Negative Weather

Fargo Moorhead has recorded only 5 days in April with a temperature below zero.  All of those days have occurred in the first 4 days of the month and the last such occurrence was on April 3, 1975.  Therefore, it is hopefully safe to look back at our negative statistics for our just completed cold season.

The average number of days that we drop below zero in Fargo Moorhead is 48.  This past winter the official low at the airport dropped below zero 52 times, very near the long term average.  Although our recently complete winter finished below average for temperatures, the winter had very few extremely cold days with only 4 days colder than -20 degrees in comparison to the average of 8 such days.  Plus, our coldest temperature of the season was -27 degrees which is slightly warmer than the average as well.

Instead, the winter ended cold more because of a persistent trend of slightly below average temperatures rather than periods of extreme cold.

On and On

On the morning of March 22 the official snow depth in Fargo Moorhead was 3 inches.  At that point, we were likely only one or two days away from eliminating our winter snow cover with the exception of the drifts and large piles left from our frequent plowing these past few months.  But instead of losing our snow cover, it snowed later that day and currently we have about one-half foot of snow on average covering the ground.

Today marks the 129th consecutive day with snow covering the ground in Fargo Moorhead.  The average number of days with snow cover during our cold season locally is 103 days and not necessarily consecutively.  In fact, most winters will have a break in the snow cover at some point, especially this time of year.

The record for the highest number of days with snow cover occurred during the winters of 1935-36 and 1978-79 with 155.  The longest steak of continuous days was 153 straight during the winter of 1978-79.

Outside Baseball

When the Minnesota Twins moved their home games outside last year, numerous naysayers remarked that outdoor baseball in Minneapolis in April would be a disaster.  But April, 2010, was kind to Twins fans.  It was 81 degrees on April 1 last year, and most of April was mild with temperatures in the 60s and 70s.  The month finished eight degrees above average.

Last April was also eight degrees above average here in Fargo Moorhead and we also enjoyed many days in the 60s and a few in the 70s.  But this spring, the weather is in a slump.  Fargo Moorhead has had a miserable March with temperatures eight degrees below average.  We keep adding to the snow instead of melting it, and we?ve already had more than 80 inches.  In the Twin Cities, they also received more than 80 inches of snow this winter and some of it is still on the ground there, too.  The Twins play just eleven of their 28 April games at Target Field.

The home opener is April 8.   Go Twins.  Go Weather.

Crazy Marches

Three major floods in a row with three very different Marches.  March 2009 was one of the most remarkable Marches in the record book with it being the snowiest and wettest on record.  The 4.62 inches of rain in March 2009 was 63% higher than the previous monthly record of 2.83 inches, a difference greater than any other month.  Most months the difference between the 1st and 2nd wettest is less than 5%.

March 2010 was unique for other reasons; it was the 4th warmest month on record which lead to the earliest known crest on March 21.  The other interested tidbit about last March was that on 13 days we observed with a low temperature above freezing. That was the most such days recorded in the month of March surpassing the 12 such days recorded back in 1946.

In contrast to the past two years, this March has been cold.  At our current pace this month may end up being the coldest March since 1997.

Extreme

Although we are still likely a month or more away from the threat of severe weather, the severe storm season is in progress to our south.  Already there have been several storm systems that have produced tornadoes, straight-line wind damage and large hail.  These same storms have also produced snow on their northern edges meaning that some areas experienced severe weather followed by snow.

This is a very common phenomenon this time of year, yet, I have heard the phrases of freaky, weird and unusual mentioned several times in reference to these storms.  With much of Canada still in the grips of winter and the southern portion of the United States well into spring, large contrasts in temperatures across the North American continent make for huge swings in weather, not only locally, but nationally every year.

Historically, springs that follow a winter with a La Nina present in the Pacific Ocean tend to have an active severe weather season.  So it is likely the country will be experiencing more extremes in the coming weeks.

Colder than Cold

The cold air that moved into the area behind the snow storm earlier this week has pushed temperatures well below seasonal averages.  Our current average high and low temperatures are 40 and 23 degrees.  Therefore, temperatures are running approximately 15 degrees below normal which is clearly noticeable, yet, well short of any records.

Our record lows are still in the -10s meaning our potential cold this time of year is far lower than what we have been experiencing.  The first day of spring with a record low that is not below zero occurs on March 31 with a record low of 0 degrees.  Then the first four days of April again have a record low below zero before our records become permanently positive on April 5.

The coldest temperature recorded in April was on April 1, 1881 when the temperature dropped to -13 degrees.  That type of temperature gives a new meaning to April Fool?s Day.

Ice Jam Free Zone

I was in the process of writing a very similar article, but John beat me too it, so I’ll post his instead of my write up, but the Red often doesn’t have ice jams as the flow in a flood over takes the very small channel as John describes below:

It is widely accepted that the Red River flowing northward is a primary reason for spring flooding in the Valley.  The idea is that the snow and ice melts in the southern Valley first and flows northward to where all is still frozen.  However, this explanation is not correct.  If a still frozen stream to the north were to be the cause of flooding to the south, then there would be ice jams backing up the flow at the interface between melted river and still frozen river.

And while ice jams are often a serious problem on the tributaries, they have never been a big deal on the Red, itself.  The reason the Red river floods so badly and often is that it is a meandering river in a shallow channel in the bottom of an almost flat plain.  Because of the too-gradual northward slope, it takes too long for water to get downstream and so it backs up and spreads out over the land.

Slow 50

Our average first 50 degree high temperature in Fargo Moorhead occurs on March 18.  Our warmest day so far this year has back on February 13 when Hector Int?l topped off at 44 degrees.  The warmest day in March so far was 42 degrees on four different days.  The colder air moving into the area this week is expected to remain entrenched through the rest of the month.

Therefore, at this point it appears our first 50 degree high will not occur until sometime in early April.  Since 1881 the first 50 degree reading of the season has occurred in the month of April approximately 25% of the time.  The latest 50 degree day on record occurred during the first year of official observations in Fargo Moorhead back in 1881.  That year the first 50 degree reading of spring was on April 17.  More recently, the first 50 degree day was not recorded until April 16 during the cold spring of 1979.

Changes

With a week of spring thaw conditions helping to fade the bitter memories of a hard winter, we should be reminded to keep our guard up.  It is likely that we will still have some days with falling snow and it is still possible for there to be a significant snowstorm or even a blizzard.

It has only been ten days since a severe blizzard stranded hundreds of people in their cars overnight across central and eastern North Dakota.  Cell phones were of no help to those stuck in their cars, because no one could get to them.  And as many people discovered, a cell phone is useless in helping people to warm their feet or fill a rumbling stomach.  A cell phone is not winter survival gear.  Anyone traveling in open country anytime during fall, winter, or spring should have with them warm boots, hat, coat, and gloves along with a blanket and something to eat.

This is blizzard country and sometimes a nice day can be a deception.  It is easy to keep a few winter survival items in your car and so important if you end up needing them.