Area temps to reach record lows Saturday, predicts National Weather Service

Last modified: Sunday, January 05, 2014

NORTHAMPTON — The area’s record low temperature of minus 7 degrees, logged Jan. 4, 1981, in Windsor Locks, Conn., “is just asking to be broken,” said National Weather Service meteorologist William Babcock.

Late Friday night, area temperatures had plunged below zero, potentially breaking another record low of minus 3 degrees for Jan. 3, 2008, in Windsor Locks.

Saturday morning’s temperatures in the Northampton area could dip as low as minus 15 degrees, Babcock said in a phone interview Friday from the National Weather Service office in Taunton.

The reason for the freeze is a mass of cold air from Canada that is being pulled into western Massachusetts by winds from the snowstorm that began in the region early Thursday.

“As that storm is pulling out, its north winds are grabbing that cold air down over us,” Babcock said. “This is pure Arctic air, really dry and cold.”

There is hope in the forecast. The weather service predicts temperatures will climb into the 20s on Saturday and on Sunday. “We will really splurge — all the way to the 30s,” Babcock said.

The warming trend will continue next week, with temperatures predicted to reach the mid 40s on Monday. After that, another cold front will move in and the thermometer will drop to the single digits again, according to the weather service. “It’s a roller coaster,” Babcock said.

Meanwhile, what do these record-breaking cold temperatures this weekend suggest about global warming?

Not much, according to two local experts, who drew a distinction between short-term weather phenomena and longer-term climate change.

“A single cold day, week or month is simply weather,” said Michael Rawlins, an assistant professor of geoscience and manager of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, in an email message.

“Our region’s climate, which is the average of all weather over a given period of time, is warming,” Rawlins said. “It would take many years of colder than average weather to reverse that trend.”

L. David Smith, director of the Environmental Science and Policy Program at Smith College, said much the same.

“Climate is a longer-term average of weather events over periods of decades to centuries,” said Smith, who teaches biology at Smith. “So global temperatures could be warming over a long time — and they are — but you would still expect to experience record cold or hot weather on a day-to-day basis.”

Smith said the record cold predicted for Friday and Saturday is caused by the jet stream, an upper level “river” of winds that separates cold, Arctic air to the north from warmer, subtropical air to the south.

Studies by the National Climatic Data Center in North Carolina show that, worldwide, the ratio of daily high temperatures to daily low temperatures has stayed at nearly 3 to 1 for the past decade. Through November of 2013 — the most recent month for which the center has statistics available — the Earth recorded its fourth warmest year on record.


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