Jesse Ferrell

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Cold Records in Cuba, Bahamas, Central Amer.

January 12, 2010; 8:00 AM

UPDATE 1/15: The NWS in Key West has issued a final report about the records broken there. See also my final blog entry regarding the final tally of cold records set by this storm.

UPDATE 1/14: Blog reader Don did a paper on Cuba snow and says it was probably 1857, not 1852. His paper is here [PDF].

UPDATE 1/13: David Bernard, Chief Meteorologist CBS4 Miami emailed me - he got ahold of the Bahamians on the telephone (now that's dedication!) and they say that their website is in fact incorrect; they said that Freeport was 39 in 1977 and West End of Grand Bahama had a reading of 35. As such yesterday's 41 did not break the record. Thanks David!

Also what a treat, there are a couple of excellent first-hand account of the Bahamas snow in 1977 and Key West record low in 1981 by my old friend Thomas Giella on my Facebook page:

"Hey Jesse I read your latest blog and have some information that you may find interesting. My first wife was born and raised in Key West. Her father was a retired Aeorgraphers Mate in the U.S. Coast Guardsmen. Their house sat on the largest private lot in the center of the island. On January 20, 1981 when Key West tied it's record low of 41 deg. ... See Morethe temperature fell to 31 deg at her dad's house and there was a thin sheet of ice on the bird bath. The location of the weather instruments at Key West AP stand/stood only 30 feet away from the Florida Strait and it's year round 80+ degree temperature.

Also on January 18-19, 1977 I was in the U.S. Coast Gaurd as an Aerographers Mate. I was on an oceanographic vessel called the Evergreen. Were were probing the tongue of the ocean which lies in the middle of the Bahama Islands. I witnessed the air temperature fall to 34 deg with snow showers and wind gusts to 40 mph from the NW. It was the coldest I ever felt while underway.

At my location in Lakeland, FL which lies in the center of the central peninsula I had a minimum temperature of 30 deg this (Wednesday) morning. I have now had subfreezing minimum temperatures in 9 out of the last 10 days. This is a new record that surpasses the December 1989 and January 1977 mega freezes."

UPDATE: Some updates to the Cuba situation have been added below, along with these tidbits thanks to an email from Alexandre at the Metsul Blog: Mexico's NWS is calling this the "coldest winter in 124 years." In Honduras, one person died from hypothermia Parts of El Salvador are under "yellow alert" due to a cold front with high winds and temperatures between 4 and 8C.

ORIGINAL BLOG POST:

So yesterday morning Key West, Florida got down to 42 degrees. In the over 50,000 days of historical records there since 1873, there had only been two mornings equal to or colder than yesterday morning. 30's were observed in the Keys and the freezing mark made it down to the southernmost part of Florida. I have annotated the AccuWeather.com graphic below with arrows pointing to the cities quoted (for those of you who don't know airport codes).

UPDATE: OVER 1,900 LOW TEMP RECORDS AFFECTED IN U.S.

That made me think: what about the Bahamas, Cuba, and northeast Mexico - how close did they get to their records? The Bahamas Weather Service website says "The lowest recorded temperature was 41.4°F on January 20th, 1981." (1981 was also the last time that Key West set their record of 41). But yesterday morning Freeport fell to 41 degrees according to AccuWeather's climate database (available on our Pro Site -- the official station has not been transmitting observations very often so we'd need confirmation on that reading from the weather service in the Bahamas, I have sent them an email). If that's true, then they tied or broke their all-time record low for the country (data has been kept there since 1970). There are some related human interest stories at The Tribune and I have some emails out for further comment on the cold there.

Did it snow in the Bahamas yesterday? You may have noticed the persistent bands of clouds and precipitation on satellite and radar yesterday especially east of Miami (shown above). The clouds in general were formed by the extremely cold water pouring out onto the warm ocean (something that was caught on camera last year in North Carolina - yes I looked at the Gulf Buoy cam (link) hoping to see something interesting but it was too far away). Additional convergence of winds kept the band east of Miami going all night and day yesterday.

VISIBLE SAT ANIMATION | ENHANCED IR SOUTHEAST LOOP

These types of clouds (essentially causing "ocean-effect" precipitation, formed in the same way as lake-effect clouds) are not unusual on the mid-Atlantic coast but are rarely seen this far south. The band of precipitation never got close enough to Florida for us to see any observations of what was falling from it, and as noted the observations from Freeport were few and far between. But since our Snow/Ice/Rain radar chose to call it rain even during the night when the 41 was achieved at Freeport, I think it unlikely that any of it was snow. That occurrence is not unprecedented; again if we look to the Bahamas website they say "on January 19th, 1977... parts of the northern Bahamas experienced a brief flurry of light snow."

