January 31

Our weather is so volatile and changeable here in the Fargo Moorhead area that it can be hard to know what to expect from the weather on any given day.  For example, for January 31, the average high temperature is 18 degrees and the average low is 0 degrees.  But a spot check of January 31 over the last few years reveals a wide range of conditions.  January 31, 2010, was partly cloudy and very cold with a high of 4 degrees and a low of -6 degrees.

The record high for January 31 occurred in 2009 when the high was 44 degrees under a sunny sky.  The low temperature in 2009 was 21 degrees.  In 2008, the high was 11 and the low was -9 with a partly cloudy sky.  In 2007 the high was 12 and the low was -5, again with a partly cloudy sky.  Back in 2006, the high was 33 and the low was 24 and an inch of snow fell.  The coldest January 31 in the record book happened back in 1887 when the high temperature was -18 and the low was -34.

A Weather Rut

It is probably safe to say that we have been in a weather rut lately.  Granted, we have had a few days of milder weather this week, but much of January was consistently below average, or like will come coming this weekend into early next week, well below average.

The main storm track over North America in the past few weeks has been running from near Seattle, and then looping down the Great Plains, along the Gulf Coast, then up the eastern seaboard.  For our area, this has meant a cold flow out of Canada, where the moisture content is low, meaning no major snow events have occurred since New Year?s Eve, yet because the storm track has stayed the same, we have experienced numerous dustings of snow these past four weeks.

One of the main attributors to this locked pattern has been a large ridge of high pressure over Greenland which has formed what meteorologists call an ?atmospheric block? which will inhibit any change to our overall weather pattern for at least another week or two.

Which means continued colder than average temperatures most days, but probably (key word probably) no major storms for our area in the next 7 to 10 days.  The east coast on the other hand, will probably deal with another heavy snow event in the next week.

Is it Better?

This past week I was in a discussion about the weather in the past being worse than what our current generation has experienced.  Writings as far back as the 1700s have passages describing the weather being more tolerant than it was for the previous generation. There have certainly been periods when the weather has had a stronger impact on human civilization, but the weather records do not show any major shifts in the weather over the past few generations.

Instead, technology allows us to handle the more difficult weather conditions with fewer impacts.  In the early days of road construction, problems were seen with drifting causing changes to road design (deeper ditches).  Improved tires have added to safer travels.  Increased prosperity has allowed us to live in better constructed homes with heating systems that make bitterly cold temperatures more of a nuisance than something to be feared.

These are but a few examples on how technology has changed far more than the weather has.

The Children’s Blizzard Story

A nice story on “The Children’s Blizzard” from our weekend meteorologist Rob Kupec.  He is not suggesting the wind event on Friday night will be this bad, it is just in the past this would be the type of system that would catch the pioneers off guard.  Very nice weather quickly followed by a change.  Similar to what happened to us on Monday as well.


Here We Go Again

Deep into January, this is turning out to be our fourth consecutive winter with temperatures well below average.  But this winter has been cold by being consistently cold; not by having a lot of extremely cold weather.  So far this winter, there have only been four calendar days in which the temperature has failed to get above zero.  The average number of subzero days over an entire winter is ten.

On the other hand and we have already had 66 subfreezing days with February and March still to come.  The average number of days subfreezing over the remainder of the winter is 42, which suggests that we will likely have had well over 100 subfreezing days by the time this winter finally ends.  The average number of subfreezing days over a winter season is 98.

So this winter has been cold by way of being consistently cold and not so much by way of being extremely cold.

Cold and Snowy First Half

The average temperatures are beginning to increase and the days are slowly getting longer, yet, our cold season is only half ways done.  The first half of winter was cold and snowy.  Fargo Moorhead has already recorded more snow than this area averages in an entire season.  Our winter average snowfall is 46.6 inches and our current total is approximately 10 inches over that with about three more months of snow potential.

If there has been any benefit to the snow, it has been the clouds associated with the numerous snowfalls.  The winter to date has certainly been cold as it is averaging around 4 degrees below normal.  The abundant cold cover has on numerous occasions kept our temperature well above temperatures experienced in other locations, meaning, the winter would have been much colder without the clouds.

The last three winters all finished with below average temperatures and to this point, this winter is currently averaging colder than two of those, with only the Winter of 2008-2009 averaging colder through this point of the winter.

January Questions

Every January I get inquires asking two specific questions.  The first deals with when the average high and low temperatures start to increase.  The average high temperature in Fargo Moorhead started to increase on January 19, when the average high went from 15 to 16 degrees.  The average low temperature did not start to increase until January 22 when the average low increased from -3 to -2 degrees.  Our average temperatures, be it slowly, will now increase until the middle of July.

The second question asked this time of year deals with the sunset occurring after 5:00 PM.  If you work the traditional 8 to 5 shift each day, for several weeks you go to work in the dark and then drive home in the dark.  If you are one of those drivers, you have certainly noticed the later sunsets.  A few days before the winter solstice, the sunset at 4:38 PM in Fargo Moorhead and approximately one month later the sun is setting around 5:20 PM, finally giving many of you a glimpse of the sun as you are heading home.


The atmosphere, being invisible to the human eye, makes it is difficult to visualize the motions of the air without the aid of some object.  Because of this most people have the idea that the wind blows in a relatively straight line from point A to point B.  But when you can ?see? the wind because of blowing dust, pollution or this time of year exhaust or blowing snow, you begin to realize that wind blows in a very chaotic pattern.

Both natural and human made objects will accelerate and/or decelerate the air as it blows across the terrain, plus thermals generated by the sun or again, by humans will cause areas of upward and downward motions in the air that further adds to the complexity to the movement of the wind.

My graduate advisor in college frequently reminded me of this famous weather quote ?Big whirls have little whirls which feed on their velocity.  Little whirls have lesser whirls, and so on to viscosity?.  In fact, that quotation is on my coffee mug I am using right now.

“The Storm of the Century”

Last week was the anniversary to many famous blizzards that have struck the Great Plains in the past 150 years.  These include the ?Pioneer Blizzard? of January 10, 1873, the Children?s Blizzard of January 12, 1888, and more recently an unnamed 3 day blizzard from January 9-11 in 1997.

A blizzard I remember very well that occurred in the middle of January was the so-called ?Storm of the Century? that peaked around January 10, 1975.  That storm dumped over 20 inches of snow with wind gusts reported over 70 mph in parts of Minnesota.  Locally, we received 6 inches of snow from that blizzard.

That particular storm caused many Minnesotans to miss the Vikings play in the Super Bowl that year because of power outages and therefore the storm is sometimes referred to as the ?Super Bowl Blizzard?.  My family was fortunate enough to have power that weekend which meant I watched the Vikings play as poorly as the weather was outside against the Pittsburgh Steelers.