Even with the additional snowfall from earlier this week, Fargo Moorhead remains well below the record setting 117 inches that fell during the winter of 1996-1997. Two other cities in our area have or likely will exceed their all-time records.
International Falls, Minnesota with the additional 7.4 inches from earlier this week (through March 31) brought their seasonal snowfall to 124.1 inches which broke the old record of 116 inches set back in the winter of 1995-1996. Plus, since November 1, International Falls has reported snow on a remarkable 110 of the 151 days through March 31.
The 17.1 inches of snow that fell on Bismarck, North Dakota this week pushed their seasonal total to 100.2 inches, just 1.4 inches shy of their all-time record of 101.6 inches set back in the winter of 1996-1997. It is likely that Bismarck will get enough additional snow this spring to eventually break that record.
On June 1, 2008, much of the area was listed as either abnormally dry or as having drought conditions by the Climate Prediction Center. Fargo Moorhead was not experiencing dry conditions because of the late spring snowfall, but most people were anxious for some moisture. Quickly the conditions when from dry to wet and by the end of June Fargo Moorhead received 6.06 inches of rain which was 172% of average.
With the exception of July the rest of the months of 2008 reported above average precipitation, many of the months including September, October and December were near or above 200% of normal. January 2009 started with slightly below normal precipitation, but now February and March have been back to over 200% of normal. Our mid-continental location brings with it extremes of wet and dry and after nine months of generally very wet conditions, back to dry is overdue.
The average date for our first 50 degree day of spring is on March 18. Such a temperature is possible Saturday afternoon. The first 50 degree day of the year has occurred as early as February 4 in 1925 to as late as April 17 back in 1979. But it appears to be occurring very close to average this year. In 2008 we did not have our first 50 degree high until April 2.
The next milestone will be our first 60 degree day. The long-term average is on April 4 with a historical range from February 25 in 1956 to May 6 back in 1893. Although averages tend to mean little in our climate, if you are looking forward to some 70s and 80s, our first 70 degree day average is April 18 and our first 80 degree day average is May 5.
Almost all the white you see on the image below is snow cover as the clouds at the time of this image were quite patchy. You’ll notice the northern Red River Valley is nearly snow free snow and even the southern Red River Valley is getting darker as the warmer weather is slowly melting that snow. Looks like our snow cover should be gone by Sunday (except the drift and the big piles).
Although below zero temperatures are still possible, the odds favor us not seeing a negative low temperature again until next winter. This past cold season has certainly brought with it our fair share of below zero readings So far we have officially recorded 61 below zero days this season, the most since the winter of 1996-1997.
Before that you would have to go back to 1982 to find a winter with so many days with temperatures below zero. Fargo Moorhead averages 48 below zero days per winter. Of those 61 days this winter with a low temperature below zero, on 18 of those days, our high temperature was also below zero. The average per winter 10 days. That was the most below zero highs since the winter of 1995-1996 when we observed 20 such days, with 11 of those occurring in a row from January 24 through February 3, 1996.
The National Climatic Data Center released their statewide official statements for the winter of 2008-2009 this past week. The data reinforced what we already knew; it was a cold and wet winter. Temperature wise, North Dakota as a whole ranked as the 23rd coldest winter out of the 114 years that such data has been available. Minnesota ranked even colder having their 18th coldest winter on record. North Dakota, Iowa and all the states bordering the Great Lakes finished the winter below average.
Precipitation wise, North Dakota finished with the 4th wettest winter on record with Minnesota having their 30th wettest. Locally Fargo Moorhead finished with the 3rd wettest winter on record and the 4th snowiest. Whereas the northern tier of the United States was colder and wetter than normal, the southern part of the United States was generally warmer and drier than normal. Texas, for example, had their 15th warmest winter and the driest since records started.
The colder than average winter in combination with the recent resurgence of arctic air into the region has caused ice to cover almost all of Lake Superior. The last time Lake Superior was considered frozen over was during the winter of 2002-2003. The lake also froze over in 1996 and 1979.
Lake Superior freezes over on average about once every twenty years. Because of it’s large size and depth, Lake Superior, if it does freeze over, it usually takes until late February or March for it to happen. Because of large fissures that form in the ice because of wave motion, there are almost always some small open areas on the lake and that was the case this year as well.
Although, because of the extreme cold experienced during the 1978-1979 winter, it is theorized that perhaps that winter Lake Superior may have frozen completely over.
Recently I wrote that the average last day with a low below zero is March 11. Well, this year on March 11, not only was our low below zero, so was our high. There have been several winters, one as recently as the winter of 2001-2002 that we did not see a high below zero the entire winter. Historically on years we do see a below zero high, the average last date of such an occurrence is February 9.
The last time Fargo Moorhead recorded a below zero high in March was back on March 6, 1996 and before that you would have to go back to March 23,1974 for such an occurrence. That day in 1974 is also the latest a below zero high has been recorded locally. Below zero highs are so unusual in March that before Wednesday’s high of -1 only nine other days this month had a record low maximum below zero.
As we progress through the month of March, having a low temperature below zero becomes less likely. The average last day with a low temperature below zero is March 11 in Fargo Moorhead. In recent years that day has fluctuated from February 16 in 2000 to March 26 in 1996. Last year the last below zero day of the season was on March 9.
The latest below zero day recorded was during the first year of record keeping back in 1881. That year the last below zero reading occurred on April 4. That record was almost beaten in the cold winter of 1978-1979 when on April 6, 1979 the temperature dropped to 0 degrees. The earliest we have recorded our last negative temperature of the season was on January 24, 1987. The current pattern we are in suggests strongly that our last below zero reading this year will likely be later than the long term average.
As winter slowly comes to an end in our area, there tends to be three milestones that many people keep a watchful eye on. The first one occurred back in mid-January when the average high and low began to increase.
Our averages bottomed out at 15 and -3 back on January 11 and started to increase on January 22. Today’s averages are now up to 32 and 16 which brings us to the next milestone, the average high reaching the melting point. Granted we will continue to see many days with a high below freezing, but the trend is quickly upwards and by March 31 our average high will reach 44 degrees. So in a few weeks time, highs which we now consider mild, will feel cool as we get used to the warmer temperatures.
The last milestone occurs on April 14 the day when the average low for Fargo Moorhead finally reaches 32 degrees.