Region facing first hot spell in nearly 2 years

The first extended hot spell of the summer is set to bake the Berkshires this week as a high-pressure system parked over the mid-Atlantic states pumps tropical air from the South into the Northeast region.

With temperatures potentially approaching or even topping 90, Wednesday could be the hottest day since Sept. 11, 2013, at Pittsfield Municipal Airport.

That was the last time the 90-degree mark was reached here, according to AccuWeather.com and the National Weather Service. During last summer, an unusually cool one, the season-long high was 88.

“Air conditioners and swimming pools will have their work cut out for them this week,” AccuWeather.com meteorologist Brian Lada stated in a web post.

Even though the Berkshires will be sizzling, the hot weather won’t qualify as an official heat wave, defined by most forecasters as three straight days of 90 degrees or higher in the Northeast.

With the prospect of high humidity and temperatures peaking on Wednesday, government meteorologist George Maglaras predicted that the heat index — a formula combining temperatures and humidity — could approach the mid- to upper 90s, especially in valley areas.

Showers and possible thunderstorms Thursday could bring some relief from the sultry air, though above-normal temperatures are due through the weekend.

Next week, more comfortable temperatures typical of the current summer season are expected to return.

At AccuWeather, long-range forecasters are casting a wary eye on the Gulf of Mexico and the warm Atlantic waters near Bermuda as conditions ripen for possible development of tropical storms over the next few days.

Water temperatures are above normal, meteorologist Ben Noll pointed out, and favorable atmospheric patterns could lead to the gradual development of an offshore storm. Where it might track remains an open question at this point, he added.

Over the past two months, unusually wet weather has helped keep temperatures below normal in the Berkshires, with just over 13 inches of rain in Pittsfield since June 1, compared to a normal total of 8.75 inches.

Remarkably, until this week the high recorded at Pittsfield Airport for this season was 85, set back on May 8. So far this month, the warmest day was July 19, but only 84 degrees, while last month’s high of 83 came on June 12.

Here are the high-temperature records set by date at Pittsfield Municipal Airport over the next four days:

July 28: 90 (1990)
July 29: 89 (1970)
July 30: 91 (1949)
July 31: 90 (1954)

Note: Temperature records for past years are not available from Harriman & West Airport in North Adams.

Source: National Weather Service via AccuWeather.com

Severe storm alert extended

The National Weather Service has extended a severe thunderstorm watch until 9 p.m. Tuesday for Berkshire County, Windham County in southeastern Vermont (including the Brattleboro area), as well as Columbia County, N.Y.

A clash between a sultry air mass and the leading edge of a cold front advancing on the region is the setup for the potentially severe storms, the government forecasters stated.

As of 4:30 p.m., storms were firing up in South Berkshire, while additional storms were detected by radar in central New York state, heading east toward central and north Berkshire before sunset.

The primary threats cited by the forecasters include scattered damaging wind gusts up to 70 miles an hour, just short of hurricane force. Isolated large hail up to one inch in diameter is possible.

The storms were producing heavy rainfall and could cause localized flooding, along with frequent cloud to ground lightning.

Severe storm alert issued for region

Berkshire County and southern Vermont are under a severe thunderstorm watch until 4 p.m. Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center.

A clash between a sultry air mass and the leading edge of a cold front advancing on the region is the setup for the potentially severe storms, the government forecasters stated.

The storm alert covers also covers all of Massachusetts, Connecticut, southern Maine and New Hampshire, Rhode Island and the New York metro area.

The primary threats cited by the forecasters include scattered damaging wind gusts up to 70 miles an hour, just short of hurricane force. Isolated large hail up to one inch in diameter is possible.

As of mid-morning, a line of strong thunderstorms was advancing on South Berkshire, with winds exceeding 40 miles an hour and dime-size hail, according to the National Weather Service office in Albany, N.Y.

The storms were producing heavy rainfall and could cause localized flooding, along with frequent cloud to ground lightning.

Government forecasters issue tornado watch for region

The National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch for Berkshire County, Bennington County, Vt., and central and Eastern New York until 8 p.m. Monday.

Watches citing the risk of a possible tornado for the region are issued relatively infrequently — two or three times per summer, on average.

According to the government’s Storm Prediction Center, a fast-moving series of strong to severe thunderstorms will cross the region later this afternoon, with a risk of locally damaging winds in some of the most intense outbreaks.

The watch statement lists among primary threats a possible tornado or two in an area from near Glens Falls, N.Y. to Monticello, N.Y., extending 65 miles to the east, which includes western Massachusetts, southwestern Vermont and a large section of eastern New York state, including the Capital District, Columbia and Rensselaer Counties.

