North American temperature anomalies in Celsius, for February through February 17. (Weatherbell.com)

Sunday and Monday were historically cold in Washington, and even more extreme cold is possible in the region Thursday and Friday when – in some areas – lows may fall below zero for the first time since 1996.

February temperatures are now running about 5 to 7 degrees (F) below normal across the region. That’s easily considered brutal cold.

Other than one record-breaking warm day, we’ve seen just a few near normal ones this month. The majority have been below normal, and often well below normal.

Two days — Feb. 15-16 — were more than 20 degrees below normal, and two more — Thursday and Friday (Feb. 19-20) may lie ahead! Those are extreme temperature differences from normal any way you slice it.

Records already broken

At Baltimore (BWI), record lows were tied on Feb. 15 and 16 with 6 and 5 degrees respectively. A record low maximum was also tied on Feb. 16 of 18 degrees. All of these were long-standing numbers, one dating to 1899.

Dulles also picked up two record lows on Feb. 15 and 16, no ties in this case, with 6 degree minimums. Monday’s high of 16 bested the previous record low max of 22 in 2003 for the date.

D.C. (as measured at Reagan National Airport), as it typically does (due to its long data record and urbanization), managed to dodge cold records during the big chill Presidents’ Day weekend as well as this morning.

What D.C. lacked in daily records...

Although D.C. eluded records earlier this week, on Sunday it shivered through its coldest Feb. day since 2/5/96, as a high of 22 and a low of 11 combined to deliver an average temperature of 16.5 degrees. Then came Monday’s high of 20 and low of 10 for an even colder average of 15 degrees.


Ice on the Potomac River on February 16, 2015. (Erin Schaff via Flickr)

Those types of readings are tough to achieve during peak cold climatology in January and not far off of the numbers (mainly higher lows this go) seen in last year’s January polar vortex events. Even more impressive, they occurred a full month or more later  when average temperatures had climbed about 3.5 degrees compared to the January events last year.

Two days in a row with temperatures failing to top 22 degrees is quite unusual, especially of late. Since observations for D.C. have been kept at National Airport in the mid-1940s, it has only happened 14 times in all cold months.  This recent two-day stretch was the coldest on that metric since January 2004, and the latest in the season since 1979, when the same type of conditions occurred on the 17-18th.

If we extend through yesterday’s subfreezing temperatures, a three-day average of 18.5 degrees ranks tied for 5th coldest three-day stretch in Feb. since National Airport opened for observations in the mid 1940s. And it occurred later than in any year since 1979.

Although we have a decent shot at getting the city just above freezing today, should the freezing streak continue through the next cold shot, it becomes impressive for its longevity in recent history.

Upcoming cold snap


GFS surface temperature anomalies in Fahrenheit, running from this morning through Saturday evening. (Weatherbell.com)

The next cold shot should be at least as cold as the last one, and perhaps a little bit colder (however, winds will not be as strong, so it may not feel as cold). Additional snow-cover across the region, and surrounding regions, may even help temperatures sneak into the subzero category in a number of locations. For D.C. (specifically, Reagan National) a subzero reading is possible though not necessarily likely. Our suburbs stand a better chance for sure.

If D.C. gets below zero, it would be the first time since January 1994. National Weather Service office serving Washington and Baltimore covered that yesterday in a discussion:

THE LAST TIME WASHINGTON DC /DCA/ WAS BELOW ZERO WAS ON JANUARY 19 1994 /-4 F/. THE LAST TIME BALTIMORE MD /BWI/ WAS BELOW ZERO WAS ON FEBRUARY 5 1996 /-1 F/. IT IS NOT OUT OF THE REALM OF POSSIBILITY FOR EITHER OF THESE SITES TO DROP BELOW ZERO THURSDAY NIGHT…AS SOME GUIDANCE SUGGESTS.

Of course, large parts of the region hit zero or below last year. Dulles got there twice, including once in March! It broke a subzero dry spell dating to 1996.

D.C.’s low last year was 6 degrees on January 7. If we surpass that number here are the last times we’ve done lower…

5 or below: Feb 5, 1996 (5 degrees)
0 or below: Jan 19, 1994 (-4 degrees)
-5 or below: Jan 17, 1982 (-5 degrees)
-10 or below: Jan 14, 1912 (-13 degrees)
All time low: Feb 11, 1899 (-15 degrees)

Another extremely powerful cold front blasts through the D.C. area Wednesday evening, and record-challenging cold—the most extreme of the winter—follows and lasts through Friday. Capital Weather Gang's Jason Samenow has your forecast. (The Washington Post)

More records to watch

As Jason did prior to the last cold snap, I’ve gone ahead and bolded the records I think we have a chance to tie or break. I have bold italicized those I think we will likely break.


Temperature comparison between model output statistics (top) and the hi resolution NAM (bottom) for Thursday and Friday morning lows. Somewhere in the middle might be best. (Weatherbell.com)

Record Low Minimums…FEB 19 (Thur)*:
BWI…5 (1903)
DCA…4 (1903)
IAD…7 (1979)

It’s possible we could approach these levels by midnight tomorrow, but hard to say for sure at this point.

Record Low Maximums…FEB 19 (Thur):
BWI…19 (1903)
DCA…16 (1903)
IAD…28 (1993)

Record Low Minimums…FEB 20 (Fri):
BWI…4 (1979)
DCA…8 (1896)
IAD…-2 (1979)

Note: If DCA breaks a record low, it would be the first since May 2002 and the first winter one since January 1994.

Record Low Maximums…FEB 20 (Fri):
BWI…18 (1896)
DCA…18 (1896)
IAD…26 (1972)

Just remember, flowers in a few weeks. We can make it.

(Correction, 11:05 a.m.: The original post stated Dulles set a record low of 3 today.  It did drop to 3F, but it was not a record.  Its record low for today was actually -14F in 1979)