As I type this, the temperature is 59 degrees and there is a winter storm watch up for late tomorrow and Friday for potentially heavy, wind-driven slushy snow. (I wrote a column on Monday concerning this Friday system and, SO FAR, it’s aging well … but we shall see.
Usually, when I post on social media about abrupt weather changes, I get comments like “Only in Western New York!” or “Where else will you find this kind of wild weather?” “Two or three seasons in 24 hours; where else?!”
Through the diligent research of Weather Underground, a division of IBM’s the Weather Company, I’ll toss a few examples your way pertaining to temperatures that demonstrate Western New York's extremes pale by comparison.
Just a couple of weeks ago, Fort Belknap, Mont., went from minus 37 degrees early in the day to 45 degrees in the afternoon. And just last week, a blizzard warning was issued for that part of Montana due, again, to a powerful chinook wind producing severe blowing snow, with no new falling snow. Only one weather phenomenon can do that: the downslope wind, about which I’ve been talking and writing for decades.
We get downslope winds in Western New York, but our slopes are not long enough and not steep enough to get enough momentum for winds accelerating down those slopes to heat up that much. Fort Belknap took a hit from North America’s best-known downslope wind, the chinook. Winds coming down the eastern slopes of the Rockies undergo lots of compressional heating as the air literally tumbles over on itself coming down to lower elevations. Buffalo has had some remarkable warmups, but nothing in that thermal ballpark.
The fastest and greatest temperature change in the world took place Jan. 22, 1943, when Spearfish, S.D., was at minus 4. In came a blast of chinook wind, and two minutes later, the temperature went to 47 degrees. Forty-nine degrees in two minutes is not a Western New York thing.
Oklahoma City went from a high of 83 degrees on the afternoon of Nov. 11, 1911, to 17 degrees, a 66-degree drop, just before midnight that day. That set a record high and a record low for the date, and those records stand intact.
On Dec. 12, 1919, Amarillo, Texas, went from 67 degrees at noon to 23 degrees one hour later behind a cold front. The temperature had dropped to 1 degree by 7 p.m.
Nowata, Okla., started Feb. 10, 2011, with light winds, fresh snow cover, dry air and a morning low of minus 31. That was the coldest temperature ever recorded in Oklahoma. By Feb. 17, Nowata had hit 79 degrees. That 110-degree spread is also the greatest weekly temperature change in Oklahoma history.
In the plains, 1936 was a rangy year — part of what are called the Dirty Thirties, due to the Dust Bowl. Parshall, N.D., had a low of minus 60 on Feb. 15, the coldest North Dakota temperature on record. On July 6 of that year, not far away, Steele, N.D., had a high of 121, the all-time record high for that state. That’s a range of 181 degrees.
These are the numbers and ranges we’ll likely never see in Western New York, coming along with a ferocious rapidity that boggles the mind and the senses.
I worked in Wichita for a year and got a bit of a taste of this ranginess, not only in temperature but in humidity boundaries between subtropical Gulf moisture and desert-dry air from the west. When it comes to temperatures, it’s “Only in the Plains!” More specifically, these readings are usually in the high Plains, somewhat closer to the Rockies.
Gang, it’s very different out them-a-ways!