How historic was this 'historic' arctic outbreak?

Author: Blake Mathews, Weather producer, meteorologist, bmathews@wjxt.com
Published On: Jan 09 2014 08:10:30 AM EST   Updated On: Jan 09 2014 08:54:03 AM EST
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -

The polar vortex that threatened to end life as we know it has retreated allowing temperatures to warm considerably across the country. So just how historic was this much anticipated cold snap? Answer: depends on where you live.

Here in Jacksonville, only one record was set. That was the record low high of 39 degrees on Tuesday. That broke the old record of 45 in 1970. 

The coldest minimum temperature observed at Jacksonville International Airport, the official recording site for the city, dropped down to 22 degrees missing that record by 1 degree. 

Locally, this was hardly historic. In fact, the two of the last three years, Jacksonville has met or exceeded the 22 degrees observed on Tuesday morning (21°F in February 2012 and 22°F in January 2011). 

The Mayor of Toronto is more memorable than this cold snap for Jacksonville. 

Not so fast though! Three hundred miles up the road, temperatures in Atlanta did drop to historical levels. Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport dropped to 6 °F which is their coldest temperature since February 1996. Macon, Georgia set a low record that stood for more than 90 years! They dropped to 11°F which broke the old record of 14°F in 1924. 

According to The Weather Channel and the National Climate Data Center, not a single new all-time or monthly record low was set anywhere in the country. However, many areas did have their coldest temps since the 1990's including Madison, WI with a high of -9°F. Chicago broke their record from 1884 on Tuesday morning with a low of -16°F.

I mean, look what the cold spell did to Lake Erie! On January 4th, the lake was nearly ice free. As of January 8th the lake is nearly totally frozen over!

Clearly it was cold across the nation. So cold they had to cancel 14 global warming conventions in Vegas! I joke. 

At the end of the day, it's January in the United States. Certainly the temperatures were below average but few will be marked as memorable. By next year, few people will little note nor long remember what took place this past week. 

So why did our historic freeze thaw into just a cold snap? The answer is simple: clouds and wind. The cold air was clearly there. I mean Atlanta was at 6 degrees. So the wind wasn't as inhibiting because it was literally driving the cold air into our area (known as cold air advection). There wasn't much mixing of the atmosphere with air like that. But clouds act as a blanket and blew up our truly historical forecast by stifling the free fall in the mercury. 

So now you're thinking that we're guilty of hyper media sensationalism, right? Well, not quite. The difference between the coldest temperatures in Jacksonville since 1985 (29 years) versus no record at all is only four degrees. We needed 21°F to tie the record. We needed 19°F to be the coldest in a decade and 18°F to be the coldest since '85.  Had it not been for the clouds, we would truly would have been in record territory.