An April Blizzard

Although this year was definitely an exception with a record breaking March, it is usually April that we can start thinking about spring weather.  The average high temperature climbs from 46 to 64 degrees during the month.  Our thoughts may be on spring, but winter is always just a storm away this time of year.

Strong temperature contrasts fromCanadato the southernUnited States makes storms this time of year common and at our latitude these storms can easily be snow events.  Most of you are likely familiar with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s book “The Long Winter”, which describes the horrible winter of 1880-1881 her family lived through in De Smet,South Dakota.

The following winter of 1881-1882 is described in her next book “Little Town of the Prairie” and was written as being generally pleasant with little snow.  Yet, with spring in the air, a fierce blizzard struck that area in April.  Pa Ingalls found it a bit odd that the only blizzard of the winter came in April, yet, I doubt he was surprised as in this climate no seasoned residents finds any weather event in this area unusual.

Above Freezing

Yesterday was the 13th time this month that Fargo Moorhead recorded a low temperature above freezing.  That ties 2010 for the most such days in March.  You may think that is a typo, as so much has been written about this month being similar to 1910, but it was just two years ago that we set that record.  Although, March 2010 was no where near as warm as this month for daily high temperatures, it was a very warm month for nightly lows.

From March 7-15, 2010, the low temperature remained above freezing.  Many of those days the low was either 34 or 35 degrees with a high between 37 and 40 degrees.  That entire week was regularly foggy and dreary, but that continuous period with above freezing temperatures lead to a rapid snow melt and like 2009, to an early major flood.

The low this morning was 34 degrees at Hector Int’l so it appears we have now broken that record from 2010 and we are likely to see above freezing low temperatures every day this week adding to that record.

A Month of Records

Fargo Moorhead has recorded 13 daily records or ties this month.  That includes 5 high temperature records, one high temperature tie and 6 new records for warmest minimum temperature.  Plus, we may yet set another daily maximum minimum before the month is through.

The most impressive record set this month was the low temperature back on March 18.  The low that morning was 60 degrees.  Not only was that the record for the warmest minimum for that date by an incredible 19 degrees, it was also the warmest minimum temperature for any day in March since 1881.  The previous record was a 48 degree low set on three different occasions with one occurring on March 23, 1910 and the other two on March 24 and 25, 1945.

To put that 60 degree low temperature in perspective, the record high for March 20, just two days later is just 62 degrees.  Therefore, that 60 degree low will likely be a record for a long time to come.

Rogue Weather

Since records have been kept, there have been a few occasions when a particular month was significantly different than any other on record.  One of the most well known of these months was July 1936 that was far warmer than any other July or month on record.  The stretch of heat that month was far beyond any other period in the record books.

February 1936 is yet another example, but this time for cold.  The cold wave that struck the area that month is unprecedented since 1881.  Other unique or so called rogue months include, October 1963 for warmth, March 2009 for precipitation and September 1965 for cold.

Another rogue month was March, 1910.  That month recorded the only 80 degree reading in March and three other days in the 70s.  It was a March unlike any other for temperatures, that is, until this month. March 2012 will take away the rogue classification of March 1910 and may set a different standard that could last for years to come.

Hemispheric Snow

The snow cover this past winter over the United States was very minimal.  As a whole, the North American continent recorded the 4th lowest snow cover extent on record this past winter, mainly due to the lack of snow over the lower 48 states.

Although individual cities may have snow cover records that date back 100 years or more, good snow cover statistics for large areas only go back to 1966 with the arrival of satellite technology.  Although the snow cover over North America and especially in the United States was well below average, the Northern Hemisphere as a whole recorded the 14th highest extent on record.

The Eurasian (Europe and Asia combined) winter snow cover was the 4th highest on record.  This was primarily due to the extremely heavy snowfall that was observed across central and Eastern Europe in January and February.

This marked the 5th straight winter with above normal snow cover in the Northern Hemisphere.

Cool Summer?

The phenomenally warm temperatures that we have been and will continue to record this month has many wondering if this has any implications for the upcoming summer. With every year being unique you can never make a definitive forecast.  What happens in the upcoming months will be unlike any other year, yet, it will probably at least resemble or as I like to refer to it, rhyme with other years.

Looking back to the 20 warmest Marches on record, 16 of them, or 80%, in turn were followed by a summer that finished with a below average temperature.  Granted, several of those years were close enough to the average to be considered “near normal”, but nevertheless finished on the low side of the average.  Plus, for those of you who like hot summers, only 1 of those 20 years did the summer finish with a well above average temperature.  Precipitation wise, only 2 of those twenty years finished with excessive rainfall contrary to many recent summers.

