Polar vortex of 2014 lackluster compared to past cold waves

Via NASA: “This image was captured by NOAA’s GOES-East satellite on January 6, 2014 at 1601 UTC/11:01 a.m. EST. A frontal system that brought rain to the coast is draped from north to south along the U.S. East Coast. Behind the front lies the clearer skies bitter cold air associated with the Polar Vortex.”

The polar vortex event this week was undeniably cold, sending temperatures 20-40 degrees below average and setting scores of daily records from the northern Plains to the Southeast.  It’s fair to say it was the sharpest cold snap since 1996.  But it paled in comparison to previous cold air outbreaks.

Jeff Masters, in his blog post today at Wunderground, lays it out simply:

As notable as this week’s cold wave was–bringing the coldest air seen since 1996 or 1994 over much of the nation–the event failed to set any monthly or all-time record low minimum temperature records at airports and cooperative observing stations monitored by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center.

That’s right – this polar vortex cold wave of 2014 did not set a single all-time record low in any city (assuming Masters is right).

Here in D.C. we dropped to 6.  Our all-time record low? A seemingly untouchable -15 from from Feb. 11, 1899 (granted it was recorded at 24th and M St rather than Reagan National Airport).

The unremarkable nature of this cold snap further highlights the silliness of arguments that it somehow debunks global warming.

I pointed out Tuesday extreme cold has become less frequent and less severe over time.

An observation from Wunderground’s weather historian Christopher Burt  reinforces this point:

“Prior to 1996, cold waves of this intensity occurred pretty much every 5-10 years. In the 19th century, they occurred every year or two (since 1835),” Burt was quoted as saying on Masters’ blog.

The trends in cold extremes also highlight the silliness of arguments that global warming makes cold waves worse.

Related: Does the Cold Wave Imply Anything About Global Warming? The Answer is Clearly No. (Cliff Mass)

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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Jason Samenow · January 8, 2014

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