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Posted at 10:30 AM ET, 04/27/2009

Heat Wave Leads to "Weather Whiplash"

By Andrew Freedman

* Heat Wave Continues: Full Forecast *

In light of last week's topsy turvy temperatures in the D.C. area and other parts of the country, I would like to propose that a new term be added to the meteorological lexicon: "weather whiplash." Considering the rather odd weather descriptors that are already in use, such as the much-derided catch-all phrase "wintry mix," I am hoping that this term can quickly be adopted.

Here is a proposed definition: "weather whiplash" (noun) - an ailment that strikes during/after an unusually rapid transition from one season to the next, such as when a workweek starts out with temperatures in the low 40s Fahrenheit and winds up in the 80s to near 90, thereby transitioning from winter to summer in a few short days, and vice versa. Cases of weather whiplash usually involve skipping an in-between season, like spring or fall, and transitioning immediately to either summer or winter."

Keep reading for more on the weather whiplash phenomenon...

"Weather whiplash may cause a general sense of unease, and an overpowering urge to talk about the weather with total strangers in line at the ATM. Rare but more serious complications include forgetting one's inhibitions, which can lead to major mistakes such as riding a bike shirtless despite the beer belly gained during the winter, and forgetting about work, school and family responsibilities in favor of enjoying the new season that has suddenly appeared."

Personally, I began my whiplash week on Monday as a shivering spectator at the Boston Marathon, cheering on relatives and friends through gritted teeth as winds gusted to about 30 mph and temperatures held in the 40s Fahrenheit. The high temperature in Boston on Marathon Monday was 51 degrees F, but that was recorded in the morning as the race got underway, and it turned colder as the race went on.

In contrast, as I write this on Saturday, I am sitting in an apartment in Manhattan with the air conditioning running, as temperatures flirt with the 90-degree mark.

I have responded to my case of weather whiplash by ignoring the graduate school term papers that I have to write, instead choosing to spend time underneath blooming trees in Central Park. Other students have been responding in a similar manner. For example, on Columbia University's campus on Friday afternoon, every patch of grass was occupied by hordes of undergraduate sunbathers, whom must have all received a memo instructing them to flee the library and immediately get (very nearly) naked.

My experience of whiplash was not unique, considering that the rapid shift from cool conditions to summer weather took place throughout much of the lower 48 states. According to preliminary records from the National Climatic Data Center, a strikingly large number of record high temperatures and record warm low temperatures were broken or tied between April 20 and 26. The preliminary count shows that during this period, 1006 record daily high temperatures were set or tied across the country as the heat built from the West Coast towards the Eastern Seaboard. During the same period, 34 all-time high temperatures for the month of April were either set or tied.

In addition, 557 record maximum low temperatures were set or tied, including in two locations not known for their warm weather - the summits of Mount Washington, New Hampshire and Mount Mansfield, Vermont, which both set new record warm low temperatures on Saturday night.

To complete this outbreak of weather whiplash, the CWG forecast shows temperatures returning to more seasonable levels this week. Hopefully summer will make a return visit - in June.

By Andrew Freedman  | April 27, 2009; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Extreme Heat, Freedman, Humor, Local Climate  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Forecast: Heat Hangs on Through Tomorrow
Next: PM Update: Hot Weather Continues One More Day


Um, the "at a glance" box is showing 20% chance of snow for Saturday. Now THAT'S whiplash!

Posted by: mcaicedo | April 27, 2009 11:44 AM | Report abuse

um, yeah ... National Weather Service feed appears to be having some technical difficulties this morning. we've notified them.

Posted by: CapitalWeatherGang | April 27, 2009 11:47 AM | Report abuse


Wherever it's super hot, it's super cold somewhere else. Ya just never thought it would be at the same place at the same time...

Cue "Day after tomorrow" movie trailer

Posted by: JJones-CapitalWeatherGang | April 27, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

We're supposed to be considerably cooler from Wednesday onward, a mild whiplash.

Biggest whiplash this time of year generally happens when the wind switches to the east or northeast. This brings in air which has been cooled over the ocean and leads to sixties or fifties and stratus related drizzle or light rain.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | April 27, 2009 1:19 PM | Report abuse

I like the term "weather whiplash." I certainly felt forgetful and distracted all weekend, making it hard to do much of anything -- a sort of weather-induced attention disorder. I also went into hibernation mode. By Sunday afternoon, I felt guilty for not "enjoying" the warm temps and sunlight, so I strolled around Rock Creek park for an hour, only to emerge completely dehydrated and ready to hibernate again.

Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | April 27, 2009 3:39 PM | Report abuse

The seasonal transition from late winter through spring to early summer is rarely smooth.

The transition is characterized by the migration north of the jet stream from its AVERAGE position in winter over the southern U.S. to near the U.S.-Canadian border in summer. Normally it's relatively cold to the north and relatively warm to the south of the axis of the jet. On AVERAGE, places like Washington, NYC, and Boston are to the north (cold side) of the jet in winter and to the south (warm side) in summer. In the transition they are frequently betwixt and between. Because the the migration northward of the jet stream is not steady but rather occurs in fits and starts at any given location - e.g., sometimes one step forward (toward summer) then two steps backward - it's easy to appreciate why it's not unusual to feel "weather whiplash" this time of year. Ultimately, of course there will be more advances north than backslides south.

Local influences also may come into play, especially along the coast. In Boston, for example, the mantra is always never underestimate the power of an east wind, especially in spring. Oh, how many times I experienced the frustration of otherwise warm/hot spring days undone by the onset of the sea-breeze off the still very cold waters to the east. Temperatures not atypically rising to the 70's by late morning often fell back to the 40's or 50's in less than 15 minutes. Now that's weather whiplash!

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | April 27, 2009 5:11 PM | Report abuse

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