This should not be considered a forecast, but just an observation.

Warm Winter

The winter of 2011-2012 was remarkably warm, not only locally, but nationally as well.  You may remember that Fargo Moorhead recorded the warmest winter since 1881.  Grand Forks recorded their 4th warmest winter on record.  As a whole, the state of North Dakota recorded the 5th warmest winter on record and it was the 4th warmest for the state of Minnesota.  The National Climatic Data Center has computed overall state records since 1895.

Nationally, the months of December, January and February finished as the 4th warmest such period on record.  Although some individual cities, like Fargo Moorhead, recorded the overall warmest winter on record, no state as a whole accomplished that feat, although, every single state east of the Rocky Mountains recorded an above average winter with most of the states recording temperatures well above average.

Areas along the west coast of the United States recorded temperatures near or below average, but only the state of Alaska had a truly colder than average winter season.

Spring Outlook

Once again I was asked by the State Climatologist in North Dakota to write a summary to what I expect for the upcoming season.  What I wrote can be found below.  It can also be found in the State Climate Bulletin to be published soon.


Spring and autumns are always the most difficult to forecast because of large swings that can and do occur on both daily and weekly time scales.  Plus, with so much cold elsewhere on the planet, this spring in particular has the potential for giant swings from warm to cold.  These temperature swings can also lead to prolong periods of dry weather intermixed with brief periods of significant precipitation.

Using that as a backdrop, after a mild March that may end up as one of the warmest on record for the region, April looks to be transitioning to colder weather, followed by a near average May.  That would mean, overall, an above average temperature for the season, but we always need to remember, that does not mean consistently above average and a poorly timed cold front can easily hamper the planting season.

Although historically when a La Nina is present is the Pacific, this area has a higher than normal likelihood of recording above average precipitation in the spring, the current La Nina is fading quickly and therefore, the odds favor this season to finish nearer to the long-term average for rain and late season snowfall.  If that forecast holds, it would be a welcome change from the excessive spring moisture many areas have recorded in recent years.

The latest spring outlook from the Climate Prediction Center (CPC) for the next three months can be seen below.The CPC is forecasting a slightly higher than normal probability of above average temperatures and equal changes of above, below or normal precipitation. You can find the current and future outlooks, when new ones become available, at


Also, the North Dakota State Climate Office has links to the National Weather Service’s local 3-month temperature outlooks for the upcoming year. Those forecasts can be found at:

Snow Rollers!

Overnight Fargo Moorhead pick up approximately 1 inch of snow (I measured 1.3″).  It was relatively fluffy and fell on top of a snowpack that was crusted over.  Because of the fluffy nature of the snow overnight in combination with a strong northwest wind today, I was nervous it would turn blustery with some blowing snow.  This was certainly the case in some parts of northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota where the temperature remained below freezing all day.

But the day turned out unique for a different reason around Fargo Moorhead.  Although there were some pockets of blowing and drifting snow, the air temperature in combination with periodic bouts of sunshine allowed the fluffy snow from this morning to gradually soften during the day.  Yet, at the same time, the wind gusting over 30 mph tried to push the snow.  As the snow started to move, it started to stick to the slowly softening snow which in turn created a small snowball.

Just like when you make a snowman, the wind instead of human muscles started to roll the snow into slowly growing snowballs.  This phenomenon  is somewhat rare as it takes a unique set of circumstances to develop and we had all the right ingredients this afternoon.  Below are some pictures from my somewhat open backyard and the result.  Snow rollers!

Click on any of the images below to enlarge.

Highest Lowest Maximum

This past winter finished as the warmest since 1881 narrowly beating out the winters of 1986-87 and 1930-31.  But in another test of warmth, this past winter missed out on another record.  Looking forward, the pattern seems warm enough that the odds favor Fargo Moorhead not recording another below zero reading this season.

In total, this cold season of 2011-2012 recorded a total of 16 days with a low temperature below zero.  Our long-term average is 48 such days, so well below normal, yet, it was not a record for the fewest negative mornings.  Both the winter of 1986-87 and 1930-31 had fewer negative mornings with 14 and 15 respectively.

One other interesting element of this cold season is that it did record the highest lowest maximum.  We are completing what should be only the 9th cold season since 1881 in which Fargo Moorhead did not record a high temperature below zero, plus, of those 9 years, the coldest high of 4 degrees this season was the warmest.