1985: One Cold Start to Winter

Three record low temperatures for Fargo Moorhead set in late November of 1985 still stand.  It was 15 below on November 23 and it was 24 below on November 27 and 28.  This was part of a remarkable severe spell of winter weather the second half of November that year.  Winter started suddenly and seemed to settle in for good.  From November 18 through November 30, a total of 24.2 inches of snow fell, mostly from three heavy snowstorms.  Starting November 20, the last eleven days of the month had subzero morning temperatures.  Seven of those mornings were lower than ten below and four were at least 20 below.  Starting November 27, the temperature remained below zero even in the daytime.  Below average temperatures continued through most of December until it turned mild around Christmas.  The remainder of that winter was much less severe.   Meteorologist John Wheeler


How Cold is Cold?

Last winter, the average temperature in Fargo Moorhead over the three primary winter months (December through February) was 1.1 degrees, which ranks as the eighth coldest winter on the record back to 1881.  The coldest winter on record is the winter of 1886-87, with an average temperature of 4.5 degrees below zero.  A difference of 5.6 degrees, averaged over an entire winter, is a powerful statement that the winter of 1886-87 was remarkable colder than what we experienced last winter.  The oldest weather record in our region comes from Fort Snelling near Minneapolis. This record is complete back to 1867 and sporadic back to 1820. At Fort Snelling, the winter of 1874-75 was significantly colder (by about three degrees) than the winter of 1886-87.  Last winter was a cold one.  But it can get a whole lot colder than that around here.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

What the Polar Vortex Is… and Isn’t


The Polar Vortex is an actual thing, although the term has been badly misused in recent months.  Most cold air outbreaks are caused by high-pressure areas dropping south from the Arctic regions, displacing cold air into the mid-latitudes.  Usually, some part of the Arctic such as Alaska or The Yukon has an accompanying mild spell of weather.  The Polar Vortex, on the other hand, is a circumpolar wind at the Jet Stream level of the atmosphere.  It is not a high-pressure area nor is it a cold front.  The Polar Vortex circulation grows stronger during winter and tends to keep the coldest weather in the hemisphere bottled up over the Polar Regions where it is perpetually dark and bitterly cold in winter.  Sometimes, however, the Polar Vortex weakens or is bent out of shape.  These episodes cause the weather over the Poles to become relatively mild while displacing Polar southward into the mid-latitudes.   Meteorologist John Wheeler


Another Cold Winter Looms

The weather will be cold next week.  The coldest of this fall so far.  Below average for the time of year.  Granted, this is only one week and not even really winter yet, but what does this mean for the Climate Prediction Center’s forecast of a warmer than average winter for our region?  Well, this one cold week means nothing.  Many of our warmest winters on record were preceded by cold November weather.  However, there are two big reasons to think this winter might be another cold one.  The snow pack over the higher latitudes of North America, including Siberia, is the most extensive since satellite records began in the 1960s.  This correlates to the winter becoming a very cold one.  Also, there are signs on the Pacific that the expected El Nino is falling apart.  The cold weather this week could just be a harbinger of another very cold winter.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Not So Hard a Freeze

By definition, the Fargo Moorhead region got its first widespread hard freeze on October 9 and 10 when the temperature dropped to 25 and 24 degrees respectively.  But those two mornings have been the only freezing temperatures we have experienced all fall.  Although technically, a temperature of 28 degrees is called a hard freeze or a killing freeze, but this does not necessarily mean all annual plants just give up.  The lack of cold weather has allowed many of the hardier plants to remain alive.  Last weekend I noticed several annual plants in my yard still in bloom.  It has not been an unusually warm fall.  The only record daily high was last Friday when the high of 75 degrees tied the record set in 1989.  It has just been consistently mild.  Such consistency in rare here in the Northern Plains, especially in the transitional season that fall usually is.  The mild weather has also allowed for an unusually colorful leaf display.  Meteorologist John Wheeler

Elephant Doppler


Elephants, apparently, can sense thunderstorms up to 150 miles away.  That’s not quite as good as Doppler radar, but it is close.  It is the elephant’s acute sense of hearing, at low frequencies in particular, that allows then to hear thunderstorms at such a distance.   Researchers at Texas A&M University used GPS collars on nine elephants to track their movements in Namibia, an exceptionally dry region with a short rainy season.  They found that the elephants would move toward the sound of thunder in order to get to the water sooner.  Elephants are able to travel great distances very quickly, and so are able to take advantage of ponds swollen by thunderstorms.  I came across this information browsing on www.popsci.com.     Meteorologist John Wheeler



Worst Drought in 100 Years


The drought year in 1934 may have been the worst across the United States in the past thousand years.  This bold statement comes from a study released last week in Geophysical Research Letters.  The scientists compiled tree ring data from 1000 to 2005, comparing to modern-day instrument data where possible, and concluded that more than 70 per cent of the United States was in a drought the summer of 1934.  This compares to about 59 per cent in 1580, the second worst drought year found in the study.  Interestingly, here in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, the summer of 1936 was probably a little worse than 1934 due to hotter temperatures in July of that year.  In Fargo Moorhead, there were ten days at 100 degrees or hotter in 1936 compared to just two in 1934.   Meteorologist John Wheeler


Forecast For Winter

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued its winter prediction this week and, based largely on the forecast of a weak El Nino developing, have given our area an increased likelihood of above normal temperatures for averaged from December through February.  This means they think it is more likely to be warmer than normal than near-normal or below-normal.   When it comes to long range winter forecasting, there is hardly a better indicator than the presence of El Nino or La Nina.  Unfortunately, even these are not as reliable as we would like them to be.  Conditions in the Pacific Ocean are neutral at the moment, but there are signs of a weak El Nino forming early in this winter.  The CPC has had more trouble than usual with winter forecasts lately because factors other than El Nino/La Nina have been trumping the winter weather regime.  The past few weeks, widespread, substantial snow cover has spread across most of Siberia, often a sign of a colder winter in our region.  In other words, we really do not know what the winter will bring.  Long range forecasting is not quite the same as guessing wildly, but it isn’t much better.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

October Severe

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The high number of severe weather reports (damaging wind, hail, tornado) from the Southern Plains across the Southeastern U.S. Sunday this week is a lot for the middle of October.  When a weather system develops which is out of character for the time of year, many people’s reaction is to ask what has gone wrong to allow for this.  In fact, however, the weather does not always know what season it is.  While the low pressure system this week was stronger than is typical for October, the main reason for all the strong thunderstorms was twofold:  Very humid air brought up from the tropical part of the Gulf of Mexico and wind blowing at different velocities at different levels of the atmosphere.  In other words, so many thunderstorms became severe because conditions were right for severe storms, in spite of the calendar.  The outbreak of storms this week is no more unusual than an early frost or a mid-winter mild spell. It’s just another case of the weather being the weather.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

Another Summer of Thin Ice

Although the Arctic summer of 2014 was cooler and less stormy than average, Arctic sea ice reached its sixth lowest extent since 1978 according to The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.  On September 17, ice covered 1.94 million square miles, compared to the 1981-2010 average of 2.40 million square miles.  Ice cover on the Arctic Ocean always retreats in summer, usually reaching a minimum in September before cold weather causes the ice to rebuild.  Warming in recent years has contributed to a general decline in the amount of the Arctic Ocean covered in ice at the end of summer.  The ice will continue to increase through the fall and winter, before reaching a maximum coverage sometime next spring.  Arctic temperatures have been on the rise since the 1800s.  However, satellite measurement of Arctic ice has only been possible since the late 1970s.   Meteorologist John Wheeler