Our average last day with a high temperature below zero in Fargo Moorhead is February 9. Therefore, any of the next few days if we fail to get above zero would be well beyond that average date. The record low maximum temperature this Friday (February 28) is -11 degrees set back in 1962, but once we hit March, high temperatures below zero become rare.
Since records have been kept in 1881, there have been only 11 instances with a high below zero in Fargo Moorhead during the month of March. The last occurred in 2009 when the high was -1 degree on March 11. A high below zero this time of year may be a bit uncommon, but low temperatures below zero are common place. The average last date with a low below zero is March 11.
Considering our current cold snap should last into next week, the odds are high our last negative reading of this season will be at least near that average if not later.
As February comes to a close and the traditional warmer weather of spring ahead of us, one very common question asked of me lately is what type of temperatures we can expect in March. The average high temperature on March 1 is 29 degrees which rises to 46 degrees on March 31. The average low climbs from 12 degrees to 26 degrees over the month.
The overall average temperature during the month of March in Fargo Moorhead is 27.8 degrees. My current forecast is for March to finish below that average, but I would be surprised if we finished anywhere near the bitterly cold average of 17.3 degrees that the metro recorded last year. That was the 16th coldest March since records began in 1881. Our average March precipitation 1.30 inches of rain and melted snow with most years a majority of that coming from melted snow. Our average March snowfall is 9.1 inches, the 3rd snowiest month of the year based on averages.
Some of the largest negative temperature anomalies (departure from average) in the Northern Hemisphere this winter have been near the Great Lakes. Therefore, it is no surprise that ice coverage on the five Great Lakes is very high this winter. The five lakes combined were 87% ice covered as of last Friday.
That was the highest level since February of 1996. Lake Superior is almost completely frozen over with 95% ice coverage. It was near that point in March, 2009, but the last time the lake was considered 100% ice covered was in March, 1996. Lake Huron is also almost completely iced over with 95% coverage, Lake Michigan was at 80% coverage and Lake Erie was 96% frozen over as of last Friday. Although Lake Ontario is the smallest of the five Great Lakes in size, it has three times the volume of Lake Erie, meaning it is a much deeper lake and harder to freeze.
That is one reason why Lake Ontario has the lowest ice coverage this winter with just 33% of that lake frozen over.
The lack of snow in the past couple of weeks have made for excellent travel conditions on the main roads, but many city streets and parking lots remain ice covered. That will likely be changing soon and not necessarily for the reason you may think. The one obvious reason that the secondary roads will be improving soon would be the rise in air temperatures, but there is another more subtle reason, the Sun.
As the Sun angle slowly increases, you will notice even on days with an air temperature well below freezing, that melting will take place on area roads on a sunny day. Although the stronger Sun will help with clearing the roads and parking lots from the abundance of ice, it also tends to cause problems. The melting that occurs will freeze nearly every night meaning slick spots each night.
That melt and freeze cycle also creates something that will be very common in the coming weeks, potholes.
December 2013 finished as the 11th coldest on record. January 2014 finished as the 59th coldest on record. Combined, December and January were the 27th coldest such period since records started in 1881 (Grand Forks recorded 20th coldest). The average temperature the last two months was 4.3 degrees which is 7.4 degrees below normal. The most recent such period colder than what we recorded this year was back in 2008.
One of the more impressive statistics from that period was the number of below zero days observed. There were 43 such days in the past two months that tied the winter of 2008-2009 for the most this century. That was also the 8th highest total for those two months combined on record. Total snowfall for the 62 days in December and January was 25.8 inches, slightly above average, but because we recorded only 0.3 inches in November and a trace in October, for the season, Fargo Moorhead is running several inches below normal, at least for now.
What have we gained since the winter solstice five weeks ago? The sun angle at solar noon has climbed from 19.5 degrees to 25.5 degrees today, which is certainly noticeable if you park your car in a sunny location during the day as it likely feels much warmer getting into it then it did a month ago.
The length of day has increased from 8.5 hours to 9.5 hours with most of that extra sunshine associated with later sunsets much more so than with earlier sunrises. The Sun now sets well after 5:00 PM allowing many traditional 8 AM to 5 PM workers to at least see some sunshine after work. One thing that has not improved much is the average high and low.
The average high and low have only improved slightly as they did not begin to increase until last week and will not increase much until the middle of February.
When I was a kid growing up in southern Minnesota, temperatures in the -10s impressed me. In December 1983, when I was home for Christmas while attending college, the temperature dropped to -30 on our home thermometer. From that point forward, temperatures in the -10s never impressed me again.
Then in late January and early February in 1996, this region was in the grips of the coldest weather in 60 years. Although Fargo dropped to -39 degrees during that cold snap, in Sioux Falls, where I was living at the time, the temperature dropped to just -33 degrees. Yet, ever since then, the -30s no longer seemed extraordinary.
When I was young, my father would always tell me that it was so much colder when he was a kid and would rarely think the weather was special. Now that I have experienced most of what my father did (except a 1936 type year), I can relate to his weather wisdom, although, I still ponder how he walked up hill to school both ways.
Do you remember what you were doing two years ago today? My guess is that at some point you were outside enjoying another beautiful day. January 10, 2012 was the second straight day with a high temperature of 51 degrees. A few days before that on January 5, 2012, the high reached 55 degrees which broke the record for the warmest temperature recorded in Fargo Moorhead during the month of January. The previous record was set back on January 20, 1908 when the high reached 54 degrees.
Although after this date in 2012 another 50 degree day was not observed in Fargo Moorhead until March, the first half of January 2012 was the warmest on record and that month finished as the 4th warmest January since records started in 1881. This month of course has started out completely different than that mild January of two years ago, but this month has been similar to numerous other beginnings of a New Year, but 2012, especially those first 10 days was a very unique period in the record book.
The last time temperatures were as cold as they have been in the past few days was back in January 2011. The winter of 2010-2011 was our 4th straight colder than average winter and the month of January that year was particularly harsh. From January 15-23, 2011 the temperature was well below zero each day, with many of those mornings in the -10s and -20s.
The coldest day was on January 21 when the low was -27 degrees, the coldest of that winter. The high that day recovered nicely to -2 degrees in the afternoon mainly because of the arrival of clouds and some extremely fluffy snow. 0.7 inches was measured that day, but it only contained 0.01 inches of liquid. The snow was so airy that you could see the pavement of your driveway through the snow that fell. That month recorded numerous dustings (accumulations under 1 inches) and finished with an average temperature of just 2.3 degrees. Sound familiar?
The just completed 2013 was our second straight year with a minimal temperature range. The warmest temperature last year was a 96 degree high on August 20 and the coldest temperature was a -21 degree low on February 1 and December 23. That makes for a yearly range of 117 degrees.
Although that may sound impressive, in our climate, that ranks as tied for the 5th lowest yearly temperature range on record. The average spread from our warmest to lowest temperature in a year is 127 degrees. 2013 marked the second year in a row with a range of only 117 degrees. The smallest range in temperature in any year was set back in 2002 when the range was only 110 degrees with the warmest temperature being 98 degrees and the coldest a mere -12 degrees that year.
The year with the highest range in temperatures to no surprise for many of you was set in 1936 when the lowest and highest temperatures were -37 degrees and 114 degrees for a range of 151 degrees.