Super Bowl cold and snow: Big game history, local odds, and an early outlook

January 23, 2014

What’s the weather going to be like before, after, and — most importantly — during the Super Bowl? We’re now into a period where we can make some informed predictions.

But, let’s start with normal. The average high temperature for the day is roughly 40 degrees, with a typical kickoff temperature of 34 degrees. The odds of seeing rain or snow are around 35 percent during any day within a week-long period surrounding the game, and the odds of accumulating snow are around 15 percent over the same stretch.

In the case of this year, unseasonably cold weather seems a good bet, but it is that time in the Northeast U.S. When it comes to a snowy scene that will be forever etched in our memories as a return to old-school football in its glory, the odds don’t appear good for now.

There have been cold and ‘snowy’ Super Bowls

In 2006, Super Bowl goers faced 1.1 inch of snow prior to the game, and a high temperature just above freezing when the Steelers battled the Seahawks in Detroit. Of course, fans also had the luxury of escaping that weather by going indoors. It holds the record for the most snowfall on Super Bowl day, with only one other minor instance over the years.

(Author adaptation of SERCC data) (Author adaptation of SERCC data)

Given the temperature average alone, the record for coldest non-domed Super Bowl, currently held by the 1972 Super Bowl held in New Orleans, appears likely to fall. The high that day was 43 and the low 24. Kevin Sheehan of ESPN 980 let us know that the coldest kickoff temp was 39 on that same day. Cold for the Gulf Coast, not the Northeast.

Related: Super Bowl Weather & Climate 1967-2013 (William Schmitz, SERCC)

The 1982 Super Bowl held in Pontiac, Mi. is more than likely to retain the record for the coldest game day temperature, with a high of 16 and a low of 5. But, dome. Poor tailgating at the least…

While this will be the first Super Bowl held outdoors in a cold-weather climate, it certainly won’t be the worst weather fans have faced during an important football game in recent history.

As recently as 2008, an NFC Championship game between the Packers and Giants in Green Bay, Wi. was played in subzero temperatures. The top-10 coldest are pretty much all games for the ages.

Farmers’ Almanac says cold and snow

Back in August, the Farmers’ Almanac called for a cold and snowy winter. OK… to be determined. They also dubbed the upcoming event “Storm Bowl.” Outlandish? Yes, and no.

The climate around MetLife Stadium is generally a cold and snowy one in winter, but its proximity to moderating temperatures of open ocean helps keep it from comparing to the worst of the cold-weather football spots in the upper Midwest like Green Bay.

Of course that ocean view can import quite a lot of snow, and Super Bowl Sunday is pretty much smack dab in the middle of the snowiest time of year there across the broader New York City and northern New Jersey region, as well as most of the urban northeast.


Raw occurrence of accumulating (0.1″+) snowfall as measured at Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR) near MetLife stadium, 1936-2013. (Author adaptation of Utah State Climate Center data)

The above chart, which conveys the probability of at least 0.1″ of snow on different winter days sets a low bar, but if you examine the likelihood of getting 3 inches or 6 inches, you run about a 2 percent and 1 percent chance, respectively, on any day within the Super Bowl period.  There hasn’t been a six-inch snowfall day there since the mid-1930s on February 2 itself, but the period around the Super Bowl is arguably the heart of most likely period for big snows.

Cold, as you’d guess by the average for the date at MetLife is much more of a constant expectation, while snow is often a number of flips of the coin at best.

According to the good folks over at the New Jersey State Climatologist office, who by the way have put together THE go-to site for any sort of stats you might want on game day climatology, kickoff temperatures have ranged from 61 to 13 degrees. Quite the spread.

However, the average kickoff temp is 34 degrees, a notable post-sunset drop off that average high around 40. Certainly no Miami Super Bowl, where daytime highs have averaged a near-perfect 72 degrees. Leave the shorts at home…

The actual stage being set

We think it will be a cold one at MetLife Stadium, but not the snowy scene that the NFL might have hoped could be the tableau on the game’s biggest stage.

First, the winter pattern has been very cold across much of the United States. And, given every opportunity, the cold air has pressed into the East. While the various signals point toward a relaxation of the strong to, at times, extreme cold we will see into late next week, cold air can tend to be stubborn in the low levels. We currently think this will be the case on Super Bowl Sunday.


Surface (2m) temperatures compared to normal on the American (left) and European (right) ensemble models. The American ensemble is colder than its European counterpart, and there is good reason to believe that the colder solution will prevail on Super Bowl Sunday. (MDA Information Systems LLC, Weather Services)

The hard-to-budge cold air is only part of the equation.

Related: A super forecasting challenge (UCAR)

Another major factor is the recently added snow cover from the Northeast U.S. snowstorm, and possible accumulation of additional snow over the next seven days (see model forecast accumulation maps below). Deep snow cover enhances cooling at night and limits warming by day. Weather models tend to overestimate the amount of daytime warming that will occur, and really struggle t0 estimate overnight lows (which will often drop several degrees below projected model temperatures under clear, calm conditions).


(MDA Information Systems LLC, Weather Services)

A third, more ancillary, factor is the overall setup of the pattern and how it shares similarities with patterns seen in the past.

We call these past patterns “analogs,” which have characteristics that closely match the model forecast pattern. Forecasting based on analogs adds some skill and value.

In that spirit, the composite (all of the data combined into one) of nine analog years, centered on Super Bowl Sunday, February 2 is shown below. The blue, purple, dark pink and light pink colors on the composite map below  represent colder-than-normal temperatures, while the yellow, orange, brown and red colors represent warmer-than-normal temperatures.


Analog composite map for the period near the Super Bowl. (MDA Information Systems LLC, Weather Services)

Even though MetLife Stadium falls under the mild yellow shade, the average temperature for the five-day period (January 31-February 4) surrounding Super Bowl Sunday (based on the composite of all nine analog years) is just 33.4 degrees, or about one degree warmer than the  average temperature for the period (32.5 degrees).

This is seemingly a “warm” signal, but maybe not in the way you’d expect. A warmer-than-normal average low temperature is mostly responsible for the “warm” five-day average. at only a whopping 26.8 degrees, doesn’t exactly feel comfortable. With an area of high pressure expected to move in from the northwest on Super Bowl Sunday, the low is likely to be colder than that average of 26.8 degrees. The same goes for the expected high, which should also likely be below average.

Related: FiveThirtyEight Guest Post: Let It Snow? (Grantland)

According to some of the more recent model runs, precipitation has been shown exiting the East Coast on the day before the Super Bowl. Precipitation forecasting is typically much tougher than temperature forecasting, and any forecast for a specific day is held with low confidence more than one week away. That said, the incoming high pressure system should keep MetLife dry throughout the day.

Initial Super Bowl Sunday outlook

It’s a mostly sunny and dry day. Afternoon highs reach the low-to-mid-30s. Temperatures drop into the upper 20s at kickoff and fall into the mid-20s by the end of the 4th quarter.

Denver Broncos vs. Seattle Seahawks

6:30 p.m., Sunday, February 2, MetLife Stadium

logo
Mostly Clear
KICKOFF
27-30
FINAL WHISTLE
24-27
CHANCE OF PRECIP
10%
Winds start the day gusty, but turn lighter by kickoff and are not a major influence on the Super Bowl. Other than the colder than usual conditions, could be a lot worse!

Note: It is very early for a specific forecast and it is subject to large error.

Ian Livingston, CWG’s Information Lead, focused on the climatology portion of this post, while Rick Grow, a CWG writer and meteorologist with MDA Information Systems LLC, focused on the forecast portion.

Continue reading
Comments
Show Comments
Most Read Local