Winter purred so nicely before it roared, a creature both memorable and normal

April 03, 1993|By Douglas Birch | Douglas Birch,Staff Writer

Ah, the winter of 1992-1993. Dry and mild most days, the

season served up an occasional spring-like afternoon to tantalize us.

Then winter's evil twin barged in: lashing us with what seemed like unending rain, biting us with cold and, finally, burying the Baltimore area in shin-deep snow.

It was a perverse season that delivered a bouquet with one hand and a sucker punch with the other. But it will be recorded as nearly normal, because the mild opening balanced out the wild finale.

Fred Davis of the National Weather Service at Baltimore-Washington International Airport remembers getting calls in mid-February from anxious citizens wondering if global warming had push Baltimore into an expanding sun belt. Where, they wondered, were winter's snows? "I said be patient, we've got a month to go," he recalled. "Little did I know how prophetic I was at the time."

Temperatures at the airport averaged 5.5 degrees above normal for the period Dec. 21, the winter solstice, to Jan. 31. A short time later the season made its U-turn. Temperatures averaged 5.5 degrees below normal from Feb. 1 to March 21, the spring equinox.

The average for the full season? About normal.

Snowfall was 4.5 inches below normal from Dec. 21 to Jan. 31. Then came a series of storms, capped by the Blizzard of 1993 on March 13. The second half of the season produced 11.3 inches more snow than normal.

On balance, though, the season produced an unremarkable 3.7 inches more snow than the 20.9-inch average.

Mr. Davis and other meteorologists traced the season's sudden about-face to a shift in the jet stream. This upper-atmosphere river of air flowed far north of its typical position for the first half of the season, allowing warm air from the Gulf of Mexico to drift north of its winter haunts for extended visits.

By early February, though, the jet stream shifted well south of its typical position. That allowed cold polar air to whip down from Canada more frequently.

This cooler-than-normal pattern is expected to persist in the southern and eastern portions of the United States for at least the next month, said Andrew J. Wagner, meteorologist and senior forecaster with the National Weather Service in Camp Springs, Prince George's County.

"Locally, we're expecting more of the kind of dreary stuff we've had," said Mr. Wagner. "It looks like sort of a retarded spring. We've been spoiled for the last few years when springs have had a tendency to come early and be nice and warm."

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