The Event of 2012?

At the end of each year, there are often stories highlighting some of the most important news stories of the previous 12 months.  In our climate there are often numerous weather events that could also be listed.

If I had to pick the most significant weather event in 2012 it would come down to either the record breaking warm temperatures or the dry conditions that plagued most of the area this past year.  Neither would necessarily be a snapshot in time like a tornado or a horrific blizzard, but instead a process that occurred over the entire year.  Because the dry conditions this year came after an extended stretch of extremely wet weather, the impacts were lessened to some degree.

It is because of that and the fact that 2012 will likely be the warmest year since 1881 with two well above average months of January and March that the warmth of 2012 gets my vote for the weather event of the year.


Last year Fargo Moorhead recorded a brown Christmas.  Other recent brown Christmas’ included 2006, 1999 and 1994.  Our historic average for having a white Christmas is 84%, meaning that approximately once every decade we have no snow on the ground on this morning.   This year we are experiencing a white Christmas.

You may remember that a year ago today, I forecasted a white Christmas in 2012.  It was based on the fact that the odds favored me being right and that locally there has never been two brown December 25ths in a row since such records have been kept.  Although we do not have a lot of snow on the ground, it is close to the historic average of 4 inches for this date.

The extremely snowy Decembers from 2007 to 2010 tended to skew our perception of how white the ground usually is this time of year.  Yet, both the amount of snow on the ground and our total for the season are pretty close to the average.

Record Record Highs

As 2012 comes to a close, so do the final weather statistics for the year.  2012 will go down as the warmest year since 1881 in Fargo Moorhead and also one of the driest.  Although this past year did not record any extreme summer heat like other notable warm years in the past, at other times of this year, the temperatures could be considered extreme, especially in January and March.

During those two months, 11 record high temperatures were recorded, including the warmest January temperature on record.  In all, 18 record highs were recorded this past year ranking 2012 as having the most record highs of any year, surpassing both 1936 and 1931 that currently hold 15 record highs.

No record lows were recorded in 2012, in fact, the last record low temperature recorded in Fargo Moorhead was nearly three years ago on January 2, 2010 when the temperature dropped to -33 that morning.


Edit: fixed typo from two to three years in last sentence.


Warm Start to December

The first half of December had an average temperature of 21.2 degrees which is nearly 5 degrees above average.  It was the 37th warmest such stretch since 1881.  Last year the first half of December averaged about 1 degree warmer so this has been the second straight mild December (at least for now).

That was definitely not the case from 2007 to 2010.  All four of those Decembers started cold and finished cold.  Those were also very snowy Decembers with all of them ranking in the Top 10 snowiest on record with December 2008 ranked as the snowiest December since snow records began.  It was the abundant moisture from those four months that also set the stage for the flooding that occurred the following springs.

Although the second half of this month may trend colder, it is highly unlikely we will experience anything like we did during that stretch.


In the Atlantic Ocean they are called hurricanes.   In the western Pacific they are referred to as typhoons.  In the southern Pacific and in the Indian Ocean they are referenced as tropical cyclones.  The tropical cyclone season is just beginning and already one has brought devastation.

Somoa and neighboring American Somoa were hit last week by Tropical Cyclone Evan.   Evan was a Category 2 Tropical Cyclone when it made a direct hit on Upolu, the eastern of the two principle islands of Somoa.  It then moved northeast with the eye wall just missing American Somoa and then it stalled and moved back toward Somoa with the eye wall barely missing them again.  That track kept high wind and torrential rainfall over the area for a few days. Tragically at least three deaths were attributed to Evan with two of those deaths being young children.

The storm then intensified into a Category 4 storm and headed southwest and had major impacts on Fiji on Monday.

When Winter Was Hard

Winter can be a very hard time of the year for many of us.  The persistent ice on many surfaces makes it difficult to both drive and walk.  The bitter cold forces many people to stay home frequently and besides a wave from driveway to driveway as we are shoveling, we tend to not see our neighbors very much.

It is with that backdrop that every winter I think back to the original European settlers in this area living in a so called “shanty” or “soddie” that were frequently just one room.  In that one room an entire family lived, slept and ate in just a few hundred square feet of space.  The nearest neighbor may be a mile or more away and the then treeless prairie was very prone to whiteout conditions with little if any warning.

Winter may or may not be your favorite season, but modern technology has certainly made it a much more pleasant season then it was a couple of generations ago and for that we can be thankful.

Forty-six to go

This past Sunday evening, December 9, the temperature dropped below zero for the first time this season.  Last year we also recorded our first negative low of the season on December 9, although, it occurred during the more traditional early morning hours.  The long term average date for such an occurrence is on November 28.

Not only has the first below zero temperature of the year occurred later than average the past two years, but that has been a trend in recent years.  Only three out of the past thirteen years has our first negative occurred earlier than the average.  Although, it should be noted that almost all of those years, like this year, the first negative temperature did occurred during the early part of December.

Because the temperature dropped below zero Sunday evening and it remained below zero into Monday morning we have now recorded two below zero days this winter season.  Our cold season average is 48 such days.

Signs of Winter

What are the signs of winter?  Persistent snow cover?  Frosty windshields?  Icy roads? Temperatures below zero? For most of us, the answer is likely all of the above, plus a few others.  Today brings yet another sign that winter is definitely here, a record high in the 40s.  Today is the first day of the season with a record high below 50 degrees.

Today’s record high is 47 degrees set 10 years ago in 2002.  As we learned on numerous days last winter, high temperatures during the winter can get into the 50s.   Yet from today until February 22, about two-thirds of the days will have a record high in the 40s, the rest will be in the 50s.  The lowest record high is 40 degrees on both January 3 and January 15 meaning that Fargo Moorhead does not have any record highs in the 30s.

The next day with a record high in the 60s will be on February 25 with a record of 66 degrees set in 1958, a mere 77 days from now.

Dry Autumn

September 2012 was the driest on record in Fargo Moorhead.  Only 0.12 inches of rain was recorded that month at Hector Int’l which was 0.01 inches less than in September 1974 which was the previous driest September on record.  Those extremely dry conditions that month were not only confined to our area.

Bismarck for example, recorded only 0.05 inches of rain in September.  That, by the way, was not a record for them, as a meager 0.02 inches of rain fell on the state capital of North Dakota in September 1948.  Although precipitation was more plentiful in October and November, the past three months ended up finishing well below average locally.  In Bismarck, even with a slightly wetter November than average, the past three months ended up being the driest autumn on record for that city, with only 2.14 inches being recorded during the season.

The old record of 2.37 inches was recorded just last year meaning two straight extremely dry autumns for that area.