Winter for Now

Our first one inch snowfall finally arrived in Fargo Moorhead Thursday Night into Friday morning.  The past few years such an event would have gone by largely unnoticed besides the usual impacts on the roads.  But this year it ended our long snow drought and for many, it may have been the first time the snow shovels and the snowblowers were tested this season.

On only two occasions since records have been kept has the first 1 inch snowfall of the season occurred later than this year.  Those years were back in the winters of 1913-14 when the first inch arrived on January 22 and during the winter of 1943-1944 when the one inch milestone waited until January 27.  Therefore,  since snow records started, yesterday’s event was the 3rd latest such occurrence on record.

Although, another system is impacting the area today, it appears we will be moving into a warmer and drier stretch once again next week,  but for now it looks and later today will feel like winter.

Warm 2nd Half

The first 5 months of 2011 all finished with below average temperatures.  Those five months averaged 4 degrees below the current 30 year average.  But starting in June, Fargo Moorhead has recorded 7 consecutive months with above average temperatures.  These past months have been so mild that the 2nd half of this year will likely finish as the warmest such period on record.

Since July 1, the average temperature in Fargo has been 51.8 degrees through Wednesday, which is 6 degrees above average.  The current record holder for the last 6 months of the year was back in 1939 with an average temperature of 51.0 degrees.  Two other years not far off the record are 2001, and 2006 both with averages over 50 degrees for that period.

Many of you may remember that 2006 was the last year with a brown Christmas in Fargo before this year.  So if you thought these past few months have been mild, it was not your imagination, as it has been record breaking.

A Year Ago

A year ago the area was bracing for what looked like to be back to back blizzards.  The two storms, one on December 30 and the other on December 31 kept most of the areas roads closed over the New Year holiday and made travel hazardous even within Fargo Moorhead.

The first storm started off with freezing rain putting down a layer of ice before the wind and the snow started later in the morning.  Wind gusts well above 40 mph reduced visibility to just a few feet at times.  The following day, December 31, allowed a few hours of digging out before the second storm arrived that afternoon.

Although, not technically a blizzard in the southern valley, the wind still gusted frequently over 30 mph making going out for New Year’s Eve nearly impossible.  In the end, 10 inches of new snow fell with those two storms, making the start of 2011 a miserable one for most.

One Degree Matters

A few weeks ago I wrote asking if 1 degree matters.  In that column it was mentioned that although we rarely notice the difference in one degree in our daily lives, subtle temperatures fluctuations can greatly change our weather.  This is especially true when forecasting rain or snow this time of year.

bring this up again because 1 degree will end up being the reason that we will not accomplish something that has not been achieved since records have been kept.  In the midst of our recent mild weather, the airport dropped to -1 degree on December 9 for our only below zero reading of the season.  Since records have been kept, Fargo Moorhead has recorded at least one below zero day before the start of the New Year.

Therefore, had it not been for that one degree, 2011 would have been the first cold season that waited until January to go negative.  But close does not count in weather records.

Christmas 2012 Forecast

This time of year we get many inquiries about travel conditions and the forecast for different spots around the nation.  In the summer it is requests as to what the weather may be for an upcoming vacation or wedding.

Sometimes people get very anxious for these forecasts as we occasionally get asked several months in advance for a wedding forecast from nervous brides wondering if they need to rent a tent or if the sun will be shining on their wedding day.  Of course our ability to forecast accurately beyond a week is very limited.

Yet, knowing that, the lack of snow for Christmas this year has apparently been hard on many people as I have already been asked about Christmas 2012.  So here I go out on a limb; we have a white Christmas 84% of the time, plus, we have never had two brown Christmas’ in a row since records have been kept, therefore, I am forecasting a white Christmas in 2012.  Remember, you heard it here first.

Have a Merry Christmas.

December Anomaly

Temperature anomalies in the lower 48 through the first 20 days of December.  Through Wednesday, both Fargo Moorhead and Grand Forks/East Grand Forks are running around 8 degrees above average.  At our current pace we would finish the month as the 4th warmest on record.  Of course this comes on the heels of four colder than average Decembers with all four of those finished in the top 10 snowiest on record as well.

Truly Brown

We have had several brown Christmas’ since records have been kept, but recently someone asked me if we had ever had a truly brown Christmas.   The question revolved around have we ever made it to Christmas day without an official snow cover.  Although on a couple of occasions we have had a trace reported for snow depth, at no point have we had 1 inch or greater reported on the ground this season.

