ALBANY — While extreme weather battered parts of the United States in 2021, the Capital Region dodged any blockbuster events.
While other areas broiled in record heat, suffered massive wildfires or were inundated with record floods, the Albany area had to contend with rain and humidity.
Temperatures here were close to the average so far this century, and while there was some severe localized flooding, the region was spared any widespread effects of severe weather.
“From a long-scale perspective I would describe it as warm, wet and less snow than normal,” said Nick Bassill, director of research and development at the University at Albany’s Center of Excellence in Weather & Climate Analytics.
The Albany office of the National Weather Service records data at Albany International Airport. With 364 days’ worth of data in the book as of Friday morning, here’s how 2021 stacked up against the past two decades:
- The mean daily temperature was 48.9 in 2021, compared with an annual mean of 49.3.
- Rainfall totaled 45.21 inches, compared with an annual mean of 42.06.
- Just 31.2 inches of snow fell in calendar year 2021, compared with an annual July-to-June mean of 59.0 inches.
Eight months of 2021 had below-normal rainfall, but three months — July, September and October — saw much more rain than average.
The temperature trends seen in recent years, cooler springtimes and warmer autumns, are driven in part by warmer Atlantic Ocean water off the Northeast coast, Bassill said.
Weather systems typically approach the Capital Region from inland, not from the sea, but the ocean is big enough and close enough that it has some influence, he said, and the results can include lesser seasonal snowfall totals.
“It doesn’t mean it’s always going to be like that,” Bassill said.
2021 was short on extreme temperatures, with only four days hitting 90 degrees or warmer and 11 days seeing single-digit or subzero temperatures.
The lowest and highest were minus-7 on Jan. 31 and 92 on June 29.
How warm or cold a given day felt is another matter, Bassill said. The temperature data don’t indicate wind, which makes cold air feel colder, or humidity, which makes hot air even more uncomfortable.
“[People] don’t necessarily care what the raw temperature was, they care how it affected them,” he noted.
Severe weather events — those that make a day stand out from the other 364 days of the year — were few and far between, and generally were the cumulative result of several other weather events. They also were limited to specific geographic areas.
Severe floods that caused extensive damage in Rensselaer County and a single thunderstorm that inundated Fonda both followed multiple rainstorms in what would become the rainiest month of 2021: July, when 8.96 inches of rain fell in Albany.
“2021 actually is very devoid of” severe weather events, Bassill said. “I talked to a few meteorologists — they couldn’t think of big events for this area. Lots of interesting events but not extremes.”
Hurricanes and their remnants are an example. The Capital Region will usually see only one or two tropical systems pass through each year, Bassill said. The rest are shunted off to New England or the ocean by high-altitude low-pressure systems over Canada. This year, there were four.
“From a meteorological perspective, it was notable that we had so many of them produce rainfall,” Bassill said.
Remnants of four hurricanes — Elsa, Fred, Henri and Ida — dropped rain on the Capital Region in 2021, but not enough to cause a crisis here. Ida blindsided the East Coast with the intensity of its rain, drowning more than 40 people in New York and New Jersey, some in their cars and homes. But it dropped only 1.42 inches in Albany.
Another notable event in 2021 was more atmospheric than meteorological: Smoke from western wildfires caused hazy days and memorable sunsets in mid-summer.
“We don’t often get smoke that dense and that persistent and that close to the ground,” Bassill said.
The dearth of extreme weather events in the Capital Region in 2021 followed a derecho wind storm that raced across the state Oct. 7, 2020, and a monster snowstorm that left 23 inches of snow in Albany overnight Dec. 16-17, 2020.
“2021 for our area here in the Capital Region was not filled with blockbuster events,” Bassill said.
The National Weather Service maintains a database of meteorological data that reaches back to the 1870s, though snowfall records are incomplete in many years before 1938. Albany nearly set a few records in 2021. Here are some notable numbers:
- 2nd wettest July since 1876
- 3rd coolest July since 1876
- 5th warmest October since 1876
- 5th warmest December since 1876
- 6th wettest October since 1876
- 14th wettest of the last 146 years
- 49th warmest of the last 146 years
- 73rd snowiest of the last 82 years
January-to-December 2021 snowfall is not an exact comparison to the previous 81 years — the Weather Service tallies annual snowfall from July to June.