In meteorologic terms, winter is over and the spring equinox is less than three weeks away. So, is Sussex County ready for its snowiest month of the winter of 2019-20?
If the last three snow seasons are a trend — March was the snowiest month in 2017, 2018 and 2019 — we should prepare for scattering the ice melt, snow shovels and slippery roads.
New Jersey Climatologist David Robinson said it won’t be difficult for March to be the snowiest, because there’s so little to beat. A total of just over 14 inches has fallen since November 1. In a normal year, the area would have seen about 30 inches of snow between Nov. 1 and Feb. 28.
Meteorologists divide the four seasons into three calendar months each with winter being the months of December, January and February. A snow season, however, is measured from first snowflake to last snowflake which means a trace of snow in mid-October could begin the snow season and an April snow shower could end it.
November 2019 saw just a trace of snow while December was the snowiest month so far with a Dec. 2-3 storm leaving behind 10.3 inches of snow and a Dec. 10 storm dropping another 1.1, according to Robinson’s records.
February brought a handful of small storms, with none leaving more than an inch of snow. Just 0.8 inch of snow was recorded in January.
According to Robinson, only one other time in the past 125 years has March been the snowiest winter month over a three-year span — the winters of 1958-59, 1959-60 and 1960-61.
Given this winter’s history, and the monthly outlook for March, the string will be broken.
The next 30 days needs to accumulate more than a foot of snow —December had 12 inches — to become the snowiest of the 2019-20 winter.
March weather the past three years has seen at least one foot-deep snowstorm with two such storms in March 2018, as well as a 10-inch storm and even an April 2 snowstorm with 10 inches of snow falling on the hills of Vernon/Hardyston.
That was the year power went out for a couple of weeks for some residents of Sussex County, only to see power come back, then go out again when the second major storm came through.
In 2017, a mid-March storm left nearly 20 inches of snow across the northern half of the county and a foot on the southern half. And last year, a total of 14 inches of snow came from a series of storms in the first two weeks of March.
Most of the March storms were full-blown nor’easters, which traveled up the East Coast, just far enough off-shore that northwestern New Jersey is on the cold, and therefore, snowiest and windiest side of the storm.
This year, however, a weather feature known as the Arctic Oscillation has been in a strong “positive” position, meaning the cold air from around the North Pole has been bottled up there and the only outlet, instead of coming down over the eastern half of North America, makes it south across the northwestern part of the U.S. and diagonally across the country.
That kind of pattern has guided many of the storms on a more southerly route with some places in North Carolina seeing as much snow as Sussex County, some 500 miles further north.
A weather observer north of Sussex Borough had recorded 1.8 inches of February snow through Friday at his weather station.
An observer in Winston-Salem, N.C., also reporting to the Community Collaborative Rain, Sleet, Snow network, also had 1.8 inches of snow in February.
In the 30-day outlook for March, the Climate Prediction Center, a part of the National Weather Service, forecasts a 30 percent chance of below average temperatures for the upper Atlantic coast with about equal chances of above, normal or below average precipitation.
The immediate forecast for Sussex County calls for daytime highs to be spring-like with highs in the upper 40s for the next 10 days with a chance of rain from Tuesday through Friday.
Another early sign of spring — turning clocks ahead one hour for Daylight Savings Time — comes at 2 a.m., March 8.
For those anxious for astronomical spring, the vernal equinox — when the sun is exactly over the equator — comes at 11:49 p.m. on April 19.