Winter: It’s a Gas

One added benefit of warmer weather in March is better gas mileage in our cars.  Cold weather causes a significant drop in fuel efficiency, especially in very cold winter climates like ours.  There are several reasons for this.  Colder motor oil and other fluids cause greater friction in the engine.  Cold weather causes tire pressure to drop, increasing friction.  Winter grades of gasoline have a little less energy than summer grades.  Outside the vehicle, the denser cold air adds additional drag force.  Finally, slick roads cause the wheels to slip and that is wasted energy.  All of these things add up to a ten to thirty per cent reduction in fuel economy during winter.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

February Review

February has been the wintriest of the winter months this year.  The average temperature for the month was about seven degrees which is about six degrees below the long term average for February.  The coldest temperature was nineteen below on February 19th and again on the 22nd.  There were just two days thawing temperatures during the month.  It was 34 on the 6th and 36 on the 7th.   For comparison, the average January temperature of 16.0 is 6.7 degrees above average.  The average December temperature was 21.1 degrees is 7.0 degrees above average.  Snow amounted to 8.1 inches, which is near the average for the month, making February by far the snowiest month of the winter so far.  Total winter snowfall in Fargo Moorhead is still just 15.6 inches.    Meteorologist John Wheeler


Boston Snow Scale

It still is amazing to think of just how much snow fell on the greater Boston area from late January through today.  Almost eight feet of snow (94 inches) has fallen on downtown Boston since January 24.  But we often refer casually to all that snow “in the East” without really thinking about how large the affected area is.  Not to take anything away from what Bostonians have endured, but we need to realize that not the entire Northeastern U.S. is buried in snow.  All of New England together (71,992 square miles) would almost fit into North Dakota (70,762 square miles).  Massachusetts would fit into the Red River Valley.  And it is primarily eastern Massachusetts, eastern Connecticut, northern Rhode Island, southern Vermont, southern New Hampshire, and much of Maine that is unusually snowy.  This is an area about the same as the WDAY-TV viewing area, which was similarly buried in snow the winter of 1996-97.  Meteorologist John Wheeler

Sign of Spring

Although the weather is still cold, on almost any sunny day there is meltwater visible on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots.  The days are getting longer but, more to the point, the sun is getting higher in the sky.  The more direct sunlight is able to pass through the atmosphere and heat the ground.  Bright, white snow reflects a lot of the sunlight, but darker surfaces like roads and roofs absorb some of the rays and warm up.  Even on a cold late-winter day, with temperatures barely above zero, there will be melting. Look closely and you will see steam rising off some of these dark surfaces, too.  Steam forms in the cooler air over a pan of boiling water and this is a similar process.  Runners and walkers will notice that streets and sidewalks are not so icy this time of year during the daytime, although the occasional splat of slush can be a cold slap on a bitter day

Get the Whole Story, Please

There is an old saying, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”  Some sources attribute the quote to the poet, Robert Frost.  Others claim it is much older and is possibly translated from any of a number of Asian languages.  Either way, it is a good quote which has lessons for those unwise in the ways of weather.  Today’s “Information Now!” society demands that weather be presented in simplistic form, preferably with a single picture depicting the weather of the day and a single temperature from which the user can determine expected comfort.  Too often, weather is not that simple.  Now, particularly, as winter evolves into the Purgatory that is late winter/early spring, we should expect many days in which the weather changes during the day. Public demands create the dumbed down picture of today’s weather.  But the weather-wise consumer will always dig deeper and get the whole forecast.


Meteorologist John Wheeler

Boston’s Worst vs Ours

The ridiculous snowfall in the area around Boston (seven and a half feet in 23 days) brings to mind our own winter from heck in 1996-97.  Fargo Moorhead received 117 inches of snow that winter (almost ten feet mid-November through mid-April).  Although our snow back in the Winter of ’97 did not come all at once like it has lately in Boston, it was a relentless winter.  In addition to the eight blizzards, our area was under a constant barrage of near-blizzard blowing snow days.  And much of the winter was very cold.  We endured subzero temperatures on 67 calendar days, 38 of those at least ten below.  Boston has been below zero twice this winter, with a coldest of three below this past Monday.  This is not to diminish what our Massachusetts friends are going through.  The point is that anytime a certain location goes through a winter with extraordinary statistics, the results can be extraordinarily difficult to deal with.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

The Boston Avalanche

Through Monday, the official snow total for Boston stood at 90.5 inches since January 24.  That’s seven and a half feet of snow in 23 days.  It works out to about four inches a day or a foot every three days.  A quick examination of the Fargo Moorhead snow records reveal a maximum 23 day total of 43.3 inches from December 20, 1988 through January 11, 1989.   Boston averages about 44 inches a winter compared to our 50 inches.  However, Boston is on the Atlantic Ocean and so has a readily available moisture source.  But that same ocean also supplies milder air, often turning Boston’s snow into rain.  The perfect snow setup in Boston lately is a storm track stuck in the same place and a colder than average temperature pattern.   Fargo Moorhead has plenty of cold air and gets very little wintertime rain, but the moisture source is much further away, so such a thing here would be less likely to happen.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Wind Chill Varagies

The Wind Chill Index is a useful method for quantifying the additional cooling effect of wind in cold weather.  It helps people make decisions about outside activities.  But it is not absolutely accurate at all.  First of all, the Wind Chill does not measure the Wind chill where you are.  Local gusts and turbulence in the wind field make big differences.  The Wind Chill is calculated from measurements made at the sensor at the airport, not where you are. Plus, there are other important factors that affect how we react to the cold.  A Wind Chill of 20 below is a lot less dangerous in the sunshine and a lot more dangerous at night.  Also, each of us reacts to cold, wind, and Wind Chill differently.  You know that person in your family who is always cold? That’s real.  Human physiology varies from person to person.  There is one absolute, however.  With all of us, when the temperature of a patch of skin reaches 32 degrees, it is frostbitten.  So be sure to take Wind Chill Advisories and Warnings seriously and be smart and safe in cold weather.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

Peak Snow Likely Still to Come

Typically the peak snow cover in our winter season happens late in the winter.  Places with climates less cold, in which snow typically comes and goes through the winter, may experience maximum snow depth at any time, depending on when the biggest snowfall happens. But in our region, snow tends to build up through the winter.  The deepest snow is usually in February or March.  Last winter, snow depth peaked at 13 inches twice, January 25-28 and February 17-18.  In 2013, peak depth was 20 inches from March 18-10.  In 2012, there was very little snow most of the winter like this year, but it peaked at nine inches March 3-5.  In 2011, peak snow cover was 16 inches February 9.  Back in 2010, peak snow depth was 20 inches February 8-19. And in 2009, peak depth was 16 inches January 4 and again on March 11.  Fargo Moorhead’s record snow depth was 32 inches on March 4, 1997.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

North Dakota is for Lovers

One cold winter night many years ago, I was at a party with friends when it was suggested that the old tourism slogan from the State of Virginia, “Virginia is for Lovers,” would apply very well to North Dakota or Minnesota.  The idea is that when it is very cold outside, it might be a good thing to just stay inside.  Therefore, North Dakota (or Minnesota) is for Lovers.  As a tourism slogan, this might not necessarily work too well. Though it is true that some people prefer our winter weather to anything hot and humid, to use our region’s Wind Chill Factor in order to increase tourism is a plan doomed to fail.  But it is, after all, Valentine’s Day.  So if you haven’t already made a Valentine’s Day reservation, consider that North Dakota (or Minnesota) is for lovers and just stay home tonight.    Meteorologist John Wheeler