N.J.'s top weatherman is ready for the Sup- er, the Big Game

Rutgers University geologist David Robinson is New Jerseys official climatologist and the go-to person for historical and up-to-the-minute data on weather across the state. With New Jersey about to host the Feb. 2 Super Bowl, he has created a web page with tables and charts showing the likelihood of snow, rain, cold or warm temperatures for game time. Bottom line: an 8 percent chance of white stuff. Robinson, shown here in the Rocky Mountains, is among the worlds leading experts on snowfall.
Rutgers University geologist David Robinson is New Jerseys official climatologist and the go-to person for historical and up-to-the-minute data on weather across the state. With New Jersey about to host the Feb. 2 Super Bowl, he has created a web page with tables and charts showing the likelihood of snow, rain, cold or warm temperatures for game time. Bottom line: an 8 percent chance of white stuff. Robinson, shown here in the Rocky Mountains, is among the worlds leading experts on snowfall.
Posted: January 21, 2014

David Robinson doesn't wear a top hat or have a carrot for a nose. The role of New Jersey's chief snowman, after all, commands a certain dignity.

But with rank comes responsibility.

And so, when the New Jersey State Police Office of Emergency Management asked him in August whether the streets of East Rutherford - and its roofless MetLife Stadium - might be heaped in snow or frozen in ice when it hosts the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, Robinson obliged with a calculation.

After all, this would be the first Super Bowl ever in a cold-weather, open stadium.

"It's what I do," he said last week. "It's part of my job."

The job this Rutgers University geology professor speaks of is his unique post as New Jersey's state climatologist, a position he has held for 22 years.

"I'm not a meteorologist," he said. "I don't make weather forecasts." He looks instead at what is, and what has been, the weather across New Jersey's 8,721 square miles.

Based on temperatures and precipitation patterns for Bergen County's Meadowlands dating back decades, he told police it historically snows about 8 percent of the time on Feb. 2.

What's more, he said, the average temperature at kickoff time on Feb. 2 is 34 degrees. On that day over time, game-time temperatures range between 19 and 51 degrees.

For football fans who want to know more, Robinson and his staff at Rutgers have put together a website/dashboard called BigGameWeather.com.

"We couldn't call it SuperBowlWeather, or the NFL would have sued us," he said. "But we figured 'Big Game' got the idea across."

Robinson oversees a network of 56 climate stations from Cape May to the northern Highlands. Every five seconds, each station measures temperature, precipitation, barometric pressure, and other data and transmits the measurements to his office in New Brunswick.

"We've collected more than a billion bits of data in just the past decade," he said.

Robinson also serves as go-to archivist and analyst of the state's weather records reaching back to the late 19th century. As such, "I'm the person that state agriculture, environment, transportation, emergency management - you name it - turn to for data and analysis."

Among the many nuggets in his massive mine of data:

The lowest temperature in the Garden State was recorded in River Vale, Bergen County, on Jan. 5, 1904: 34 degrees below zero.

The record high is 110 degrees in Runyon, Middlesex County, on July 10, 1936.

There are about 100 more days of growing season in coastal South Jersey than in little Walpak, Sussex County, 120 miles north.

"Some of the differences are amazing, even in a state as small as ours," Robinson said. When eight inches of snow fell on Philadelphia's Lincoln Financial Field during the Dec. 8 NFL game between the Eagles and Detroit Lions, "the Meadowlands just got a dusting."

There's a saying: Climate is what people expect, and weather is what they get. Either way, it's a topic the 58-year-old first fell in love with when his fourth-grade teacher asked her pupils to measure snowfall. He's been at it ever since.

"Lucky me," he said. "I get paid for my avocation."

In addition to maintaining copious records (he still has those fourth-grade measurements on file) and answering climate questions, Robinson teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in geology, geography, and climate at Rutgers' New Brunswick campus.

He also has won a reputation as one of the world's leading experts on snowfall: how snow affects climate, and climate affects snow. He travels the world to study and report on the white stuff, which, in recent decades, is melting sooner each year, as is sea ice.

"I don't know when the last time was I was bored," said Robinson, who figures he puts in 60 to 70 hours a week at his various climatological jobs. He also serves on the state's drought advisory task force and the hazard mitigation team.

Somehow, however, he finds time on Sunday afternoons for a second love: NFL football. A longtime resident of Hillsborough, Somerset County, he lives "just north of the Eagles-Giants border." Geography, he says, made him a Giants fan.

And so, after the state police asked him about the likelihood of ugly weather paralyzing East Rutherford and its approaches on game day, Robinson got the idea to go public with the BigGameWeather Web page.

"We never did anything like this before," he said. "But we figured once word got around that we'd done this analysis, we'd be besieged with questions.

"We also see this as a way to promote our real-time weather data and do a service to the university, letting people see what we do - and have fun doing it."

In addition to posting climate data for the cities hosting NFL playoff games, the Rutgers website presents historical data for the seven days surrounding Feb. 2.

Since 1931, at least a tenth of an inch of snow has fallen on about 15 percent of those days. The likelihood of one inch or more dips to 6 percent, and only about 1 percent of the days have had more than 6 inches.

The record snowfall for Feb. 2 in the Meadowlands is 3.4 inches.

Meanwhile, the National Weather Service and AccuWeather predict below-normal temperatures and above-normal precipitation for the week around the Super Bowl. They will offer more precise forecasts closer to game day.

After Feb. 2, however, all the day's weather quirks will be historical data for Robinson's archive.

Afterward, BigGameWeather.com will likely disappear faster than a snowman in the Sahara. But with his Rutgers office just 30 miles from the Meadowlands, he said, the website seemed a natural.

"It's the first cold-weather city to hold the Super Bowl out of doors," he said. "It would have been almost criminal not to do something."


BY THE NUMBERS

Historical weather averages and extremes for Newark, N.J., for Feb. 2, the date of this year's

Super Bowl.

34

Average temperature at the early-evening kickoff time.

61

Highest kickoff temperature, in 1973.

13

Lowest kickoff temperature, in 1976.

57%

Chance that the temperature will dip below freezing for at least a portion of the game.

25%

Chance of rain or snow falling during the game.

3.4 inches

Highest snowfall recorded, in 1961.


doreilly@phillynews.com

856-779-3841

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