October Offers Fall's Finest (Usually)
* Sun today, but clouds, rain coming: Full Forecast *
Weatherwise, the month of October is a transitional month for Washington. While the average high and low temperatures to start the month were 74 and 56 degrees respectively, by the 31st they have dropped to 63 and 44 degrees (Reagan National Airport). October's all-time extremes of 96 degrees on the 5th in 1941 and 26 on the 31st in 1917 (which preceded the brutal winter of 1917-1918; this record was tied in other years), reflect this decline.
It's not just an illusion when we think of October as a month with brilliantly sunny days and clear, starry nights: on average, October has more clear days--about 12--than any other month. (The nearest second is September with about 11.) However, despite all of the clear days, October receives more rain (on average) than half of the years' months.
At the other extreme is January with an average of 16 cloudy days. But then, those of you who suffer from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) and are adversely affected by the lack of sunshine already know this. Just be glad that you don't live in a place like Seattle, which averages 45% more overcast, rainy, drizzly days than we get but about the same amount of overall precipitation. (People are often surprised about that.)
Averages belie the fact that October is not always the benevolent, serene month that we have come to expect. There are occasional anomalies, as there are in almost every month. On October 10th, 1979, a surprise storm dumped an inch of snow here and up to 10 inches in the Blue Ridge. On October 13th, 1983, tornadoes caused severe damage in parts of the metropolitan area; and every so often, hurricanes or tropical storms have raked our area in October.
In modern times, one of the most dramatic and devastating of these was Hurricane Hazel, which struck the Washington area in mid-October 1954 with torrential rain and a 98 mph wind gust. The storm, initially responsible for more than 1000 deaths in Haiti, eventually crossed the N.C./S.C. border and raced northward to Canada at up to 50 mph (one of the factors which sustained its wind field so far inland). In the U.S., there were 95 deaths while in Canada, another 81 died, mostly from flooding. In 2009 dollars, there was over $3 billion in property damage.
It turns out, however, that 261 years earlier--on October 29th, 1693--an even more catastrophic hurricane took its toll. Known as the Accomack Storm, this disturbance may have caused more changes to the Delmarva shoreline--not to mention coastal inlets all the way up to Long island--than all other storms combined since the time of American colonization. The following says it all:
There happened a most violent storm in Virginia, which stopped the course of the ancient channels and made some where there never were any: So that betwixt the bounds of Virginia and Newcastle in Pennsylvania, on the seaward side, are many navigable rivers for sloops and small vessels.
- Letter by a Mr. Scarburgh, 1694
(From "Hurricanes and the Middle Atlantic States," by Rick Schwartz)
A LOOK AHEAD
For those of you who follow these things, there is little statistical evidence to support cooler than normal Octobers being followed by colder than normal winters, or vice versa. Except in unusual winters such as that of 1917-18, 1957-58, 1976-77, 1995-96, among others, where colder than normal patterns locked in early and were resistant to break down, most winters are highly variable in terms of both temperature and snowfall. This often applies both here and elsewhere.
For example, our area has received as little as one-tenth of an inch of snow for an entire winter, while at the other extreme, as much as 4.5 feet. Even in normally snowy cities like Boston and Chicago, seasonal snowfalls have ranged from as little as 9-10 inches to around 8 feet. But in snowbelt cities such as Buffalo and Rochester, it's rare for a true "snow drought" to occur even in the mildest of winters, as the lake-effect snow machine usually cranks up at least to some extent.
Remember though, whatever the weather,
As a rule,
Man is a fool,
When it's hot, he wants it cool,
When it's cool, he wants it hot,
Always wanting what is not.
Posted by: Bombo47jea | October 13, 2009 12:44 PM | Report abuse
Posted by: Ann-CapitalWeatherGang | October 14, 2009 10:28 AM | Report abuse
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