Today marks the end of a remarkable November. Many of you may have found this past month to be extraordinary for the mild conditions, or perhaps because the lack of precipitation. Less than 1 inch of snow fell has fallen through this morning and liquid precipitation was well below average with only 0.24 inches being recorded. Although nowhere near record levels, this month will likely finish near the 20th warmest on record. So, yes, those elements were indeed a very noticeable aspect of this month.
Yet, it was not the lack of precipitation, or the mild conditions that impressed me, but instead, the amount of blue sky observed during the month. November and December tend to be very cloudy months, in fact, both months average 18 cloudy days each. This month, by my count, had just five days that were completely overcast, which in turn helped turn a month that can get very depressing, seeing nothing but gray for days on end, into a November that was delightfully bright.
Today marks the day when our average first below zero temperature of the season occurs. Historically, our first below zero reading often occurs after our first significant snowfall. That was certainly the case last year as November 2010, like this year, was generally mild, but the weather quickly turned colder after a very fluffy 12 inches of snow fell on November 22.
That night, the sky cleared and the temperature plummeted to -8 degrees on the morning of the 23rd. This year with no snow fall of consequence occurring yet, no below zero readings have been recorded, although, the airport did drop to 1 degree on November 20. That particular low was a testament to how cold that air mass really was for this area to see a reading that low without the aid of any snow cover.
In fact, that same air mass in January with several inches of snow on the ground would have likely yielded a low easily in the -10s.
Three months ago in this space, I wrote about what I thought the general weather would be in the upcoming autumn season. I mentioned that based on similar setups in the past, that the season would likely finish with above average temperatures.
In the end, all three months finished with above average temperatures and when the official statistics become available this fall will easily finish as one of the Top 10 warmest on record. At the same time, I mentioned that there were several signs pointing toward the autumn finishing drier than average, but, I also wrote that considering how wet this area has been lately, my confidence in that forecast was lower than with the temperature projection. Locally, the past three months were not only dry, but remarkably dry.
So, in the end, I was happy not that my forecasts verified, but that the weather patterns, even in this wet phase, finally left the area dry going into winter instead of saturated like the past few years.
My first winter in the Fargo Moorhead area was 26 years ago. My introduction to the Red River Valley winter phenomenon was a startling one, even though I was young, eager, and willing to experience weather extremes.
Today in 1985, our region was digging out from the third major snowstorm in seven days. Snow was sixteen inches deep with drifts several feet high. We had already weathered seven subzero temperature mornings and the temperature would remain below zero continuously day and night for the next seven days. Tonight and the next four nights would be at least 20 below. Thanksgiving Day, 1985, was on November 28.
The high temperature was four below. The low was 24 below. There was one inch of new snow. The pattern changed in December and by mid January, most of that November snow had melted. But my first impression of winter here was certainly a strong one.
Although white Christmas’ are expected in Fargo Moorhead, if by chance you dream of playing in the snow on Thanksgiving Day, you have been out of luck in recent years. Nine out of the past ten years have had either no snow or only a trace reported on Thanksgiving morning.
That one exception was last year when 12 inches fell just a few days before Thanksgiving. Otherwise, this century has been dominated by brown yards on this day. Granted, many of these holiday weekends did not finish brown as on several occasions travel conditions deteriorated the following three days, but at least this day set aside to give thanks, most of us could add weather to the list of things to be thankful for.
Although the record high for tomorrow is 56 degrees, that year this date was not the holiday. The warmest Thanksgiving Day occurred back in 1901 when the high was 55 degrees and we could come close to breaking that record tomorrow afternoon.
Here is the latest satellite image over the Midwest. Very few clouds are present so most do what you see as white is snow cover. You will notice the bright band south of Fargo from the snow that fell on Saturday. Most of the snow will melt this week with the warmth that is anticipated.
The first 15 days of November continued the trend for mild temperatures that this area has experienced since June. The first half of November finished nearly 6 degrees above average and ranked as the 19th warmest such period on record. Every day from November 1 through the 15 finished at or above average.
Although, that streak ended on the 16th when the first serious push of cold air of the season arrived and that chill will continue through Monday.
When combined with September and October, our current autumn season ranks as the 5th warmest on record. Considering how mild the weather is expected to be the next week, that ranking is likely to remain near that spot when climatological autumn ends on November 30.
A common question lately has been when was the last autumn that was this mild? The answer is, last year, and several autumns in the past decade have been nearly as warm as this year as the past decade has had a trend of warmer than average falls.
Do you ever notice 1 degree? The answer is likely no. Granted, when I forecast 70 degrees for the first time next spring and the official high ends up at 69 degrees, you may notice, but 1 degree is generally too insignificant to be noticeable.
But to a meteorologist, 1 degree is often the difference between a good forecast and a terrible miss. You see, one degree can easily be the difference between a cold rain and snow, or vice versa. A 6 inch snow forecast that turns out to be a cold rain will have you unknowingly noticing that magical 1 degree. Plus, that one degree could mean rain in one area with minimum travel difficulties to heavy snow and hazardous travel just a few miles away.
So the next time it rains instead of snows, or the rain ends up being freezing rain, remember, that often it was just one degree that made a world of difference.
The StormTRACKER team remembers what they consider to be the worst 5 blizzards in the past 75 years:
Fifteen years ago today, the first blizzard of what was arguably the worst winter on record locally, struck the Red River Valley. The snow arrived during the early afternoon, which was a Saturday in 1996. The snow and wind forced Hector Airport to close quickly that afternoon and both I-29 and I-94 were both closed at 10 pm.
A total of five inches had accumulated by midnight, but it continued to snow the rest of the night and into the following morning. The wind gusted to over 40 mph at times during the event and did not settle down enough to reopen the main roads until late the following day. In total, 13.5 inches fell, not including 2 inches that fell the day before the storm, with drifts 3-4 feet high.
The winter of 1996-1997 brought a total of 8 blizzards to Fargo Moorhead, with other parts of the area recording as many as10 blizzards that winter.