The average high today is 31 degrees. The average high will stay below freezing until March 8 when that average will finally be back to 32 degrees. During the three principle months of winter, December through February, Fargo Moorhead averages 18 days with a high temperature above freezing.
n four out of the last five winters, we have recorded a below average number of melting days. The one exception was during the winter of 2011-2012 when on 47 of the 91 days that winter the high temperature was above freezing. That is the most of any winter on record. Of note, the other four of the past five winters in total had only recorded 47 days above freezing, an example of how unique the winter of 2011-2012 was for warmth.
The record lowest number of winter days above freezing is two such days that occurred during the brutal winter of 1978-1979.
Last week on Halloween, 42 tornadoes were reported across the country. Most of those were confirmed with storm survives over the following days. That was the most tornadoes reported on October 31 since at least 1950. That was also the highest daily tornado count in the United States since early July.
Yet, even with a high number of tornadoes recorded last week, the 2013 season overall has been one of the quietest since good severe weather records started in 1950. Not only has the tornado season been quiet, but so has the Atlantic hurricane season. Through October the Accumulated Cyclone Energy (ACE) index was the 4th lowest since 1950 for the Atlantic basin.
Plus, it will probably be another year without a major hurricane strike on the lower 48 states, continuing the longest such streak since at least the Civil War.
October seems to be one of those months that no one really expects it to snow, yet, when no snow is actually measured, many seem to get surprised by that as well. One reason perhaps is that October snow has been fairly common in recent years. Fargo Moorhead averages just 0.7 inches in October. yet five out of the past seven years have recorded more than one inch of snow.
Historically, measurable snow has occurred in 45% of all Octobers since snow records have been kept, making these recent snowy Octobers seem more typical then it has been historically. Most years any snow this time of year is in smaller quantities as it only takes 3.8 inches to make it into the top 10 snowiest Octobers on record. Last year we came close to that finishing as the 11th snowiest when 3.6 inches were measured.
This year we tied with numerous years as the 60th snowiest October on record with just a trace being reported.
The average temperature through the first 10 months of 2013 is running about 1 degree below average. Seven of the ten months this year recorded temperatures reasonably close to the average with most of them finishing just slightly above normal. September was the only month so far this year that finished well above average. The temperature last month was 5.3 degrees above normal.
But the reason this year as a whole is running below average is because of the extremely cold March and April this region recorded. April 2013 was the coldest April on record for the state of North Dakota and ranked as the 3rd coldest in Minnesota. April finished more than 10 degrees below average in Fargo Moorhead after the month of March had also finished more than 10 degrees below normal.
Therefore, 2013 will probably finish as colder than average overall principally because of those two very cold spring months.
Six months ago today was also a Friday and many of us were waking up to snow on the ground. In Fargo, 1.4 inches had fallen the previous day and although most of it had melted before sunset, there was still a touch of white covering the ground. But in northwestern Minnesota, 3 to 6 inches of snow had fallen with the ground still very white on that chilly Friday morning.
Although most of the reports from that October 4 snow event stayed under 6 inches, there was a small area around Badger, Minnesota that recorded between 10 and 15 inches of snow. That of course is a significant snow storm for any time of the year, but especially in early October. The wet sloppy snow fell on trees full of leaves snapping branches and causing power outages that lasted for a few days in some locations. Here we are six months later with snow still on the ground and the potential for more.
Perhaps it was not the worst cold season on record, but you are not mistaken if you think it has been a very long winter.
The strong wind that accompanied the arctic cold front that moved through the area on Saturday, not only brought cold and blowing snow, but also a layer of snirt. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, snirt is a mixture of dirt and snow.
The lack of snow cover in the area has left many of the fields partially exposed. That allowed the strong wind on Saturday to pick up some dirt that mixed in with the blowing snow. Although not all areas have a noticeable brown hue to the snow, but the areas that do, it is most noticeable on the tops of the drifts. The past two decades have recorded so many snowy winters that snirt is a word that has not been used much, but historically dirty snow was much more common.
The famed “Super Bowl Blizzard” of 1975 that crippled much of Minnesota did not drop much snow locally, but the wind was so fierce that houses were covered in so much snirt that in North Dakota it was referenced as the “Black Blizzard”.
In the spring, we are often looking forward to recording our first 60, 70 or 80 degree day of the year. In the autumn on the other hand, it is difficult to know when we have experienced the last such day of the year.
This past Saturday, the official high temperature was 88 degrees and based on a few conversations, many of you probably felt that was the last hurrah of the season. The average last 80 degree day is September 29, yet, historically an 80 degree high temperature has been recorded approximately every other year during the month of October. Plus, the last day with a record high in the 80s is on October 25.
Although we have cool off in recent days, considering how dry the top soil continues to be, plus the overall warmth we have experienced much of the year, another day or two in the 80s will likely not surprise any of us.
Yesterday in this space, I wrote about how frequently the high temperature has been above 80 degrees this summer. This consistency of above average temperatures has likely been very noticeable on your electric bill if you cool your house with an air conditioner. Yet, the daytime high temperatures have only been part of the reason why your electric bill has been so high this summer as the low temperatures have also played a role.
Our average low temperature is currently 60 degrees, yet most summer the low is in the 50s just as frequently as it is in the 60s. Overnight temperatures in the 50s generally allow you to open up the windows and let the cool overnight breezes naturally cool your house. This month there has only been three such nights with a low in the 50s and more importantly we have recorded five days with a low in the 70s. We only average three 70 degrees lows in an entire summer. So although this summer has been far from unprecedented, it certainly has been a change from recent years.
The winter of 2001-2002 was very mild. That winter finished with an average temperature of 20.0 degrees and is currently ranked as the 4th warmest on record. That winter like this winter also had an abundance of days with temperatures above freezing. In total, that winter recorded 38 days with a high over 32 degrees. In many ways, that winter is a good reference to what is occurring this year.
In no way should this be considered a forecast, as each year is different, but that cold season was an example of how quickly the weather patterns can change. After 3 months of exceptionally mild conditions, March 2002 turned cold and snowy. The average temperature that month was colder than what was recorded in both December and February that season, with only January finishing colder.
Looking through the records I could find no other cold season when a March was the 2nd coldest month of winter. The odds favor that not happening this year, but you should never say never in our climate
Today marks the day when our average first below zero temperature of the season occurs. Historically, our first below zero reading often occurs after our first significant snowfall. That was certainly the case last year as November 2010, like this year, was generally mild, but the weather quickly turned colder after a very fluffy 12 inches of snow fell on November 22.
That night, the sky cleared and the temperature plummeted to -8 degrees on the morning of the 23rd. This year with no snow fall of consequence occurring yet, no below zero readings have been recorded, although, the airport did drop to 1 degree on November 20. That particular low was a testament to how cold that air mass really was for this area to see a reading that low without the aid of any snow cover.
In fact, that same air mass in January with several inches of snow on the ground would have likely yielded a low easily in the -10s.