By Paul Hicks
The recent severe snow and wind storm, called “Grayson,” was the sixth of the winter storms named by The Weather Channel this season. Even though some described it as a “winter hurricane,” the National Weather Service does not name winter storms. The NWS did, however, call it a “bomb cyclone,” which meteorologists explained as characterized by a “rapid drop in barometric pressure.”
The last six days of 2017 in the New York City area had highs below thirty degrees. On New Year’s Eve, the temperature dropped to nine degrees, making it the second coldest reading to occur since the Times Square ball-drop began in 1907. This cold streak continued through the eighth of January, which was the third longest streak on record (two days shorter than the 16–day streak in the winter of 1961 and one day shorter than a streak in the winter of 1881).
According to one weather blogger, temperatures colder than ten degrees above zero are infrequent in the New York City area. A typical winter averages three such days (in the twenty-first century the average has fallen to two days per winter. Temperatures of zero or below have been reported just eleven times since 1970. By contrast, 13 winters have had no readings below ten degrees, including five of the past nine (through winter of 2016).
The following newspaper accounts give a picture of winters our forefathers (and foremothers) endured.
<<Washington Evening Star, February 15, 1856>>
“We are glad to learn, from the Petersburg Express, that the ice in the Appomattox, and James River, is fast breaking up and melting away…While the Southern ports are closed, New York finds her naval highway to the east (Long Island Sound) frozen up…”
<<Port Chester Journal, January 26, 1893>>
“Last week we recorded the race that a young man of East Port Chester had successfully walked from the shore at Byram to the lighthouse on Captain’s Island. Some of our friends who have a corner on the information from these parts, said we were incorrect, and that no one could have successfully crossed on the ice to the island. Of course, we never make a positive statement that can be successfully contradicted, so we rested on our laurels. It seems, however, that the doubting Thomases will have something more to worry over when we say that not only did Van Naken make the perilous trip, but more than two hundred other citizens of Stamford, Greenwich and Port Chester, travelled over to the lighthouse…
“In the past, there have been times when the Sound in this vicinity was frozen up for a brief time, but never before, in the memory of the oldest resident, has the ice been so solid and strong for a continuous time. No such number of persons ever attempted to cross over on the ice to the lighthouse, which is all of two miles, say the old fishermen, from the nearest land point.”
<<New York Press, February 17, 1904>>
“Long Island Sound is frozen nearly all the way across opposite Northville. A Long Island Railroad train was stalled at Water Mills, near Southampton, and the engineer became unconscious in the extreme cold. The thermometer registered five degrees below zero.”
<<Elmira Gazette, February 6, 1905>>
“Every port on the Connecticut shore from the mouth of the Connecticut River to the westerly end of Long Island Sound is securely ice locked at present, with little prospect of a break until a strong, warm southerly wind blows. Marine men say that the ice conditions have never been so bad within their recollections. All water traffic out of New Haven and Bridgeport harbors is at a standstill and oyster fishing is impossible.”
<<Greenpoint Daily Star, 1905>>
“Ice on Long Island Sound near Port Chester is eighteen inches thick, and yesterday horses were driven from the Port Chester Harbor to Captain’s Island, a distance of three miles. Races were held on the ice, and iceboats ventured half way across to Long Island.”
<<Schenectady Gazette, February 10, 1913>>
“The record of the cold winters in this country is a long one. One of the earliest of the cold winters recorded was that of 1717, the year of ‘the great snow’ in New England. Snow fell for five consecutive days, and in Boston it reached six feet deep and remained for weeks. The winter of 1740 was another when Long Island Sound was frozen over and people made the Journey across on horseback…”
<<Daily News Tarrytown, February 6, 1977>>
“Two owners neglected to remove their small boats from moorings in Mamaroneck Harbor last fall, and the crafts filled with rain and water, long since turned to ice. Thus far, the frozen surface of the harbor has prevented the boats from sinking — ‘but just wait until the thaw,’ says Harbormaster Henry (Hank) Sheridan. It may take a thaw to reveal the full extent of damage to boats and installations caught in an ice crunch in Westchester and lower Connecticut’s Long Island Sound harbors.
“But the thaw itself is likely to cause even more damage than the freeze, according to Rye Harbormaster George DePauw. Battered floats, dislodged pilings and piers, and crumbling retaining walls can be expected when ice floes start crushing in from the brooks and rivers that feed the harbors, he said. That problem is not just around the comer, however. Sheridan estimates it will take about two weeks of consistently warm weather — at least in the 40s — to clear out Mamaroneck Harbor…”
Fortunately for this area, winter storm Hunter, which hit the upper Midwest with snow and sleet, delivered only rain in the Northeast, but we still have to watch out for storms named Inga, Skylar, Xanto, and Zoey.