February was coldest ever on record in Amherst, and elsewhere

Last modified: Friday, March 06, 2015

AMHERST — Residents might want to sit down when they open their heating bills for the month of February — the last month was the coldest ever on record.

The average temperature in Amherst in the past month was 11.2 degrees, the lowest average monthly temperature since records were first kept in town in 1835. It broke the previous record of 11.6 degrees set in 1934, according to Michael A. Rawlins, an assistant professor in the department of geosciences and manager of the Climate System Research Center at the University of Massachusetts.

Rawlins said he suspected the last month might have been a record-breaker in terms of cold, so he collected the temperatures that are recorded at the Amherst Wastewater Treatment Plant each day for the National Weather Service. He compared this February’s 11.2-degree average with other Februaries in Amherst going back to 1836.

“This extreme cold is well outside of what has been experienced in this region in the last 80-plus years,” Rawlins said Sunday. “This type of cold was more common in the early and mid-1800s.”

The record-breaking cold is likely not limited to Amherst, Rawlins said, but he chose to focus on Amherst temperatures because he lives and works in the town and the data were available. Plus, he said, Amherst has one of the longest continuous records of temperature and other weather conditions in the country. “It’s nice to look at that long-term perspective,” he said.

While the National Weather Service considers the official period of record for Amherst to begin in 1893, the late Ebenezer S. Snell began recording temperatures in 1835, when he was a professor of mathematics and philosophy at Amherst College.

Also breaking records last month that were set in 1934 were Worcester, Hartford, Connecticut, and Bangor, Maine, Rawlins said. Boston’s average temperature is the second lowest on record, he said.

Research shows that winters aren’t as cold as they used to be, he said, due largely to global warming. This makes 1934 and 2015 large anomalies in a modern era of more moderate winters.

This is illustrated, he said, by the fact that five Februaries in the 50 years from 1836 to 1885 averaged 17 degrees or colder, but in the last 81 years, there has been none — until this year.

“If you ranked the top five or ten coldest months, it would be 2015 and 1934,” he said, and the remainder would generally be in the 1830s to 1850s.

And the 2015 record may stand for decades to come. According to a study Rawlins completed in 2012 with his UMass colleague, Raymond Bradley, winters are projected to warm by 3 to 5 degrees by mid-century.

Amherst set other records last month as well. On five days, Amherst broke or tied the record low for the day. Feb. 23, when it was about 42 degrees, was the only day in February in which the high temperature surpassed the normal high for the day. The 28 days before that, from Jan. 26 to Feb. 22, were all below average.

Rawlins said that looking at Amherst’s average temperature for the entire meteorological winter, which was from December to February, this season is the 11th coldest on record. At 56.2 inches, snowfall in Amherst is already twice the normal amount to date, he said.

But don’t mistake Rawlins’ enthusiasm for the subject as a love for frigid Februaries. While he said he enjoys examining weather extremes, “I’m a big fan of summer.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.


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