Cold December

It will not surprise anyone to learn that temperatures have been running well below average for the past four weeks. Our average temperature this month has only been around 5 degrees, which is nearly 8 degrees below normal.

I have been asked a couple times in the past week when was the last December with such persistently cold temperatures. The answer was back in December, 2000, when we experienced the second coldest December on record. December, 2000, recorded an average temperature of -0.3 degrees, one of only three Decembers since 1881 to have an average temperature below zero. That cold December of 2000 had below zero temperatures recorded on 27 of the 31 days that month, including a stretch of 20 straight. We missed the coldest December on record that year by just 0.2 degrees.

December, 1886 had an average temperature of -0.5 degrees for the coldest on record.

Snowless Christmas

Around 90% of our Christmas days are white in Fargo Moorhead. Technically one inch or more of snow must be on the ground to for it to be called a white Christmas.

Although, most Christmas days have snow on the ground, it is relatively rare for snow to fall on Christmas. It might surprise you to learn that the heaviest snowfall on record for Christmas is only 3.6 inches and that occurred back in 1912. You would have to go back to 1972 to find a Christmas where over one inch fell. Just a year ago, we did have a little Christmas snow in the air when 0.2 inches fell, but dustings have been about all we have been able to get in the past few decades.

The deepest snow pack on Christmas day was 17 inches, both in 1996 and 1909. Numerous Christmas days have had no snow cover, most recently in 2006 and in 1999.

Negative Highs

Fargo Moorhead averages ten days a winter with a high temperature below zero. That includes the two days per winter we average with a high temperature of -10 degrees or colder.

So far we have experienced three such days, with nearly three months left with such potential. Historically, January and February are the months we record the most sub-zero highs. But an early start does not necessarily mean the rest of the winter will follow. Back in December 2000, we had six sub-zero high temperatures, but the rest of the winter brought only three more, so it turned out to be a very average winter for such occurrences. The earliest sub-zero high temperature was recorded on November 19, 1896 and the latest occurrence was on March 23, 1974.

Since 1881 we have recorded only eight winters without a sub-zero high with the latest occurring during the winter of 2001-2002

 

Snowy December

Over the weekend Fargo Moorhead picked up an additional 4.7 inches of snow. Plus, it appears we will be shoveling again tomorrow. If the additional snow received tomorrow is the amount forecasted, December 2008 may end up ranking as the second snowiest on record with one more week to go.

The abundant snowfall this month has brought talk of a repeat of the winter of 1996-97. As a reminder, by Christmas 1996, nearly 50 inches of snow had already fallen on Fargo Moorhead, this year, we have had less than half that. As recently as last year we had similar amounts of snow in December (just a couple of inches less) and then we received very little snowfall for most of January and February.

Each year is unique and this snowy pattern may continue, but the rest of the winter would have to break several monthly records in a row for us to repeat the winter of 1996-97.

Solstice

The Winter Solstice will occur at 6:04 AM Sunday. The term solstice is derived from the Latin word solstitium, where sol, means sun and stitium means stationary or stoppage. Around both the Summer and Winter Solstice the Sun tends to rise and set in the same spot for a few days, giving rise to the concept of a stationary Sun. Plus, after the solstices the days either start becoming longer or shorter giving rise to the stoppage of seasonal daylight changes. The Sun’s direct rays will be positioned over the Tropic of Capricorn Sunday, which is approximately 23.5 degrees south of the equator.

With Fargo Moorhead located at nearly 47 degrees north latitude, the sun at solar noon Sunday will only be about 19.5 degrees above the southern horizon. This low sun angle causes the energy of the Sun to be spread over a much larger area than in the summer, attributing to the colder temperatures of winter.

