March Blizzards


It is a myth that there are always huge blizzards in March.  In the distant past as well as in recent years, March and April pass without any blizzards at all.  Of course, it is also true that some of our most severe blizzards in history have happened in March.  Across North Dakota, the benchmark for blizzards may well be the monster blizzard of March 3-6, 1966, when one to three feet of snow with winds 50 to 100 mph built drifts 30 feet high.  But March is not the only month with a tendency to produce memorable winter storms.  All of the cold months from October through April have produced at least a few severe blizzards.  Interestingly, the big ones are most common in three of the months; November, January, and March.  November and March provide the greatest proximity of warm and cold as the seasons change.  January is the king month for hybrid Alberta Clipper storms connecting with super strong Arctic high pressure systems.   John Wheeler


Average is Average


Average March snowfall is 9.1 inches.  Average April snowfall is 3.0 inches. This does not mean we are for sure in for a foot of snow before spring.  Nor does this mean we should expect around a foot of snow unless something goes wrong with the weather.  What is average implies nothing about what is supposed to happen.  Average is derived by taking an average.  Almost all of the time, weather is above or below average and the average is just the middle of all the samples.  We usually use the average of the three most recent complete decades to calculate the average.  At present, we are using 1981-2010 to compute our averages.  Each new decade the averages change.  This is so what we refer to as average keeps up with the gradual changes in our climate without overreacting to sudden swings in year-to-year weather.  We might get very little snow during March and April.  Or the storm track could change and we might get a lot.  That’s weather.  That’s all.    John Wheeler


Here Comes the False Spring

The limited snow cover this winter is a big reason for the warm up coming the next few days.  The milder weather is primarily a result of upper level winds and not the lack of snow, but it is the lack of snow which will likely cause several of the next few days to be anywhere from five to fifteen degrees warmer than they would have been had there still been significant snow on the ground.  Although the sun’s rays feel warm on our faces, sunlight does not heat the air very much at all.  The sun is mainly able to warm the atmosphere indirectly, by heating the ground with radiation (They’re not called sun rays for nothing.), which then heats the air through convection.  When the ground is white with snow, most solar radiation is reflected, so the air remains much colder.  The melting of the snow may give us an early spring, but it may well be a false one.  Weather history suggests a return to a snow-covered landscape is likely before spring comes to stay.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

Peak Snow Likely Still to Come

Typically the peak snow cover in our winter season happens late in the winter.  Places with climates less cold, in which snow typically comes and goes through the winter, may experience maximum snow depth at any time, depending on when the biggest snowfall happens. But in our region, snow tends to build up through the winter.  The deepest snow is usually in February or March.  Last winter, snow depth peaked at 13 inches twice, January 25-28 and February 17-18.  In 2013, peak depth was 20 inches from March 18-10.  In 2012, there was very little snow most of the winter like this year, but it peaked at nine inches March 3-5.  In 2011, peak snow cover was 16 inches February 9.  Back in 2010, peak snow depth was 20 inches February 8-19. And in 2009, peak depth was 16 inches January 4 and again on March 11.  Fargo Moorhead’s record snow depth was 32 inches on March 4, 1997.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

2014 Was a Warm Year, But Not Here

NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both reported last week that 2014 is the warmest year in Earth’s temperature record since at least 1880.  These studies are separate analyses of the instrument record from around the world.  The two studies used slightly different techniques to estimate temperatures in the many locations not represented by actual thermometers.  A separate analysis of satellite-derived temperature data suggests that 2014 may be just the third warmest year.  The differences are slight and in either case, Earth is going through a very warm period relative to anything observed or estimated over the past several hundred years.  The average temperature in Fargo Moorhead for 2014 was 39.9 degrees, which is quite a bit lower than the average of 42.4 degrees.  Globally, the most significant warming continues to occur in the higher latitudes, particularly the Arctic.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Mayan Mega Drought


A new report featured in reconfirms other research suggesting that the great Mayan Civilization in Central America collapsed due to a mega drought.  Researchers examined core sediments taken from Belize’s famous Blue Hole lagoon and found strong evidence of a sharp decline in tropical storms over two separate century-long periods.  The first, from around 700-800 A.D., coincides with a time in which the great Mayan Empire which had flourished for hundreds of years, to fracture and move north.  The second, from around 1000-1100 A.D., coincides with a further decline of the great early American society.  It is theorized there was a shift in the primary belt of tropical storms which would have caused the droughts, making life in early American large cities virtually impossible.   Meteorologist John Wheeler


Staying Above Minus 40

Thursday, January 8, is the anniversary of the coldest temperature ever officially recorded by the National Weather Service for Fargo Moorhead.  On this morning in 1887, a temperature of 48 below was recorded by what was then called the U.S. Weather Bureau which was located at the Moorhead Post Office and Federal Building at 521 Main Avenue at what is now the Rourke Art Museum.  This number does not reflect wind chill.  It was a mercury-in-glass thermometer reading.  A similar temperature of 47 below was recorded February 9 of 1888.  There are just over a handful of readings in the minus 40s in the entire Fargo Moorhead record book; all of them in a six year period between 1883 and 1888 (Temperature records began in 1881.).  Although 39 below has been reached on two occasions since, most recently on February 1, 1996, it has not been 40 below in Fargo Moorhead since the 1880s.  At least, not officially.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

Ice Heaves and Ocean Rises

Many area lakes have recently developed ice heaves.  Ice can pile up to a depth of several feet and can damage shoreline in some areas.  Ice heaves because it expands.  But what many people don’t know, or have forgotten since they learned it in school, is that the chemical substance we call water (or water vapor or ice depending on its state) is at its most dense at 38 degrees.  As water gets colder (below 38 degrees) it actually expands.  This is what caused the ice to heave.  This is also what causes containers of leftover soup to overflow in your freezer if you fill them too full.  Note that water also expands as it warms (at temperatures above 38 degrees) so you have to be careful about any containers of soup packed at 38 degrees and left out on the cabinet.  On a related note, the sea level rose an average of six inches during the Twentieth Century mostly due to the same thermal expansion process.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Winters Can Change

In early December two winters ago, the Fargo Moorhead area had a measly inch of snow on the ground and we would still have just three inches six weeks later on January 27.  Then it started snowing.  We got five inches in January 28.  Then another ten inches fell February 10.  Four more inches fell in a series of little storms in February followed by 15 inches in March and another 17 inches in April.  Snow cover reached a maximum average depth in mid-March and we would not see the ground again until April 27.  It is impossible to predict if the remainder of this winter will be snowy or not.  But the winter of 2012-13 taught us that because winters are long in this region, they can change.  November was cold and dry.  So far, December is looking mild and dry.  But things can change.  There is a long way to go before spring.  Meteorologist John Wheeler

Cold November

November here in the Fargo Moorhead area was cold.  The month, as a whole, was six degrees below average. The first wave of cold air moved in November 9, starting an early winter run of 22 out of 24 days below freezing.  While impressive, the cold has set no records here.  We live in a region where early cold snaps must be expected from time to time.  However, as the cold air built into the Mid-South and Southern U.S., it did began setting records.  The most impressive was about a week after the initial front passed through Fargo Moorhead.  According to Dr. Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL, November 19, 2014, was the coldest November day across the Lower 40 since November 30, 1976.  A full 85 per cent of the Lower 48 was below freezing, with many locations setting both record lows and record highs for the day.  The pattern has since relaxed and now most of the U.S. is enjoying above average temperatures.  Meteorologist  John Wheeler