NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - It’s tempting to think that the days-long cold spell in New Jersey could be a record-breaker for the frozen Hub City.
Code Blue has been in effect for the city for over a week, with reports of gas mains and water lines bursting across the city from the frigid weather.
But the weather still has a ways to go before topping the teeth-chattering charts. Over the years, New Brunswick has braved much worse and for many days longer.
“We’ve been below freezing since December 27, that’s seven days,” said David Robinson, a state climatologist at Rutgers University. “It looks like it’ll be short-lived and come Monday, all the forecast temperatures show above freezing.”
At most, the streak might last 12 days, before temperatures climb up to the sweltering 40s next week. There’s a chance the temperatures could poke above freezing today, Robinson said.
A seven-day streak is not uncommon, according to Robinson; the last one was in February 2007. But nearly a two-week streak would be rare in New Brunswick.
"Twelve days happened twice before, once it ended on January 20, 1982, and once it ended on February 16, 1899,” Robinson said.
The longest cold streak in New Brunswick was 16 days in 1961, the second longest was 15 days in 1979 and the third longest was 13 days in 1940.
Incidentally, 1899 was one of the worst blizzards to hit the East Coast in centuries; snow fell as far south as the Gulf of Mexico, temperatures stood at minus two degrees in Tallahassee and orange groves were killed off across south Louisiana, according to Robinson.
The storm dumped 20 inches of snow over New Brunswick; this week Hub City residents should expect up to three inches of snow at most.
New Brunswick, like much of the East Coast, was hit by a full-blown “cyclone bomb” in 1899, like the one heading north along the shore.
“It is destined to rapidly intensify as it moves up offshore Thursday,” Robinson said. “The atmospheric pressure in the storm falls very quickly, and if it meets a certain criteria, they call it a bomb.”
With a rapid fall in pressure over such a short time period, the storm “kind of explodes,” according to Robinson.
“This one looks like it is going to be impressive,” Robinson said. “Even if we don’t get a lot of snow, we’ll get a lot of wind, and it is going to help pull down another shot of very cold air.”
The storm could closely hug the Atlantic coast, which would spell bad news for New Jersey and up to a foot of snow near the Jersey Shore.
Should it head out to sea, New Jersey will be spared, Robinson said, but it would slam eastern New England.
Birthplace of weather forecasting?
New Brunswick’s weather keeping records date back to antebellum America, Robinson said.
In 1847, a Hub City resident named P. Vanderbilt Spader began keeping a book of meteorology records, according to Robinson.
Spader, who was born in 1829, lived in a house on the corner of George and Church streets, which was built in 1816. He kept thermometers in an ally on the westside of his house.
“Back then, they had different types of thermometers, that’s why it’s very difficult to carry records that far,” Robinson pointed out.
Spader continued his practice for decades until 1890, when he passed the torch to a man named Charles Myer, who based his operations out of Bayard Street. Spader’s last log is dated May 1, 1890.
“Then there were multiple records being taken around the turn of the center,” Robinson said. “We’ve got Myers taken, and then the Agricultural School, then Cook College. Everything coalesced in about 1910, and since that time it’s been solely by Rutgers College and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, which is all part of the land grant part of Rutgers University.”