Las Vegas Snow

From the NWS office in Las Vegas…

 

…LAS VEGAS HITS THE JACKPOT FOR SNOW IN DECEMBER…

AN ALL-TIME RECORD SNOW FOR THE MONTH OF DECEMBER IN LAS VEGAS WAS
SET YESTERDAY DECEMBER 17TH 2008. 3.6 INCHES OF SNOW WAS MEASURED
AT THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE OFFICE LOCATED ABOUT 2 MILES
SOUTHWEST OF MCCARRAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT. THIS BROKE THE RECORD
FOR THE MOST SNOW EVER IN THE MONTH OF DECEMBER IN LAS VEGAS SINCE
THE START OF OFFICIAL RECORDS IN 1937 WHICH WAS 2.0 INCHES ON
DECEMBER 15TH 1967. THIS IS NOW THE 8TH GREATEST SNOWSTORM EVER IN
OFFICIAL LAS VEGAS WEATHER RECORDS FOR ANY MONTH. THE 3.6 INCHES OF
SNOW MEASURED YESTERDAY ALSO SET A NEW DAILY RECORD FOR SNOW FOR
DECEMBER 17TH BREAKING THE OLD RECORD OF A TRACE SET IN 1992.

MEASURABLE SNOW HAS ONLY FALLEN ON 5 INSTANCES SINCE 1937 IN THE
MONTH OF DECEMBER IN LAS VEGAS COUNTING YESTERDAY…2.0 INCHES OF
SNOW WAS MEASURED ON DECEMBER 15TH 1967…0.4 INCHES OF SNOW FELL ON
DECEMBER 5TH 1972…1.0 INCH OF SNOW WAS RECORDED ON DECEMBER 6TH
1998 AND MORE RECENTLY 1.3 INCHES OF SNOW WAS RECORDED ON DECEMBER
30TH 2003. THUS THE 3.6 INCHES OF SNOW THAT FELL YESTERDAY IS THE
MOST SNOW TO EVER FALL ON A CALENDER DAY IN DECEMBER IN LAS VEGAS.

THE 3.6 INCHES OF SNOW THAT FELL AT LAS VEGAS YESTERDAY WAS THE MOST
SNOW TO FALL IN LAS VEGAS FROM A SINGLE STORM SINCE 7.8 INCHES OF
SNOW FROM JANUARY 30TH THROUGH FEBRUARY 2ND IN 1979.

DECEMBER 2008 WILL NOW RANK AS THE 6TH SNOWIEST MONTH EVER IN LAS
VEGAS SINCE 1937. THE SNOWIEST MONTH EVER WAS WAY BACK IN JANUARY
1949 WHEN 16.7 INCHES FELL. THE LAST TIME THIS MUCH SNOW FELL IN ANY
MONTH IN LAS VEGAS WAS IN JANUARY 1979 WHEN 9.9 INCHES FELL.

SNOWFALL RECORDS IN LAS VEGAS WERE RECORDED AT MCCARRAN
INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT THROUGH JANUARY 31ST 1996 AND SINCE FEBRUARY
1ST 1996 HAVE BEEN KEPT AT THE NWS OFFICE ON DEAN MARTIN ROAD.

IN ADDITION…A DAILY LIQUID PRECIPITATION RECORD WAS SET AT
MCCARRAN INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT YESTERDAY WITH 0.73 INCHES OF
PRECIPITATION RECORDED. THIS BROKE THE OLD RECORD OF 0.44 INCHES FOR
DECEMBER 17TH SET IN 1940.

THIS ADDITIONAL PRECIPTATION BROUGHT THE DECEMBER MONTHLY TOTAL UP
TO 1.02 INCHES OF LIQUID. THIS MAKES FOR THE 9TH WETTEST DECEMBER ON
RECORD.

ALSO…THE HIGH TEMPERATURE ON DECEMBER 17TH ONLY REACHED 39
DEGREES. THIS BROKE THE PREVIOUS LOW MAXIMUM TEMPERATURE RECORD OF
43 DEGREES SET IN 1967.

FM Vacation

The cold temperatures we have been experiencing this week may having you dreaming of a vacation in Florida, but the residents of Oymyakon, Siberia would probably be happy to come to Fargo Moorhead.

Temperatures there have been as cold as -71 degrees Fahrenheit in the past week with the extreme cold expected to remain in the area for the next several days. The average January temperature in Oymyakon is -55 degrees, so little relief is in sight for the local residents. Oymyakon is said to be the coldest permanently inhabited place on Earth. During the winter months this is often true, although because many cities in northern Canada have much colder summer temperatures, Oymyakon does not have the lowest average yearly temperature for a city on earth.

The word “oymyakon” means ‘non-freezing water’ for a nearby hot spring. I would not be surprised if that spring is put to good use during their long winters.

