Gulf of Maine quarterly climate impacts and outlook: March 2018

Gulf of Maine Region, March 2018

Gulf of Maine significant events: December 2017 to February 2018

The first significant storm of the season, on December 9 to 10, brought 15 to 30 cm (5.9 to 11.8 in.) of snow to parts of New Brunswick. Several thousand customers lost power there. The storm was mainly a rain event over Nova Scotia with up to 70 mm (2.8 in.) over Cape Breton.

A complex low-pressure system on December 23 brought snow, freezing rain and wind to the region. Several hours of freezing rain occurred over an area extending over Fredericton and Moncton, N. B.  and Charlottetown, P.E.I. Areas of Massachusetts saw over 6 mm (0.24 in.) of ice accumulation and more than 20,000 power outages were reported in New England. There were numerous vehicle accidents across the region. Grand Etang, N. S. reported peak wind gusts up to 137 km/h (85 mph).

The December 25 to 26 (Christmas Day to Boxing Day) winter storm brought heavy snowfall to the central and northern New Brunswick area. The greatest snowfall reported was at Bathurst, N.B., with 46 cm (18.1 in.). High winds brought blizzard conditions, downed poles and trees. Nearly 160,000 customers lost power in Nova Scotia which took several days to be restored.  New England had reports of snow falling at up to 8 to 13 cm (3 to 5 in.) per hour and thundersnow. Snowfall totals up to 17.8 cm (7 in.) were reported in Massachusetts.

From late December into early January there was a bitter cold snap with dangerously cold wind chills. Records for cold temperatures were broken across the region. New Year’s Eve activities were cancelled in some communities, water pipes froze, and ferries were cancelled. Thresher Sharks were found stranded in Cape Cod Bay as they tried to swim south to warmer water. The cold snap was followed by an intense Nor’easter January 4 to 5 with major impacts across the region.  See Regional Impacts for details.

 Mild temperatures and heavy rain led to flooding January 12 to 13. The highest storm total was 130 mm (5.1 in.) in southeast New Brunswick. There were evacuations, and road washouts and power outages in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. The January thaw created ice jams and flooding in New England as well. The mild temperatures were followed by a rapid freeze.

Winds and blowing snow on January 23 to 24 created blizzard conditions and school closings in the Maritimes, while New England received freezing rain. On January 30th, a low-pressure system tracking just south of Nova Scotia brought significant snowfall to parts of New Brunswick, causing slippery roads. Sites in eastern New Brunswick reported 4 to 7 hours of blizzard conditions.

February had record breaking warmth; see below. Several systems brought rain and/or snow throughout the month. On February 10 to 12, a low-pressure system brought mixed precipitation to the Maritimes with Baccaro Point, N. S. receiving up to 70 mm (2.8 in.) of rain.

Long description

Map of the Gulf of Maine Region, which comprises the Maritime provinces of New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island, in Canada, and the New England states of Maine, New Hampshire, and the eastern half of Massachusetts, in the United States of America, and the nearby marine areas. The map highlights some of the significant events that occurred in the winter of 2018 (December 2017 to February 2018). The highlighted events are as follows:

  • Frigid temperatures forced New Year’s Eve celebrations to be cancelled in Nova Scotia and froze water pipes across the region.
  • A Nor’easter developed in early January, bringing blizzard conditions to part of the region.
  • A significant cold wave in early January was followed by a mid-month thaw, causing significant ice jams with river flooding.
  • Mild temperatures led to rainfall and a lack of snow during the winter season for parts of the region.

Regional Climate Overview – December 2017 to February 2018

Temperature

Winter Departure from Normal

Map of the Gulf of Maine region showing the mean temperature departure from normal. Long description below.
Long description

Map of the Gulf of Maine region showing the mean temperature departure from normal, averaged over December 2017 to February 2018. The scale to the right shows positive anomalies (above normal) in shades of red, to plus 5 degrees Celsius, negative anomalies (below normal) in shades of blue, to negative 5 degrees Celsius, and near normal (plus 0.5 Celsius to minus 0.5 Celsius) in white.

The map shows that the Maritimes had above-normal temperatures, when averaged over the 3 winter months. Many locations were 1 to 2 degrees Celsius above normal. The New England states had generally near normal temperatures, when averaged over the three months.

Winter temperatures (averaged over December, January, and February) ranged from 1°C (2°F) colder than normal to 2°C (4°F) warmer than normal. December temperatures were normal to 4°C (7°F) below normal. The month started warm but was well below normal during the last week. January temperatures ranged from 2°C (4°F) below normal to 3°C (5°F) above normal. There were significant fluctuations in January, with sites setting both coldest and warmest daily temperature records. February temperatures ranged from 1°C (2°F) to 5°C (9°F) above normal. Boston, MA had its warmest February on record. Three sites in Nova Scotia had their second warmest February on record. Concord, NH and Portland, ME had their record warmest single February day. Point Lepreau, N.B. was 4.5°C (8°F) above normal.

