Arctic Air Makes This Valentine’s Day Coldest In Decades

A blast of bitter cold arctic air brought the coldest temperatures in decades to several Northeast cities Valentine’s Day morning. On top of that, wind chills on Sunday dropped into the 40s below zero in portions of Upstate New York and New England, including Saranac Lake, New York, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and Montpelier, Vermont.

The shivering temperatures will linger into Monday and then moderate through the rest of the week. Below is a recap of Sunday’s record cold followed by the forecast.

Record Cold Recap: Temperatures Not Seen in Decades

Northeast Lows Valentine’s Day Morning

Actual lows Sunday morning and how long since it’s been that cold in each city.

Boston fell to minus 9 degrees Sunday morning, making it the coldest temperature recorded in the city since Jan. 15, 1957, or nearly 60 years. Boston also crushed its Valentine’s Day record low of minus 3 degrees set in 1934, and set a daily record low for Feb. 13 (minus 4 degrees) just before midnight on Saturday. The wind chill had fallen as low as minus 36 degrees Sunday morning.

In New York City, the low temperature dipped to a daily record low of 1 degree below zero Sunday morning. This is the coldest reading at Central Park since Jan. 19, 1994, or more than two decades.

(FORECAST: Buffalo | NYC | Philadelphia | Washington D.C.)

Here are several other cities that have set new daily record lows for Valentine’s Day (Feb. 14) and have also seen their coldest temperatures in many years:

Albany, New York: Low of minus 13 degrees beats previous record of minus 10 degrees. Coldest since Jan. 24, 2011.
Binghamton, New York: Low of minus 18 degrees crushes previous record of minus 9 degrees. Coldest since Dec. 25, 1980.
Hartford, Connecticut (Bradley Airport):  Low of minus 12 degrees beats previous record of minus 9 degrees. Coldest since Feb. 5, 1996.
Newark, New Jersey: Low of zero degrees ties record low last set in 1979. Coldest since Jan. 16, 2004.
Providence, Rhode Island:  Low of minus 9 degrees beats previous record of minus 7 degrees. Coldest since Jan. 22, 1984.
Syracuse, New York: Low of minus 23 degrees beats previous record of minus 20 degrees set in 1979. Coldest since Jan. 12, 1982.
Watertown, New York: Low of minus 37 degrees beat previous record of minus 30 degrees.
Worcester, Massachusetts: Low of minus 16 degrees beats previous record of minus 11 degrees. Coldest since Jan. 15, 1957.

Current Wind Chills

Current Wind Chills

The frigid temperatures are from a sharp southward nosedive of the polar jet stream tapping an air mass originating from the Canadian Arctic, sending it into the eastern half of the country this weekend and lingering into Monday.

A weather balloon launched by the National Weather Service office in Albany, New York Saturday evening measured a record cold temperature of -30.9 degrees Celsius (-23.6 degrees Fahrenheit) at roughly 4,500 feet above the ground. The previous coldest temperature at that level was -30.5 degrees Celsius in January 1981 and again in January 1982.

(MORE: What is the Polar Vortex’s Role?)

Forecast: Frigid Temperatures Linger Through Monday Morning

Forecast Highs: Valentine's Cold Outbreak

Forecast Highs: Valentine’s Cold Outbreak

Forecast Lows: Valentine's Cold Outbreak

Forecast Lows: Valentine’s Cold Outbreak

  • Sunday: In the Northeast and Midwest, teens and 20s will be the rule for most on Valentine’s Day. The coldest locations of northern New England won’t rise out of the single digits. The Carolinas and Tennessee Valley will hold in the 30s and 40s. Some record cold daily high temperatures are possible in the Northeast, including Boston, Providence, Hartford and New York City.
  • Monday AM: Another cold morning with lows 10 to 25 degrees below average across most of the region. Subzero lows likely in New England, including Boston. Teens in New York City and Philadelphia.
  • Monday PM: Highs remain below average, but not as cold as Sunday. Most locations from Boston to Washington, D.C. should top out in the low 30s.

Why This Cold Won’t Last Long

Now for the good news, if you’re already starting to get a little winter fatigue. The bitterly cold air will be very short-lived. Temperatures will already begin to warm up a bit starting Monday, and next weekend should be much less cold.

The reason for this is another pattern shift in the new week ahead.

ECMWF ensemble mean forecast made at 7 p.m. ET Friday, of Arctic oscillation (blue), Pacific-North American oscillation (light green) and North Atlantic oscillation (red). Note the AO (blue) and PNA (green) flip sign Feb. 15-16, indicative of the pattern change ahead. (The Weather Company, Professional Division)

Essentially, the large northward bulge of the jet stream bringing record warmth to the West, including California and the Desert Southwest, will flatten a bit. Weather geeks refer to this as a switch from a positive Pacific-North American oscillation to a negative one.

The corresponding southward plunge of the jet exporting cold air out of Canada into the Midwest and East will then also flatten out next week.

Again, weather geeks would say the Arctic oscillation will switch from negative to positive, meaning the winds around the North Pole will be stronger, keeping the coldest Arctic air bottled up instead of plunging south.

So, expect a February thaw after this weekend’s shivering in parts of the Midwest and East by the latter half of the week.

However, the warm West-chilly East pattern may reestablish itself by the following week. So, enjoy the thaw while you can.

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