Snow Totals from Blizzard

Here are some snow totals from the weekend blizzard. The heaviest snow amounts were in the southern Red River Valley into west central Minnesota, where a foot or more of snow fell. Lighter amounts were found to the north near the Canadian border.

NORTH DAKOTA 2-DAY SNOW FALL
LOCATION (COUNTY): AMT(IN) REPORTS

HAVANA (SARGENT)……………..14.0 (2)
FARGO (CASS)…………………10.1 (2)
LIDGERWOOD (RICHLAND)…………10.0 (2)
FORMAN (SARGENT)……………..10.0 (2)
VALLEY CITY (BARNES)………….10.0 (2)
GWINNER (SARGENT)……………..9.0 (1)
SE GRAND FORKS (GRAND FORKS)……7.0 (2)
GRAND FORKS NWS (GRAND FORKS)…..5.7 (2)
GRAND FORKS AIRPORT (GRAND FORKS).5.4 (2)
STARKWEATHER (RAMSEY)………….5.0 (2)
COOPERSTOWN (GRIGGS)…………..5.0 (2)
MAYVILLE (TRAILL)……………..4.0 (2)
LANKIN 9SW (WALSH)…………….3.5 (2)
CHURCHS FERRY (RAMSEY)…………2.5 (2)
LANGDON EXP FARM (CAVALIER)…….2.1 (2)
PEMBINA (PEMBINA)……………..1.6 (2)
HANSBORO (TOWNER)……………..1.3 (2)
SARLES POINT OF ENTRY (TOWNER)….1.2 (2)

MINNESOTA 2-DAY SNOW FALL
LOCATION (COUNTY): AMT(IN) REPORTS
BRECKENRIDGE (WILKIN)…………15.0 (2)
DALTON 3S (OTTER TAIL)………..14.4 (2)
PHELPS MILL (OTTER TAIL)………13.0 (2)
SEBEKA (WADENA)………………12.0 (2)
MOORHEAD (CLAY)………………10.1 (2)
WADENA (WADENA)………………10.0 (2)
SABIN (CLAY)………………….9.8 (2)
WHEATON (TRAVERSE)…………….9.4 (2)
TAMARAC WIDLIFE REFUGE (BECKER)…9.0 (2)
LONG LOST LAKE (CLEARWATER)…….9.0 (2)
ITASCA U OF M (CLEARWATER)……..8.8 (2)
WASKISK (BELTRAMI)…………….8.5 (2)
RED LAKE FALLS (RED LAKE)………4.7 (2)
GREENBUSH (ROSEAU)…………….3.5 (2)
CAMP NORRIS DNR (LOW)………….2.5 (2)
LANCASTER (KITTSON)……………2.5 (2)
WARROAD(ROSEAU)……………….2.0 (1)
ARGYLE (MARSHALL)……………..2.0 (1)

 

The Word Blizzard

The word blizzard is believed to originate from the German word “blitz”, meaning lightning or fast. The term blizzard was used as early as the 1820s to describe a violent blow or series of blows in a boxing match.

As European settlers moved to the prairie, the word was gradually used to describe a severe blow struck by a snowstorm. The term was first used in a newspaper in 1870 when a particularly nasty snowstorm struck Iowa and Minnesota. The newspaper in Estherville, Iowa described that storm as a blizzard and the term became widely used within a few years.

Blizzards have always been the scourge of the Great Plains since humans first settled the area. European immigrants quickly learned to read the sky for an approaching blizzard, but this gave them little warning to prepare. But even with modern forecasting techniques, a blizzard can still prove deadly for those who challenge the storm unprepared.

Slow Flakes

When a rain shower moves through, you may see the sun before the rain is completely through your location. Of course, it just happens to be clear where the sun is located, but overhead it is still cloudy and raining.

In winter, you may walk outside and see it snowing without noticing any clouds overhead. The difference is the speed the precipitation is falling. Most raindrops will fall from the sky at 20 to 25 mph, but snowflakes fall much slower. Although, some forms of snow, like graupel may fall as fast as 10 mph, most dendrite snowflakes, the classic six-sided variety we all have made in school, fall at a rate of only 1 or 2 mph.

So if the cloud overhead was at one thousand feet, it would take 10-12 minutes for a snowflake to reach the ground. By then the cloud that produced the snow could have traveled 10 miles away and no longer be visible.