The storms could include wind gusts up to 70 miles an hour — just short of hurricane force — and scattered large hail up to 2 inches diameter.

Forecasters emphasized that a tornado watch means conditions are favorable for twisters as well as severe thunderstorms. If an actual tornado is spotted, a warning would be issued.

The potentially severe weather results from the leading edge of cooler air, called a cold front, trekking slowly through the region this afternoon into tomorrow, forecasters at the NWS office in Albany stated.

Unstable air ahead of it is caused by increasing warmth and humidity. Heavy rainfall could accompany the storms, with a possibility of flash floods, especially urban and small stream flooding.

Periods of additional rain are in the outlook from Tuesday through Thursday night as the region is in a battleground between hot, humid air just to the south and cooler air north of the Berkshires, southern Vermont and central New York, NWS meteorologist Warren Snyder pointed out.

Berkshires, much of the region under a severe storm watch

The National Weather Service is warning of potentially severe thunderstorms in Berkshire County, all of Vermont, eastern New York and much of the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region until 7 this evening.

The storms, if they track as predicted, could include scattered, damaging wind gusts up to 70 miles an hour — nearly hurricane-force — as well as isolated hail of up to 1.5 inches in diameter.

The government’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., reported storms are organizing and intensifying west and southwest of the Berkshires in a warm, humid air mass on Wednesday afternoon.

The area under the severe thunderstorm watch is massive, extending from Newport in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom to just southwest of Baltimore, Md.

At the National Weather Service office in Albany, N.Y., meteorologist Steve DiRienzo said the greatest threat for Berkshire County would be from mid-afternoon until just before sunset.

“We could see severe thunderstorms, with winds strong enough to knock down trees, causing scattered power outages,” he said. As of 1:30 p.m., storms were firing up in the Catskills and central New York, moving toward the northeast at 35 to 45 miles an hour.

“Hopefully, every area will get some badly-needed rain,” DiRienzo said, noting that the region remains in a moderate drought.

In fact, based on records in Albany, this has been the second-driest spring since 1860, he reported.

Records at Pittsfield Municipal Airport going back to 1938 indicate that the March through May period, which is considered “meteorological spring,” could be the driest yet unless significant rainfall occurs during the final days of this month.

National Weather Service issues highest-level fire danger alert

Because of tinder dry conditions in the woods, exceptionally low humidity, strong mid-April sunshine and gusty winds, the National Weather Service has issued its highest-level alert for potential brush or forest fires.

The red flag warning for Berkshire County, Bennington County in Vermont and eastern New York is in effect from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

“Conditions today appear likely to produce potentially dangerously large and rapidly spreading fires,” forecaster Hugh Johnson of the government’s Albany, N.Y., office stated. During the midday and afternoon, above-normal temperatures in the 60s combined with desert-like humidity below 30 percent and winds gusting to near 25 miles an hour will raise the risk, especially in valley areas.

By nightfall, calm winds and increased moisture in the air should reduce the potential for fires, Johnson noted. Temperatures are expected to dip to freezing or below before dawn on Thursday.

The next chance of showers is on Thursday night and Friday, but any rain is expected to be light, and dry conditions are likely to persist in wooded areas.

Here are the highlights of the National Weather Service’s red flag warning:

Timing: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Impacts: Fires may spread rapidly and uncontrollably.A red flag warning means that dangerous fire weather conditions are expected due to the combination of gusty winds, low relativ humidities and dry woods and brush. Any fires that develop may quickly get out of control and become difficult to contain.

Locations: Berkshire County, southern Vermont, eastern New York, with the greatest threat in valley areas.

Winds: Northwest 10 to 15 mph with gusts to around 25 mph.

Humidity: Exceptionally low, upper teens to mid-20 percent range.

Temperatures: Upper 60s in valley areas, mid-50s across higher terrain.

Source: National Weather Service, Albany, N.Y., as of 7 a.m. Wednesday.

Spring has sprung? Sure, with light snow on the way

Live by the calendar, and you’ll do a dance at 6:45 p.m. Friday to greet the official arrival of spring — also known as the vernal equinox, when day and night are roughly equal everywhere.

Live by the sky, and you’ll growl as the season is greeted by another snowfall, according to National Weather Service predictions of an inch or two in the Berkshires by Saturday morning — very little in North County, a tad more in South County.

Longtime residents know that the spring season is a sometime thing here — it can erupt suddenly, like in 1945, when record highs of 81 were set on March 28 and 29 (tied on March 30, 1968) and in 1998, with a summery record of 86 on March 31.

