A cold, cold, snowy winter. Or was it?

Winter Street in Edgartown lives up to its name. — Photo by Steve Myrick

You hear it in the grocery store. You hear it at the Post Office. You hear it at the local pub. Up-Island, down-Island, and off-Island. Everywhere you go, Islanders complained about the weather this past winter.

“I’m so sick of this cold weather.”

“This is the coldest winter in a long time.”

“I’m ready for spring.”

Complaining about the weather is a New England tradition. But a deeper look at the data shows we might not have as much to complain about as we think.

Though there were surely extremes in temperature that caused aggravation, and worse, in the winter of 2013-2014, according to National Weather Service observations, it was only the seventh coldest winter in the past 16 years. Just about, well, average.

The official temperatures recorded at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport reveal in the months of December, January, and February, daily high and low temperatures deviated very little from historical averages.

The largest deviation was in the month of December, which was two degrees warmer than normal, on average.

The beginning of March was colder than normal, but only about four degrees colder, on average.

Recent climate history and short memories sometimes affect the way we perceive the weather. The winter of 2012-2013 was the fifth warmest winter in that 16 year time period, and the year before that was the warmest winter in that time period.

“We haven’t had a winter this cold for a while,” said Benjamin Sipprell, a forecaster at the National Weather Service regional facility in Taunton. “Time goes on and you forget about things. Then something comes along and you say, ‘whoa,’ this isn’t normal.”

Extremes and averages

The winter began with December temperatures close to historical norms, until the week before Christmas, when the thermometer soared to unseasonably high levels. On December 22 the temperature reached 62 degrees, and the lowest temperature recorded that day was a balmy 54 degrees. That is about 25 degrees warmer than the historical average for that day.

The period from December 18 to December 23 was more than 15 degrees warmer than the historical average, which contributed to a monthly average temperature about two degrees warmer than the usual December.

Vineyard residents woke up to something very far from normal on January 4, when the weather service recorded a temperature of 8 degrees below zero at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. That set a record for the coldest temperature recorded on the Island in the last 16 years.

Just seven days later, on January 11, the temperature reached 58 degrees, the warmest temperature for any January 11 in the last 16 years.

Yet the month of January was almost exactly normal in terms of average temperature for the month, despite the extremes of January 4 and January 11. The average daily high temperature and the average daily low temperature for the month were within 1 degree of normal, and the average monthly temperature was a tiny fraction off the historical norm.

February was slightly colder than normal, by about 1 degree, according to weather service data. We also experienced a wild swing in temperatures during the month. On February 18 the low temperature was 2 degrees, and on February 21, the high temperature was 55 degrees, both records for those days during the 16 year time period.

March has so far, been another month of extremes. March came in like a very cold lion with the low temperature of 2 degrees recorded on March 1, the coldest temperature on that day in the last sixteen years. On March 11, the temperature reached 58 degrees, the highest temperature recorded on that day in the time period.

From March 1 to March 18, the average daily temperature was about 4 degrees below normal. Historical norms are higher, logically, for the remaining days of March, so if the weather follows normal patterns, March could be close to normal average temperature for the entire month.

Of course, no one who has lived on Martha’s Vineyard for long has a very high expectation that the weather will follow normal patterns.

Snow strikes a blow

Now those who don’t like snow, they really had something to complain about this winter. The National Weather Service does not track snow at the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, but it does measure daily snowfall at a weather station in Edgartown.  While snowfall totals can vary widely from region to region, and even among weather stations a short distance from each other, it is clear that snowfall this winter was far above normal.

According to snowfall measurements recorded in Edgartown, the historical average total snowfall is 19 inches, for meteorological winter, the months of December, January, and February. The average for December is about 4 inches, for January about 7 inches, and for February about 8 inches.

This year on Martha’s Vineyard, we got 2.5 inches of snow during December, below the historical average. In January, the Island got walloped with about 20 inches of snow, from three significant storms. That is nearly three times the historical average. In February, another 14 inches of snow fell, well above the historical average.

In total, snowfall was measured at the Edgartown weather station at nearly 37 inches, almost twice the average amount.

The winter of 2013-2014 ranks as the sixth snowiest winter in the past 30 years on Martha’s Vineyard. Certainly far snowier than the winter of 1994-1995, when the total winter snowfall was measured at  2 inches, but it was a breeze compared to the winter of 2004-2005, when more than 55 inches of snow fell on the Island.

Now that, was something to complain about.