Top 10 February

February is the driest month of the year with an average of 0.61 inches of rain and melted snow.  Of course, part of the reason for this month being the driest is the shortness of the month, but also, because of the general dry conditions this area experiences during the winter.  Fargo Moorhead only average 2.14 inches of moisture from December through February.

Since records started in 1881, February has been the wettest of the three principle months of winter only 20% of the time.  In the past two decades when winter snowfall has generally been above average, this month was sometimes the only period when we would catch a break from the heavy snows.  But the past two years, February has not been so kind.  Granted, last winter was mostly dry and mild, yet, February 2012 did record 12.5 inches of snow.

That was the highest since 1994, until this year, as we have already surpassed that total with a couple more days to go.

Be Positive

Last Tuesday, February 19, the official high in Fargo Moorhead was -1 degree.  The average last sub-zero high temperature occurs on February 9.  You never say never in this climate, yet, considering we have recorded only three sub-zero high temperatures during the month of March in the past 40 years, it is quite likely that the next day with a temperature remaining below zero will not occur until next winter.

Although it is unlikely for the immediate area to record another sub-zero high this cold season, that is not the case for our morning low.  The long-term average date for our last below zero low temperature of the winter occurs on March 11.  In fact, the last below zero low has occurred in March for the past six winters in a row.

hat means that even during last years record breaking March, the temperature dropped to -5 on March 5, then the warmth hit with a vengeance with the high hitting 76 degrees just 12 days later.

Lack of Melting

During the winter of 2011-2012 (December through February) Fargo Moorhead recorded a high above freezing 47 times.  That is the equivalent of the high temperature exceeding 32 degrees every other day during that three month stretch.  That was the most such days during a winter since records began in 1881.  The previous record was set during the winter of 1923-24 when 44 such days were recorded.

So far this winter, Hector Int’l has gotten above freezing on just 13 days.  Although that is a significant change from last year, the long-term average is only 18, meaning we will finish our current winter at least near the average. We may finish this winter with fewer melting days than an average winter, but overall, unless the last week of this month is bitterly cold, the winter of 2012-2013 will be our second straight winter with above average temperatures.

Higher Solar

Solar noon is designated as the time of day when the sun reaches its highest point off the horizon.  Because of our location within the Central Time Zone, solar noon never occurs right at 12:00 PM, but instead varies by approximately 15 minutes either side of 12:30 PM.  Today, for example, solar noon will occur at 12:42 PM.

On the Winter Solstice, the Sun was only at 19 degrees above the horizon at solar noon, but today it will reach 31 degrees.  Those 12 degrees of increased sun angle is very noticeable on a sunny day.  For instance, if you park your car outside, you may notice how much warmer your car’s interior is as you head out for lunch.  Plus, even on bitterly cold days, many of the black topped road surfaces the ice and snow will be melting.

If you own a home, the pitch of your roof already increases the sun angle dramatically and with the additional strength of the sun this time of year, ice dams can be a big problem.

The Drought Ends?

In the past couple of weeks, the immediate Fargo Moorhead area has received 12-18 inches of snow.  South and east of the metro, widespread 20-30 inches has fallen.  The drought is therefore over, correct?  Well, not so fast.  The moisture content of the snow was generally in the 1-2 inch range with some locations even a bit higher than that.

In our warm season a thunderstorm complex could easily put down that much rain in a couple of hours.  Although the snow was helpful, and in some instances too much of a good thing, it will still be the spring moisture that will give clues to when the dry conditions may end.  Plus, in many other locations, especially in the central and northern Red River Valley, precipitation is still running below average this winter.  Back in 2006 it was also dry, but the pattern changed late in the winter of 2006-7 and all drought talk quickly ended before the summer of 2007.

We may be repeating that scenario, but it is way too early to know for sure.

90 Years Ago

It was 90 years ago today that one of the worst blizzards in modern times was moving through the region.  It started as a weak Alberta Clipper that moved along the Rocky Mountains, reformed in Colorado and moved northeast into Minnesota.  The blizzard started late in the day on February 12, and was at peak intensity in this area the next day.  Although Fargo had a recorded snow depth of 7 inches, many other areas nearby had little to no snow cover.

The fierce wind in excess of 50 mph picked up dirt and mixed it in with the snow.  The storm became known as the “Black Dust Blizzard” because of the black snow (snirt) that was spread well east into Minnesota and Wisconsin from the exposed soils in North Dakota.

Sadly, at least 20 deaths were blamed on the blizzard just in this area alone.  Most died of exposure caught off guard by the rapidly changing conditions and bitterly cold temperatures that moved in with the storm.

This is one of many storms I will be talking about in my communiversity course coming up in March (the first three Sunday’s of the month) when I take a look at the significant weather events to impact this area.  Here is a link for information on my course:


January 2013

In a climate where the averages tend to be near the middle of large extremes, overall, January 2013, actually finished reasonably close to the long term averages for both temperature and precipitation. The average temperature last month was 10.8 degrees which is 1.5 degrees above average.

Precipitation last month was also slightly above the average.  The rain and melted snow in January totaled 0.97 inches with the average being 0.70 inches.  Snowfall last month was 9.1 inches which is slightly below the current average of 11.2 inches.  Most of that precipitation came on January 28.  Fargo Moorhead happened to be near the edge of the band of snow that developed that day.  Had that storm tracked about 30 miles farther southeast, we would have had well below average snow and precipitation for the month.

Therefore, although January precipitation finished near normal locally, many locations nearby finished either well below or well above average.  That means Fargo Moorhead happened to be in the middle of those large extremes this area often records.

Tragic End

Back on June 24, 2012 a tornado, associated with Tropical Storm Debby, moved through Highland County, Florida.  Very tragically, a young mother was killed protecting her baby from the violent wind that struck her house.  The baby still wrapped in her mother’s arms suffered broken ribs, cuts and bruises, but did make a full recovery.

That tornado death was the last one reported in the United States until last Wednesday’s severe weather that hit northern Georgia particularly hard.  An EF-3 rated tornado moved through Adairsville, Georgia killing a man when a tree fell on a shed he happened to be seeking shelter in.  That stretch of 220 days was the longest stretch between tornado deaths in the country since such records have been kept in 1950.

The previous record was 197 days which occurred from late 1986 through early 1987.  That period many of you will recall was also a period of drought and the corresponding lack of thunderstorms in the United States.