More often than not, winter tends to be reluctant to release its icy grip on the region. There was the infamous two-inch snowfall on May 18, 2002 — the latest on record in the county — and before that the not fondly-remembered Mother’s Day snowfall on May 9, 1977, with up to 8 inches.

In 1816, the so-called year without summer, historians have suggested that New England saw snowflakes in June.

Although the books aren’t closed on the winter-weather season — never mind the calendar — frustrated residents hardly need to be reminded how February was the coldest since 1943, while this month and January have also been below normal, though not as drastically.

Heating and electricity bills have soared, dangerous ice holds firm on driveways and walkways, auto body shops are backlogged with scheduled repairs for vehicles damaged by snowbank accidents and, more recently, pothole fury. Armchair gamblers are betting on how late in the spring the last vestiges of piled-up snow will finally vanish from parking lots, street corners and other plow-favored final resting places.

Although total snowfall for the season, 79.6 inches at Pittsfield Municipal Airport, is only slightly above the area average of 76 inches and far short of the 1995-96 humdinger record of 146.6 inches, the constant below-freezing nights have slowed down snowmelt. Even the higher-angle late March sunlight isn’t making a big dent in the off-road snowpack.

On the bright side, hydrologists at the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y., credit the continuous cold and lack of heavy rain for avoiding — so far — waterway flooding and ice jams. A gradual, inch-by-inch snowmelt is the best prescription for a trouble-free mud season, they say.

Any spring weather on the horizon? Unlikely, says AccuWeather.com, as wave upon wave of Arctic air continue to invade the Northeast.

“Longer daylight hours and strengthening sunshine will negate some of the chill,” according to AccuWeather Meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. “Unfortunately, a long-lasting warm spell is not in the forecast anytime soon as more waves of cold air will continue to move in.”

Through early April, below-average temperatures should outnumber warmer-than-average days by at least two to one in the Northeast, he added. For the rest of March, normals in the Berkshires range from lows in the mid-20s to highs in the mid-40s.

Along the same lines, the long-range outlook released on Thursday by the government’s Climate Prediction Center near Washington, D.C., predicted colder-than-normal weather for New England and New York state all through April.

Another record-setting bonechiller; no relief in sight

As the sun rose over a deep-frosted Berkshire landscape, temperatures courtesy of the Siberian Express ended their all-night free fall with record lows for the date early Tuesday morning.

The 7 a.m. reading of 9 below at the National Weather Service’s Pittsfield Municipal Airport automated observation station shattered the old record of 2 below set in 1948. It was the second one-day record set this month. The coldest morning, 14 below last Saturday, tied the previous record for Feb. 21 set in 1966.

In North Adams, the 6 a.m. reading of 12 below at Harriman & West Airport was among the coldest in the county — only Adams and South Williamstown (14 below) and Egremont (16 below) were frostier.

The trophy for coldest in the immediate tri-state area went to Stamford, Vt., just north of Clarksburg, where a weather observer reported 18 below shortly before dawn.

Across Massachusetts, Chicopee Falls held the dubious low-temperature honor, also 18 below.

With temperatures predicted to remain well below normal for the remaining four days of the month, February is still on track to tie or break the previous coldest month on record — February 1943. Pitsfield Airport historical records go as far back as 1938.

The only bright spots weary residents could point to were calm winds at daybreak and a five-day forecast that indicated no significant snowfalls in sight and daytime highs well up in the 30s this Sunday.

However, a storm system late Sunday and Monday will have to be closely watched in case it makes a closer approach to the region than currently indicated by most computer models.

Looking ahead, the government’s Climate Prediction Center in College Park, Md., is offering a bleak outlook for the first 10 days of March, with below normal temperatures continuing for western New England, along with an active storm track that could yield more snowfall.

Normal for Pittsfield in late February ranges from 18 to 37, improving to lows of 20 and highs of 40 by March 8, when Daylight Saving Time returns.

As a result, according to AccuWeather.com’s senior meteorologist Brett Anderson, “temperatures in the Northeast will still average below normal, but they will be much less extreme.” In Berkshire County, the likely outcome will be overnight lows in the teens and daytime highs in the 30s.

Bring out the beach chairs!

FACTBOX:

How Cold Did It Get?

Here are the early-morning lows in the Berkshire County region as reported to the National Weather Service:

Stamford, Vt. -18
Egremont -16
Adams -14
South Williamstown -14
North Adams (Airport) -12
Great Barrington -12
Windsor -10
Otis -10
Savoy -9
Pittsfield (Airport) -10

Source: National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.; only the airport readings are considered official, since the others are crowd-sourced.

