September 19, 2013

Ithaca Sees ‘Atypical’ Temperatures, Professors Say

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Erratic weather may seem like nothing new to upstate New York, but the extreme fluctuations in weather the city was hit by this month were unusual for even Ithaca, according to Cornell meteorologists.

Last week, the temperature Monday morning was 40 degrees before reaching 72 degrees by the early afternoon. There was also a 30-degree variation in temperatures between Tuesday and Wednesday.

Such large fluctuations in temperature are unusual, even for Ithaca, according to Prof. Stephen Colucci, earth and atmospheric sciences. Usually, daytime and nighttime temperatures normally only vary by 20 degrees, according to Colucci.

“Strong weather systems can circulate very warm air northward towards us, followed just a few days later by very cold air moving southward towards us,” Colucci said in an email. “This happened last week. However, such weather systems are more typical of the winter season here in Ithaca.”

Echoing Colucci, Zach Zambreski ’14, co-president of the Cornell Meteorology Club, said last week’s weather was atypical.

“Last week’s high temperatures were definitely above the climatological normals, [which is the] 30-year average for this day for this time of year,” Zambreski said. The temperatures on Sept. 11 and 12 were 15 and 18 degrees above the normal climatological maximum temperatures for each day respectively, Zambreski said.

Still, the temperatures were not record-breaking, he said.

“The daily temperature ranges of [Sept.] 11 and 12 were at the high end of the distribution of temperatures for those particular days but did not exceed the record high temperatures,” Zambreski said in an email.

Roop Singh ’14, co-president of the Cornell Meteorology Club, agreed with Zambreski, saying such fluctuations in temperature are not a cause for concern.

“September is a transition month for Ithaca from summer to fall, and warm air masses in the south and cold air masses from the north frequently replace each other, leading to large temperature fluctuations,” he said.

He added that people may perceive temperature fluctuations to be larger because “people tend to have a short-term memory when it comes to weather.”

Ithaca is not alone in experiencing abnormal weather. With a cold spring in the Northern Hemisphere and heat waves traveling through Britain, China and the Southwest of the United States, this year has been marked by extreme weather events, according to The New York Times.

Colucci said many scientists associate climate change with increases in extreme weather. However, he said he does not see a link between climate change and the unusual patterns seen in Ithaca.

“It is impossible to blame a particular weather event like the temperature fluctuations last week in Ithaca on climate change, although climate change might make these events more likely in the future,” he said.