Near Bottom

The average low temperature in Fargo Moorhead dropped to -1° on December 28 and it will remain below zero until January 30 when the average low climbs to 0°. The average low will drop two more degrees to -3° on January 6 and remain there until January 22. Thereafter, the average low will begin its slow raise that will peak at 60° on July 15.

Our average high bottoms out at 15° on January 11 and stays there until January 21 then begins a climb that will end on July 17 when our average high will peak at 83°. Although the average low temperature is below zero on 34 days during our cold season, Fargo Moorhead averages 48 negative days per winter.

So far we have recorded 12 below zero days, which happens to be right on the average for this point in the winter season.

December Jinx

Last week’s two snow events brought our monthly snow total to 24.4 inches. That makes this month the 3rd snowiest December on record (snow records go back to September, 1885). You will likely recall that last year we had the snowiest December on record when 33.5 inches was measured. If we go back another year, December 2007 brought 19.3 inches to Fargo Moorhead which now ranks as the 8th snowiest on record.

Therefore, we now have recorded a Top 10 snowiest December three years in a row. But our recent snowy Decembers do not end there. December 2005 ranks as the 15th and December 2003 as the 13th snowiest Decembers. In fact, 10 out of the top 20 snowiest Decembers on record have occurred in the past 20 years.

But most of those years only December was snowy, so one snowy week does not necessarily mean the rest of this winter will follow suit.

Christmas Weather

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 in Fargo Moorhead.

Two years 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. Therefore, the storm system that is moving into the region currently could be stronger than any storm on Christmas since the 1940s. It was in 1945 that the Twin Cities recorded their Christmas Day record of 9.6 inches. That storm completely missed this area with no snow being reported locally, but this year it does not look like we will be so lucky.

Mild January?

I have been asked frequently in the past couple of weeks if I thought warmer weather would return in January. Most of these questions originated with comments on how September was warm, October turned cold, then the warm weather returned for November and of course, this month then turned cold. Granted, we have been in a four week pattern the last several months, but that in no way means that January will magically end up above average.

Two factors that may limit any potential warm up in January is the extensive snow cover over the Northern Hemisphere and general colder than average temperatures being experienced in both North America and Eurasia in recent weeks. El Ninos tend to have their greatest impact on the northern tier of the United States during January and February. That at least gives us some hope that more temperate air may move into the area in the coming weeks.

Record Snow

The snowstorm that hit the east coast hard this past weekend produced some record setting snow amounts. Washington, D.C., Baltimore and Philadelphia all broke their all-time daily snowfall record for the month of December. Baltimore’s total was 21 inches with Washington, D.C. ending with 16 inches. Philadelphia’s official total of 23.2 inches of snow was also the second highest snow total in the city from a single storm since records began in the 1880s.

There was another city in the United States that had huge amounts of snow recently that has gone largely unnoticed. Last week, Valdez, Alaska, received 68 inches of snow from a single event that lasted several days. That is 5 feet, 8 inches of snow. Snow was falling at a rate of 4 inches per hour at the height of the storm, yet, according to the local paper, the schools in town never shut down. Although, a few buses did get stuck.

 

-51° F

Although this month has been running well below average, we have yet to experience any brutally cold temperatures. Granted, the coldest reading this month of -13° is not exactly pleasant, we have avoided temperatures in the -20s or -30s that frequent this region in the winter. In fact, most of our record lows this time of year are around -30°.

One spot that has experienced the worst that winter can bring is Edmonton, Alberta. Last week the temperature plummeted to -51° (-46.1° C) besting their old record by an incredible 19° degrees that was set just last year. In context, if Fargo Moorhead broke a daily low by 19° this time of year our temperature would also be near -50°. It was that same air mass that attributed to our lowest temperature of the season so far, but fortunately, the coldest air stayed in western North Dakota where temperatures were near -30° that same morning.

 

The First 15 Days

It will surprise no one to hear that the first half of December finished well below seasonal averages. The average temperature for the first 15 days of this month was only 5.3° which is 10.1° below normal. This ranks as the 13th coldest such period on record. To this point, this month has been even colder than it was last December, but not quite as cold as the first half of December, 2007.

Another recent December that was colder than this year was back in 2000. That December ended up finishing as the 2nd coldest since 1881 with an average temperature finishing below zero. Looking forward, this month will finish below average for the third straight year, it will just be a matter of how far below it will be. If long range outlooks are reasonably accurate the second half of the month may be cold enough to keep us in the top 20 coldest Decembers on record.

Blizzard of the Century

Last week’s blizzard was remarkable in many ways. In scope, the storm impacted in same way, 42 of the lower 48 states with 8 of those states reporting blizzard conditions. The storm had a central pressure of 976 millibars (28.82 inches of mercury) which was about the same as the lowest pressure Hurricane Ida achieved in early November. The pressure was low enough that several sites in western Michigan (lower peninsula) set records for the lowest pressure on record for the month of December.

The storm dumped more than a foot of snow in portions of at least 12 states and when the storm moved into Canada, 53.5% of the lower 48 states had snow on the ground. The cold air that moved into the country after the storm has allowed for little melting of that snow pack. So it appears that a higher than normal percentage of Americans will have a white Christmas this year.

Airy

You have probably noticed that the light snow events we have experienced this month have tended to be quite fluffy. Each snowfall is somewhat unique in its characteristics. Some snow is heavy and dense; some is light and airy like we have been seeing frequently this month.

Through the years, the average ratio between water and snow in Fargo Moorhead is approximately 14:1. Consequently, one-inch of liquid would equal about 14 inches of snow. A better example for our area would be a 3.5 inch snowfall which melted down would, on average, contain 0.25 inches of liquid. There are several factors that determine what this ratio will be within any given storm, with temperature and wind being two of the most important.

So far this month, our snowfalls have come with little wind and in cold air which has been two strong factors attributing to our average snow ratio this month being 26:1.