 

Weekend storm could brew an icy mix, then more Siberian Express

If it’s the weekend, it must be time to brace for yet another winter storm.

But this one, originating in the lower Mississippi Valley and drawing in Gulf of Mexico moisture, could transition to an icy mix early Sunday, especially south of Pittsfield, according to forecaster Hugh Johnson at the National Weather Service in Albany, N.Y.

On Saturday, temperatures may actually approach 30 as snow arrives before dark, he predicted. The best chance of sleet and possibly freezing rain mixing in with the snow before dawn on Sunday is in South Berkshire, as temperatures hold steady or even rise slightly.

By noon on Sunday, most of the snow and any mixture should move out of the area, and if any sunshine breaks out during the afternoon, temperatures could reach above freezing for the first time in 12 days.

But on Monday, the polar pattern persists as “bouts of Arctic air continue to plunge into the region through the week,” the government forecast stated.

Total snowfall over the weekend is expected to be moderate, ranging from 3 to 6 inches, according to the NWS and AccuWeather.com.

Well in advance of the storm, Pittsfield’s Public Works Commissioner Bruce Collingwood announced a snow emergency in the city from 10 p.m. Saturday until 7 a.m. on Monday.

Parking will not be permitted during that time except on North Street, where it will be allowed between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. on Sunday and Monday. Municipal parking lots will be off limits between midnight and 7 a.m. on Sunday and Monday so they can be plowed and sanded.

As usual, violators may have their vehicles towed at their own expense.

Once skies clear on Monday, winter-weary Berkshirites have nothing to look forward to but more below-zero overnights and daytime highs struggling to get into the teens.

As private forecasters and TV weather personalities have pointed out, “polar vortex” as a catchphrase is so last year.

Now, it’s the “Siberian Express” that’s making life miserable for many millions, according to AccuWeather.com.

By way of explanation, the online forecasting service notes that from Siberia, additional waves of cold air will continue to roll into the Eastern states. The cross-polar flow, as it is called, travels thousands of miles across the North Pole, over frozen tundra, seas of ice and snow cover. As a result, it experiences little moderation when it reaches the U.S.

The current polar outbreak covers most of the eastern U.S. Even in Florida, several low-temperature records were set for the date — 33 in Orlando, 42 in Miami on Friday.

No break is in sight over the next 10 days, according to AccuWeather.com Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams. He compared the cold wave to previous records set in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.

Despite brilliant sunshine in the Berkshires, Friday was one of the winter’s most brutal days as wind chills recorded at Pittsfield Municipal Airport ranged from 40 below before dawn to 10 below in the early afternoon.

Gusts as high as 39 mph combined with air temperatures bottoming out at minus 6 made prolonged exposure to the elements especially hazardous.

It was the 9th morning of below zero minimums at the airport this month and the 18th of the winter.

In North Adams, the early morning low of minus 2 produced a wind chill of 30 below, as observed at Harriman and West Airport.

During the first week of March, as daylight lengthens and sunshine strengthens, temperatures may recover to only slightly below normal, AccuWeather stated.

 

FACTBOX:

Day by Day. . .

Saturday: Snow, mainly after 4pm, high 27, lighter winds.
Sunday: Overnight snowfall ends before noon; slight chance of rain or snow showers later. High 34. Total snowfall 3-6 inches.
Monday: Partly cloudy, high 10, overnight low minus 9.
Tuesday: Sunny, high 15.
Wednesday: A 40 percent chance of overnight snow continuing during the day. High around 26.
Thursday: Partly cloudy, early low 4, daytime high 18.

Source: National Weather Service forecast for Berkshire County.

Long-duration snowstorm lived up to predictions

Berkshire County is enjoying a brief lull in the wintry weather action before a very deep freeze at the end of the week. Some snow is possible Thursday and perhaps early next week.

 

Here are the National Weather Service snowfall totals for the area:

 

.BERKSHIRE COUNTY...
   SAVOY                 16.4   509 PM  2/09  WEATHERNET6
   NORTH ADAMS           16.0   757 PM  2/09  AMATEUR RADIO
   DALTON                13.0   320 PM  2/09  FACEBOOK
   LANESBOROUGH          10.5   443 PM  2/09  WEATHERNET6
   LENOX DALE            10.5   755 PM  2/09  FACEBOOK
   CLARKSBURG             8.0   422 AM  2/10  WEATHERNET6
   PITTSFIELD             7.5   603 AM  2/10  WEATHERNET6