Now... the cold air didn't stop at Key West, it flowed on south into the Caribbean. Here is a map showing the lowest temperatures this month:

I figured the next stop was Cuba. The farthest north coastal station is Havana. Records for Cuba are harder to find but this website says that the all-time record low at Havana City was "6.0 (0 at Rancho Boyero)". That's in Celsius so that means 42.8 F. (I'll ignore the 0C/32F since it was at a different station location which was probably higher in elevation). Havana fell to 39 degrees F (4 C) this morning according to official observations (yesterday morning they had too much of an on-shore flow warming the area), so it would appear that all-time record low for that city was also broken. Here is a reprint of additional information translated from the MetSul Blog:

"In Ciego de Avila, with 5.2 º C, recorded the lowest minimum in January to date since the beginning of observations, beating the record of 6.0 C in 1997. The same happened in Falla with 5.4 º C, well below the lowest minimum in January so far of 6.3 º C in 1981. In Caibarie, the minimum was absolute record for the entire series of the season with 10.7 º C, below the previous mark of 10.8 C in 1996. This weekend, a new front in the Arctic comes to Cuba and not only extend the freeze to strengthen it. The record cold for Cuba date of February 18, 1996 with the record of 0.6 ° C at station Bainoa, province of La Habana."

Some more from Alexandres at Metsul: This article (en Espanol) says that local meteorologists have been having to explain that it will not snow in Cuba, despite the cold temperatures, but says that it was colder in 1970 and 1996 (Google Toolbar is a great way to automatically translate web pages if you have it). Alexandre also says "according to a bulletin released by the Cuban Weather Service today (link | translation), the low temperature at the Jose Marti Airport was 3.7C (38.7F) at 3:39 AM., even lower than the 4C indicated in the METAR ob. Today, there was a news piece in the Cuban media quoting a weather research that revealed it snow in the higher parts of Cuba in January 1852." (see update at top)

Then this morning I got an email from blog reader Luis who said: "Here, in Guatemala, I think we are not setting new low records, but it's really cold... There is in our country the tallest volcano in Central America, the Tajumulco, and it's the first time in my 50 years old that I have seen it snowed at the top." Wikipedia confirms this in December 2009. Looking at the only city that I have climate records for in the country on our Pro site, the Guatemala Airport, the coldest temperature since then was 46 F yesterday morning, which is confirmed with the NOAA obs. According to this website the coldest temperature ever recorded at the airport is 7C or 44.6 F; that city's all-time record may be safe (pending today's data), but it was close. As far as the entire country of Guatemala, Chris Burt, Author of "Extreme Weather" says that it has been as cold as 12 degrees in the mountains at Labor Ovalle but we have no way of knowing how cold it was there during this cold outbreak.

I also looked at Cancun, Mexico but it only got down to 55 F there this week (13 C), which is a far cry from the record of 7.2 C. Nearby Merida was 12C vs. 5C. The map above says Chetumal made it down to 50 F but I can't find records for that city.

So to summarize, this is what I would have appeared to uncover (assuming no errors, and pursuant to the records being made official from the respective governments and assuming this website is correct with it's records):

- The Bahamas broke their all-time country record low temperature see note at top

- Havana Cuba broke their all-time city record low temperature

- Guatemala City came within 1.4 degrees of breaking their all-time city record low temperature

Comments (2):

Frank Tickle:

For the last 2 weeks I have also be watching area's south of Florida. George Town in the Cayman islands went down to 62 as well as a low of 66 in Kingston Jamaica. This cold wave is very impressive to be reaching this far south. I have been looking for data on The Bahamas, Cuba, Hati and in Mexico. I think Jesse did a good job making contacts with each countries weather reporting agency's. Keep up the good work.

Posted by Frank Tickle | January 12, 2010 9:16 PM

Paul in FL:

The extreme cold is in areas such as SE Florida, Cuba, the Bahamas, and Central America, but not in New Orleans and the Yucatan. This follows the general NW to SE pattern of maximum cold in the U.S. running from Iowa to Florida. Average temperatures in SE Florida are not quite as below average on an absolute basis as parts of Iowa and Missouri but they are certainly the lowest on a standard deviation basis. Ten out of the first 12 days in January had average daily temperatures lower than what you find on only a few days in a normal winter.

Posted by Paul in FL | January 12, 2010 9:05 PM

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of AccuWeather, Inc. or AccuWeather.com

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Jesse Ferrell
Jesse Ferrell's WeatherMatrix blog covers extreme weather worldwide with a concentration on weather photos and Social Media.