Delivering Delaware its coldest temperatures since 2010, winter 2014 brought with it several snow storms, ice and plenty of snow days to go around. This three-part series looks back on the unusually long winter season and examines the impact felt by the Milford community and the surrounding areas. Part Two of this series will offer a cost analysis, taking a look at how much taxpayer money, both locally and at the state level, went into preparing and cleaning up after several winter storms. Concluding the series, Part Three will provide a bird's eye view of the effects on residents' everyday lives and will ask the question, how do we prepare for next year?
There’s no denying the Delmarva Peninsula experienced an unusually long and snowy winter this year.
Even though spring officially started a week ago, only two days after the largest snow accumulation in the Milford region all winter, the snow continued to fall this week, for Delaware’s 17th snow event of the season.
Kevin Brinson, director of the University of Delaware’s Delaware Environmental Observing System and associate state climatologist, said it’s not necessarily the accumulations that are remarkable, but rather the number of storms and low temperatures this season.
“I think the frequency of events combined with the below-normal temperatures has been what’s so notable this year,” Brinson said.
Of the 17 snow events throughout Delaware this year, the Ellendale, Harrington and Milford areas were affected by 14 snow events, with three of those resulting in minimal accumulation or flurries that could not be measured.
A LITTLE HISTORY
Brinson credited two weather conditions that have brought multiple storms as well as a cold weather pattern this winter: A trough in the atmosphere, which creates a “favorable track for stormy weather,” and a negative phase to the North Atlantic Oscillation.
“The NAO is a circulation pattern in the North Atlantic, which can dictate how warm or cold we are here in the northeastern U.S., particularly in winter months,” Brinson explained. “When this feature is in what we call a ‘negative phase,’ we tend to experience colder than normal temperatures. The NAO has been negative most of this winter, particularly since January.”
A trough can be explained as a dip in the jet stream in the upper atmosphere, which is where storm systems flow. That dip can cause storms to intensify, Brinson said, which is why a persistent trough can lead to stormy weather.
Surprisingly, though, Brinson said that according to the National Climatic Data Center, December through February was actually recorded as 0.5 degrees warmer than normal, mostly due to high temperatures in December.
January and February in Delaware, though, have seen the coldest temperatures since 2010, during which season 72.7 inches of accumulation was recorded by the National Weather Service at the Wilmington New Castle County Airport.
Brinson said January-February 2014 were represented among the 36th coldest recorded months in the 120 years of southern Delaware’s climate record.
“The last time we were this cold for the same period was probably sometime in the early 1980s, so it’s been a while,” he said.
The most difficult part about documenting snow events lies in the snow itself.
“Snow is by far the most difficult variable in meteorology to measure,” Brinson said.
Snow blows around, creating drifts in more open areas, and a small difference in precipitation levels can result in drastic differences for snow fall totals.
A 10-to-1 ratio is the typical equivalent for snow fall to rain fall, he explained, meaning that about a half an inch of rain creates about 5 inches of snow.
In addition to the difficultly of measuring snow accurately, there are no official measurements taken in Milford.
“Milford used to have a cooperative observer who measured snowfall until the 2003-2004 snow season,” Brinson said. Prior to that, Milford’s snow recording history dates to 1892, a total of 111 years of recorded snow fall totals until measurements ceased in 2004.
Daniel Leathers, state climatologist and associate director of research for DEOS, said throughout the 100-plus years of snow monitoring, volunteers were utilized throughout the state and Milford’s volunteer simply couldn’t continue recording snow totals after 2004, and a replacement was never found.
The largest recorded snow season in Milford was in 1898-1899, with 46.1 inches recorded for the snow season, Brinson said.
In official terms, Brinson explained, the only official National Weather Service recording station is at the Wilmington New Castle Airport.
DEOS uses the same methodology as NWS for snow measurements, but DEOS uses automated tools at the 18 stations throughout the state.
“Our snow totals are in support of the DelDOT snow removal reimbursement program,” Brinson said. “We use the same methodology that NWS uses for their snow measurement program, but we use automated tools. The methods are very similar, with a few quirks that can make for some differences.”
However, there is no DEOS station in Milford. The closest measuring locations are Harrington and Ellendale.
In addition to the one NWS station in New Castle County and the 18 DEOS stations, there is also a national community organization the uses volunteers to track a variety of weather-related activity, including snow.
The Community Collaborative Rain, Hail & Snow Network uses 22 active observers statewide, although only a dozen report snow totals regularly, Brinson said.
“Besides that, you have people in the backyard taking measurements,” he said.