Our last brown Christmas in 2006, we did have one inch reported on the ground for one week in early December.  The brown Christmas in 1999 had either one or two inches reported on the ground for 11 days before Christmas.

The last time we had a truly brown Christmas was back in 1943 when at no time was there more than a trace reported on the ground before Christmas day.  That winter the first 1 inch snowfall occurred in January.  Although the ground was brown that year, the residents of Fargo Moorhead were at least treated to some Christmas flurries.

Below Average Season

You do not need to live in this area very long to learn that weather patterns come and go quickly.  Weeks of rain or snow, suddenly turn to weeks with little if any moisture.  Cold and warm stretches come and go.  Therefore, this winter could quickly turn cold and snowy; yet, using the past as our guide, the snow season will likely finish with below normal snowfall.

Since records have kept, Fargo Moorhead has never recorded the first one inch of snow after December 12 with the seasonal snow total exceeding 50 inches.  With our current 30 year average snowfall at 50.1 inches, we therefore would have to do something not done in the past 120 years of snow records to end up with an above average snow season.  Plus, if by chance we can make it through the rest of this month without a 1 inch or greater snow event, then historical precedent would suggest our seasonal snowfall would stay under 30 inches.

But in our climate, you never know for sure.

Rest of the Winter Outlook

I have been busy with other projects and have not blogged much lately.  One of the projects is a WDAY/WDAZ weather calendar that should be available soon at area US Banks.  Proceeds will go to Charity.  I also put together my annual outlook for North Dakota’s State Climatologist.  I have that posted below.

 

Before General Motors discontinued their Oldsmobile division, they had a marketing campaign with the slogan “this is not your father’s Oldsmobile” to entice younger people to consider the brand.  I use this as a reference to the current state of the equatorial Pacific Ocean.  Although there are currently La Nina conditions present, just like last winter, to steal that phrase from Oldsmobile, this is not last year’s La Nina.  If fact, conditions are barely within the realm of what is considered to be a La Nina, so in other words, it is a borderline event.

During the past few months a persistent ridge of high pressure has resided over the northeastern part of the Pacific Ocean.  This has brought generally mild and dry conditions to North Dakota.  The flow around that upper-level high pressure system creates a dominant flow from the northwest aloft where little moisture is available to be drawn into the state.  Plus, a persistent subtropical jet stream has been locked into place well to our south and that is where most of the moisture-laden storms have been tracking.  This pattern has been so persistent that parts of the region have transitioned from very wet into mild drought conditions during the autumn season.

During the next three months, this dominant Pacific ridge should weaken.  This in turn will help increase the amount of available moisture, yet still keep us in a normal to below normal precipitation pattern.  Also, a transition into more frequent colder than average temperature periods is expected as we head into January and February.   For sensible weather this means the odds favor less snowfall then last year, plus, temperatures not as cold as the 2010-2011 winter.  Being North Dakota, it is going to snow and of course be cold, but it appears it will not be as harsh as the past couple of winters.

 

The latest winter outlook from the Climate Prediction Center for the winter currently has a classic La Nina signature to them.  These may be adjusted slightly when the newer forecasts come out.  You can find the current and future outlooks, when new ones become available, at http://www.cpc.ncep.noaa.gov/products/predictions/90day.

 

As a reminder, the North Dakota State Climate Office has links to the National Weather Service’s local 3-month temperature outlooks for the upcoming year. Those outlooks can be found here: http://www.ndsu.edu/ndsco/outlook/L3MTO.html.

The Cruel Month

December has been a cruel month in recent years for both temperatures and snowfall.  Granted, many people enjoy the snow and the reality is many businesses depend on snowfall for revenue, but in recent years this area has been simply getting too much snowfall this month which has attributed to severe spring flooding.  Back in 2006 much of the region experienced a brown Christmas, but since then, Fargo Moorhead has recorded 4 straight top ten snowiest Decembers.

Plus, all four of those Decembers finished with below average temperatures with both 2008 and 2009 finishing well below average. With so much snow falling this month in recent years, it is no wonder that so many find it odd to have had so little snow so far this season.

Yet, as surprising as it may sound, our snow total this season is actually closer to the long term average than any of our recent winters have been.