Precipitation

Winter Percent of Normal

Map of the Gulf of Maine region showing the total precipitation as a percentage of normal precipitation. Long description below.
Long description

Map of the Gulf of Maine region showing the total precipitation as a percentage of normal precipitation, accumulated over December 2017 to February 2018. Above normal (110% of normal and above) is shown in shades of green, below normal (90% of normal and less) in shades of brown, and near normal (90% to 110% of normal) in white.

The map shows that New Brunswick and much of Maine was wetter than normal, with 125% to 150% of the normal total precipitation over the 3 months. Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and the rest of New England received near or above the normal total precipitation amount. Most of these areas had up to 125% of the normal amount, but the eastern shore and central parts of Nova Scotia, and western Prince Edward Island, had up to 150% of normal.

Winter precipitation (accumulated from December to February) ranged from 75% to more than 150% of normal. Caribou, ME had its third wettest winter on record. December precipitation ranged from 50% to 150% of normal. Precipitation was generally near to below normal across the Maritimes. In January, most of the region was normal to wetter than normal. Precipitation ranged from 75% of normal to more than 200% of normal in Maine and New Brunswick. The highest amount was reported at Mechanic Settlement, NB, with 296 mm (11.65 in.). February precipitation ranged from 50% of normal to 200% of normal. Oak Point, N.B. received 196 mm (7.7 in.) of precipitation.

Temperature and precipitation normals based on 1981–2010 data.

Sea Surface Temperature

Departure from Normal

Map of the Gulf of Maine Region marine areas showing the sea surface temperature departure from normal. Long description below.
Long description

Map of the Gulf of Maine Region marine areas showing the sea surface temperature departure from normal, averaged over December 2017 to February 2018. Positive anomalies (above normal) are shown in shades of red, to plus 3 degrees Celsius. Negative anomalies (below normal) are shown in shades of blue, to negative 3 degrees Celsius. Anomalies near 0 degrees Celsius (near-normal temperatures) are shown in white.

The map shows that nearly all of the Gulf of Maine region marine areas had above-normal sea surface temperatures.  The exception was close to shore along the New England coastline, especially near Cape Cod, and in the upper-most reaches of the Bay of Fundy. The main text provides more detail.

Winter sea surface temperatures were well above normal over the eastern Gulf of Maine, with anomalies of more than 2°C (4°F),  above normal over the Scotian Shelf and Bay of Fundy with anomalies of more than 1°C (2°F), and weaker positive anomalies in the western Gulf of Maine and along the coastal areas of Maine. In the shallowest regions close to the New Hampshire and Massachusetts coasts temperatures were colder than normal, likely a result of strong atmospheric cooling during the cold periods of December and January.

There were 28 minke whale deaths in 2017, which is considered an “unusual mortality event” causing the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to launch an investigation. By the end of January there had already been additional death reported, that of a right whale. This is an area of research that will continue to be monitored.

Sea surface temperature anomalies based on 1985–2014. Mean SST anomalies from NOAA AVHRR data. Credit: University of Maine School of Marine Sciences and NERACOOS

Regional Impacts – December 2017 to February 2018

Extreme Temperature Swings

There were extreme temperature swings from mid-December through January. Unusually warm temperatures in December were followed by an unusual cold snap in early January. These back and forth temperatures continued, wreaking havoc on infrastructure, transportation, and winter recreation/ retailers, and lawns. Cold outbreaks are not uncommon in North American winters, but this year’s was highly unusual. Warming winter temperatures have caused more precipitation to fall as rain, creating poor snowmobile and ski conditions.

The upper part of a building with thick snow visible on the roof and long icicles hanging off the edge of the roof.
Credit: NOAA

January 4-5 Intense Nor’easter

A Nor’easter deepened explosively off the East Coast January 4 to 5 and brought blizzard conditions, heavy snow, and high winds with hurricane force gusts to the region. It caused cancelled flights and disrupted travel across the region. Downed trees and wires led to widespread power outages.  In Nova Scotia, 280,000 customers lost power. There were snowfall rates up to 7.6 cm/h (3 in./h) and thundersnow in northern Maine, eastern Massachusetts, and southwest Nova Scotia. The highest snowfall total, 58.6 cm (23.07 in.) was reported in Bathurst, N.B.. The intense pressure falls resulted in record or near-record low surface pressures in southwestern Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. Extreme high water levels and pounding surf from the storm caused significant flooding and damage along the New England coast and the Atlantic coast of Nova Scotia. Boston, MA had its highest tide on record.

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Satellite view of January 4 Nor’easter. Credit: NOAA.
Long description

The satellite image in the visible range shows the cloud cover from the January 4 Nor’easter. The cloud covers a large area of the northeastern United States and eastern Canada. The cloud is in the typical comma pattern seen with intense mid-latitude storms. South of the storm centre, over the ocean, there are convective clouds in a pattern resulting from cold drier air being entrained into the storm circulation and moving over open water.

