serious that Gov. Cuomo shut down major highways, including the Long Island Expressway east of the Queens border, for eight hours. New York City schools got their first snow day of the year on Friday.

The storm had a name, Hercules. It was part of a plan headed by The Weather Channel for the second year to name winter storms like officials do hurricanes. The point of naming them is to avoid confusion between storms and make them easily identifiable for insurance purposes.

For example, after Hurricane Sandy last year, New York was struck by a snowstorm named Athena. The Parks Department used that name to identify trees lost in that storm versus those lost in Sandy.

But the frigid cold conditions that followed Hercules were not common. It was some of the coldest air the city has seen in years. The low temperature on Friday at JFK Airport was 3 degrees — the coldest air in Queens since 2005.

That didn’t last long, however.

Sunday night, it was raining and the temperature at JFK Airport was 55 degrees — a 52 degree difference in less than that many hours.

The temperatures then plummeted again Monday night, with temperatures on Tuesday morning falling to the single digits.

For Tuesday’s record cold, which brought wind chills as low as -14 to JFK Airport, meteorologists are blaming a “polar vortex,” which has engulfed the eastern two-thirds of North America. Temperatures as far south as Atlanta dropped to the single digits and freezing conditions were felt even in Central Florida and New Orleans.

What caused the wild swings in the weather? Meteorologist John Homenuk said on his blog, New York Metro Weather, that very strong air masses were battling it out in the atmosphere over Queens: first, an arctic air mass from Canada, followed by warmer air pushing up from Florida, then the polar vortex slamming in behind a cold front Monday night that was as powerful as those that typically end brutal summer heat waves.

“Ahead of a cold front, warm and moist air streamed northward on Monday bringing temperatures into the upper 50s with dense fog,” he explained Tuesday. “Almost as if scripted, a thin line of thunderstorms surged eastward bringing heavy rain and gusty winds followed by a change in wind direction.”

The wild weather this past week is an extension of a general pattern that’s been happening for months. A snowfall on Dec. 14 was followed by a warm spell a week later during which temperatures topped 70 degrees on Dec. 22. Two days later on Christmas Eve, temperatures were cold enough to offer some more snow.

But the wild streak seems to be coming to an end — for now.

The forecast over the next week calls for temperatures to hold steady in the 40s to 50s.

Nevertheless, it’s early in the winter and February and March — two months that have historically brought some of the worst and wildest weather to New York — lie ahead.

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