Winter of 2009-2010 could be worst in 25 years

Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 9:45am

UNDATED - Nearly the entire eastern half of the United States is enduring bitterly cold temperatures not experienced since 1985. Even Florida, which has been hovering around freezing levels overnight recently, is also feeling the almost-nationwide chill.

"It'll be like the great winters of the '60s and '70s," said AccuWeather.com Chief Meteorologist and Expert Long Range Forecaster Joe Bastardi.

The last time a large swath of severely low temperatures struck the nation was in January 1985. That historic arctic outbreak had below-zero temperatures Fahrenheit stretching from Chicago eastward to New York City, and all the way south to Macon, Ga.

While Bastardi says the upcoming days will bring cold not seen since 1985 or 1982, he believes this winter is shaping up much that of like 1977-78. That winter, nearly all of the United States east of the Rockies had a cold October followed by a warm November, with the cold returning in December.

What is most interesting in this case is what followed, where the months from January through March can all be classified as very cold, relative to normal.

"If it stays this cold for this long, will the groundhog even want to come out on Feb. 2?" wonders Senior Vice President and Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams.

This winter has already been rough for many areas of the country, with several blizzards dumping high accumulations of snow upon the Plains, mid-Atlantic and New England.

The cold air currently streaming across the Upper Midwest into the East and South will only compound the winter problems of the nation, especially since these depths have not been experienced across such a wide area simultaneously in decades.

Orr, Minn., had the coldest temperature in the United States on Monday, hitting 40 degrees below zero. Other places recorded new record low maximums, such as Bluefield, W.Va., where the temperature never exceeded 17 degrees.

Over the past 20-plus years, when below-normal cold periods have arrived in the winter they tend to have been limited to one region, according to Bastardi.

Temperatures have not been this low since the winter of 2002-03, which is known as the benchmark for frigid conditions in the last decade. However, that year the cold was not as widespread as what is happening now.

With the entire eastern half of the country in the throes of this arctic snap, this is shaping up to be the coldest winter in many people's memories.