Seasonal Snowfall

December snowfall ranged from less than 25 to more than 200% of normal. Lack of cold temperatures and snowfall by mid-December delayed the opening of many ski hills in New Brunswick. Snowfall was well below normal in much of Nova Scotia and P.E.I. Snowfall was near to above normal in New Hampshire and Maine, but near to below normal in Massachusetts. In January, snowfall ranged from 25 to 175% of normal. By the end of January, Bathurst and Aroostook, New Brunswick reported in excess of 100 cm (39 in.) of snow, well above normal. Snowfall in New England ranged widely from 15 cm (6 in.) below normal to 10 cm (4 in.) above normal. February snowfall ranged from less than 25 to more than 150% of normal. Part of New England had above-normal February snow due to two storms early in the month while a majority of the Maritimes had below-normal snowfall. At the end of February there was no significant snow on the ground south of Fredericton, N. B. Averaged over the three months, winter snowfall ranged from 50% of normal over Nova Scotia and parts of P. E. I. to over 150% of normal over parts of New England and western New Brunswick.

Winter snowfall percent of normal map. Long description below.
Long description

Map of the Gulf of Maine region showing the total snowfall as a percentage of the normal total snowfall, accumulated over the 3 months from December 2017 to February 2018. Areas are coloured in shades of green or brown to indicate above- or below-normal snowfall. White areas on the map indicate near-normal snowfall.

The map shows all of Nova Scotia and much of Prince Edward Island had below-normal snowfall, with much of the area shown ranging from 50% to 75% of normal. Much of New Brunswick is shown in the near-normal range. Northwestern sections of New Brunswick and much of New England had above-normal snowfall, up to 150% of normal.  

Regional Outlook – Spring 2018

Temperature and Precipitation

For March-May, the Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC) and NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center (CPC) temperature outlooks favor above-normal temperatures.

ECCC had no conclusive signal for March to May precipitation for the Maritimes. CPC was forecasting an increased chance of above-normal precipitation for New England.

Maps of the seasonal forecast for temperature. Long description follows.

ECCC temperature map (left) produced on February 28.

CPC temperature map (right) produced on February 15.

Long description

The maps show the probability of above-normal temperatures over the months of March to May.

The map issued by Environment and Climate Change Canada covers the Maritimes and part of Quebec.  It shows that chances of above-normal temperatures are 50% or more (except just less than 50% for Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton). The probabilities increase toward the south reaching 60 to 70% over southern New Brunswick and 70 to 80% over southwestern Nova Scotia.

The map issued by NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center covers the New England states. It shows probabilities of 40 to 50% for above-normal temperatures.

La Niña

Graph of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecast. Long description below.
Early-March Climate Prediction Center (CPC)/International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) Official Probabilistic El Niño Southern Oscillation (EÑSO) Forecasts
Long description

Time series graph of the official probabilistic El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) forecast, issued in early March by the US Climate Prediction Center (CPC) and the International Research Institute (IRI) for Climate and Society.

ENSO state based on NINO3.4 Sea surface temperature (SST) Anomaly

Neutral ENSO: -0.5 °C to 0.5 °C

Vertical bars show the probability, covering 3-month intervals, of each EÑSO condition (La Niña, neutral, and El Niño) with bars in blue, grey, and red, respectively. The 3-month intervals overlap by two months. The time period covers the late winter to early spring months (February to April) through to the late autumn to early winter months (October to December).

Lines of the equivalent colours show the climatological probability of each condition over the 3-month intervals.

The bar graph shows that the La Niña condition is the most probable (at over 60%) for the February to April period. The probabilities of La Niña slowly decrease through to the end of the year.

The neutral condition becomes the most likely condition in spring (March to May) and remains the most probable condition through to the fall.

The probability of the El Niño condition is very low in spring and early summer. It increases slowly through the rest of the year. It has the same probability as the La Niña condition in summer (June to August) and the same probability as the neutral condition in the October to December period.

La Niña conditions were present in the equatorial Pacific Ocean from mid-December through February. According to NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, a transition from La Niña to ENSO-neutral is most likely (55%) during spring.

Spring Flood Potential

Spring flood potential is low across New England and there is no significant concern at this time for flooding in New Brunswick. Three early-March coastal storms have led to generally near to above-normal river flows and soil moisture. Dry conditions carrying over from the summer and fall of 2017 have created an increased capacity for winter melt and spring rain, reducing the potential for flooding. Very heavy rain can cause flooding at any time of the year, even in areas experiencing dry conditions or that have little to no snow on the ground.

The map covers the New England states and shows that the probability of spring flooding is low. A small area to the southwest, outside of the Gulf of Maine region, has a minor flood risk.
Spring Flood Potential Outlook

Gulf of Maine Region Partners

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