If commentary online and among coworkers is any indication, we’re all in the sun-less apocalypse. To be sure, it hasn’t been a warm or overly sunny spring. Clouds have ‘graced’ many a day here in New England, and rain has not been in short supply. A few places have even seen a Top 10 wettest spring on record (the Providence area being one of them). So the primary feeling seems to be that it has been a dismal year. Yet it’s been a warmer than average first 5 months of 2017. How can this be?
Rainfall departures from average this month. Pockets of very wet conditions around Providence, northern Worcester County to the Monadnock Region, and the Islands/Cape. Typical rainfall around Metro Boston and much of Connecticut. Source: NOAA
First off let’s take a look at how this month of May actually stacks up. Personally, I’ve got no beef with this spring. It had a job to do – get us out of the drought. Passed with flying colors! We’ve had solid rainfall and ground water has been recharged back to much better levels. Reservoirs are full, lawns are green, plants are coming in strong, and we don’t need to talk about drought anymore. In reality, this is the spring we really needed. And it’s been nice to get the ‘big’ rainfalls in spaced out batches. Pretty nice to get all the rain we needed without *any* flooding issues. Remarkable, even.
Boston could even end up with *below* average rain in May, depending on whether or not a storm can dump on the city before midnight Wednesday. It’s a bit of an outlier in the area, but we didn’t even get to 3.5″ of rain this May over the city. The story has been more about clouds than raindrops. That being said, some towns have really outpaced the others and posted some big numbers. The main idea is the same – plenty of water.
Temperature departures from average this climatological spring (March through May). Most of the region right at ‘average’ over the three months. Source: Southeast Regional Climate Center.
As for temperatures this spring, it’s actually been very close to average. It probably doesn’t feel great because we’ve had so much above average warmth in recent memory that anything approaching near or below average feels like a pretty dramatic swing. This month will finish up cooler than normal, breaking an 8 year streak of warmer than average Mays. We haven’t had one this chilly since 2005, which was substantially cooler than 2017. And when you look back over the past couple years, we have still seen 20 out of the past 23 months warmer than average. The warm theme is dominant, even if this spring hasn’t kept that going.
The real interesting stuff though is that we’ve seen WAY more warm records this year than cool ones. This is a way in which averages don’t tell the whole story. Most feel like it hasn’t been a warm year at all, which is due to a large number of cool days being balanced out by a smaller number of extremely warm ones. In January, it started with a 2-week thaw that featured 50s/60s, sunshine, and melted any meager snow we had on the ground. It ended up being the 11th warmest January on record in Boston and felt more like spring than mid-winter outside.
Beach and 70s on Cape Cod in February? Alrighty then.
February started acting like winter for a while with an initial blitz of snow and cold, then it was right back to a powerful winter thaw. Parts of New England saw 70s and the warmest temperatures ever recorded so early in a year. Burlington, VT saw its warmest February day on record, with several other sites in New England and New York following suit. Boston managed the 70s as well. Numerous daily record highs fell, and I took the photo above at the beach on Cape Cod. During all this warmth, Massachusetts saw its first recorded tornado in the month of February (dating back to 1950). Conway, MA was hit on February 26th as thunderstorms rolled across the region. When all was said and done it was the 5th warmest February on record in Boston.
March? It stunk. Cold and raw. Your beef is legit with March. March is always dumb.
And then in April the warmth surged right back. Numerous days reached the 80s, though the warm spells were spikes between soaking rainstorms. Another unusually warm month for us which ended up as the 7th warmest on record in Boston.
The vast majority of days in May have been cool, but a mid-month heat wave broke more records. We had our 2nd earliest heat wave on record in Boston with three straight days in the 90s. Several New England locales, like Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, saw their warmest all-time May temperatures. And like that…it was gone! Back to the cool regime.
So the overall perception is a product of two things. One being that averages don’t tell the whole story, and the other being that weather was most pleasant when you don’t expect or perhaps don’t even want it to be pleasant! Arguably, more people are ticked off when it’s crazy warm in winter than happy about it. You plan for winter weather in January and February. You schedule skiing trips, want to build snowmen, gas up the snowmobile, or have a cozy weekend at a cabin. When it’s 70 out you’re like ‘uhh…this is kinda nice but a waste. I can’t work with this.’ Then when we wanted it to be really nice out and plans revolve around sunny gardens and outdoor weddings, the pattern has let us down. Some of our coolest air has come in May when no one is rooting for cool weather anymore. If the Jan/Feb pattern was flipped to May/June, the general feeling about our weather would be a lot different!
But hey that’s weather. And if it wasn’t doing something weird, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about.