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

 

The North Wind Doth Blow

It has been a windy fall.  Very windy compared to last year.  Through September, October, and the first 21 days of November, there have been wind gusts of at least 20 mph on 56 of the 82 days and gusts of at least 30 mph on 19 of those 82 days.  In the fall of 2013, the same period produced just 49 days with gusts of at least 20 mph and just eight days with wind gusts of at least 30 mph.  The reason for the wind is a high frequency of storm systems which have produced a lot of changes in air pressure.  Interestingly, those same storm systems have not generated much precipitation.  Fargo Moorhead has only received 3.27 inches since September 1, and most of that came on two days.  We received 1.99 inches in a thunderstorm September 4 and 0.40 inches in a rain shower November 5.  The remaining 0.88 inches has come from occasional rain or snow showers.  To be fair, there was a significant snow storm which passed just south of the Fargo Moorhead area November 10.

I am reminded of a very old English nursery rhyme.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then?
Poor thing.

He’ll sit in a barn,
And keep himself warm,
And hide his head under his wing,
Poor thing.

 

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

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

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

Earliest Snow, Earliest Cold

On September 25, 1912, it snowed in Fargo Moorhead.  The summer of 1912 had been hot and very dry and the heat wave had continued into the early part of September.  Three of the first eight days in September were in the 90s.  But it began to rain September 12.  It rained on 12 of the next 14 days.  During this time, the weather turned remarkably cooler.  Daily high temperatures dropped into the 50s starting September 14.  There was a light frost on September 16.  On September 24 and 25, a steady rain accumulated to more than one inch with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees.  And late on September 25, the cold rain turned to snow, accumulating two inches on the ground during the night.  It remains the earliest measurable snow in Fargo Moorhead recorded history.

On September 26, 1965, it was 19 degrees in Fargo Moorhead.  The month of September, 1965, had been cool from the start.  It had been that cloudy, cool, dank weather that sometimes settles in during the fall for long periods.  Most days were in the 50s.  Frost had not happened due to the perpetually cloudy weather.  But on September 24, the sky cleared but it only warmed to 62 degrees.  That night, it turned unusually cold.  By midnight, the temperature had reached 29 degrees, and by morning it was 22.  The following day, September 25, it remained sunny but the high was just 55 degrees.  The following morning, the temperature bottomed out at 19 degrees.  This remains the earliest temperature in the teens in Fargo Moorhead weather history. The next three days, the clouds returned and highs were only in the 40s, but there was no more frost until early October.  The winter of 1965-66 was bitterly cold but is most famous for the terrible blizzard of March, 1966, considered by most climatologists to have been the strongest blizzard of the 20th Century on the Great Plains.

Meteorologist John Wheeler

 

First Frosts Coming Later

With our weather expected to remain generally mild for a while longer, it is likely the Fargo Moorhead area will again make it into October without frost. We had a miserably cold spring this year, so it is nice that the weather is extending the growing season a bit on this other end.  Interestingly, this is becoming the new normal.  Back in the 1880s when weather record keeping began in Fargo Moorhead, the first frost of fall was usually in early September and sometimes in late August.  Over the past three decades, the average first frost date has shifted to September 30.  Over the past ten years, only two have had a frost in September.  The rest were all in October.  Although in 2004, it did get to 34 degrees August 20 and some light frost was observed on rooftops.  And while our fall frosts are happening later and later, there has been little movement of the average last frost of spring.  It remains about May 8.       Meteorologist John Wheeler

Cool Day in Death Valley

On Sunday, August 3, the Furnace Creek weather station in Death Valley, CA, recorded a high temperature of 89 degrees.  This was the first August day with a high temperature below 90 degrees since 1984 and broke the daily record low maximum temperature by 15 degrees. Early Sunday morning, the weather was typically hot with temperatures in the upper 80s.  But it was cloudy, which is very rare.  Thick clouds from decayed thunderstorms were blowing in from the southeast, the only direction without a mountain range to block the weather.  The clouds persisted and eventually rain showers developed.  The rain-cooled air kept the temperature from rising all day.  On social media, many people have been taking advantage of this unusual record to suggest that this weather either proves or disproves their political opinions regarding climate change.  Both political sides were equally involved.  But it actually proves nothing.  It was just a rare weather situation.  After all, the same thing happened in 1984.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

What Really Is the Record?

Fargo Moorhead weather data has been measured and recorded at Hector Airport since February of 1942.  Prior to that, our weather was recorded at the National Weather Bureau Office in Moorhead, in what is now the Rourke Museum.  But I recently learned from Daryl Ritchison of the North Dakota Climate Office that sporadic record keeping actually had begun at the Fargo Airport in 1930, and meticulous, hourly weather records from Hector started in 1932.  This means there is a period of ten years during the Dust Bowl when there is a complete other set of weather records for this area.  The Moorhead data are the numbers used for the official record because that was the official site until 1942.  But the Fargo data appear to be good data.  One item that stands out is July 6, 1936.  The all-time record high for Fargo Moorhead of 114 degrees was set that afternoon.  However, over in Fargo, the unofficial instrument at Hector recorded 115 degrees for two consecutive hours that day.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

The Worst Heat Wave

At this time in 1936, our region was in the about to begin its most extreme heat wave on record.  For eleven straight days, from July 6-16, the high temperature in Fargo Moorhead was at least 99 degrees.  The average high during the period was 104 degrees.  Nine of the eleven days were in the 100s.  The hottest temperature during the heat wave was the 114 reading on July 6 which is still the hottest on record for Fargo Moorhead.  There was little relief at night, either.  Most morning lows were in the 70s and two mornings, July 10 and 11, were 82 and 80 degrees.  The heat withered crops and tested the endurance of people.  Most rural areas still had no electricity so there was not even a fan to use.  The remainder of that summer was hot and dry and there was one more 100 degree day on September 21.  The ten days of 100 degree weather are the most recorded in Fargo Moorhead  in one year.     Meteorologist John Wheeler