Winter: It’s a Gas

One added benefit of warmer weather in March is better gas mileage in our cars.  Cold weather causes a significant drop in fuel efficiency, especially in very cold winter climates like ours.  There are several reasons for this.  Colder motor oil and other fluids cause greater friction in the engine.  Cold weather causes tire pressure to drop, increasing friction.  Winter grades of gasoline have a little less energy than summer grades.  Outside the vehicle, the denser cold air adds additional drag force.  Finally, slick roads cause the wheels to slip and that is wasted energy.  All of these things add up to a ten to thirty per cent reduction in fuel economy during winter.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

February Review

February has been the wintriest of the winter months this year.  The average temperature for the month was about seven degrees which is about six degrees below the long term average for February.  The coldest temperature was nineteen below on February 19th and again on the 22nd.  There were just two days thawing temperatures during the month.  It was 34 on the 6th and 36 on the 7th.   For comparison, the average January temperature of 16.0 is 6.7 degrees above average.  The average December temperature was 21.1 degrees is 7.0 degrees above average.  Snow amounted to 8.1 inches, which is near the average for the month, making February by far the snowiest month of the winter so far.  Total winter snowfall in Fargo Moorhead is still just 15.6 inches.    Meteorologist John Wheeler


Sign of Spring

Although the weather is still cold, on almost any sunny day there is meltwater visible on streets, sidewalks, and parking lots.  The days are getting longer but, more to the point, the sun is getting higher in the sky.  The more direct sunlight is able to pass through the atmosphere and heat the ground.  Bright, white snow reflects a lot of the sunlight, but darker surfaces like roads and roofs absorb some of the rays and warm up.  Even on a cold late-winter day, with temperatures barely above zero, there will be melting. Look closely and you will see steam rising off some of these dark surfaces, too.  Steam forms in the cooler air over a pan of boiling water and this is a similar process.  Runners and walkers will notice that streets and sidewalks are not so icy this time of year during the daytime, although the occasional splat of slush can be a cold slap on a bitter day

Boston’s Worst vs Ours

The ridiculous snowfall in the area around Boston (seven and a half feet in 23 days) brings to mind our own winter from heck in 1996-97.  Fargo Moorhead received 117 inches of snow that winter (almost ten feet mid-November through mid-April).  Although our snow back in the Winter of ’97 did not come all at once like it has lately in Boston, it was a relentless winter.  In addition to the eight blizzards, our area was under a constant barrage of near-blizzard blowing snow days.  And much of the winter was very cold.  We endured subzero temperatures on 67 calendar days, 38 of those at least ten below.  Boston has been below zero twice this winter, with a coldest of three below this past Monday.  This is not to diminish what our Massachusetts friends are going through.  The point is that anytime a certain location goes through a winter with extraordinary statistics, the results can be extraordinarily difficult to deal with.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

The Boston Avalanche

Through Monday, the official snow total for Boston stood at 90.5 inches since January 24.  That’s seven and a half feet of snow in 23 days.  It works out to about four inches a day or a foot every three days.  A quick examination of the Fargo Moorhead snow records reveal a maximum 23 day total of 43.3 inches from December 20, 1988 through January 11, 1989.   Boston averages about 44 inches a winter compared to our 50 inches.  However, Boston is on the Atlantic Ocean and so has a readily available moisture source.  But that same ocean also supplies milder air, often turning Boston’s snow into rain.  The perfect snow setup in Boston lately is a storm track stuck in the same place and a colder than average temperature pattern.   Fargo Moorhead has plenty of cold air and gets very little wintertime rain, but the moisture source is much further away, so such a thing here would be less likely to happen.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Wind Chill Varagies

The Wind Chill Index is a useful method for quantifying the additional cooling effect of wind in cold weather.  It helps people make decisions about outside activities.  But it is not absolutely accurate at all.  First of all, the Wind Chill does not measure the Wind chill where you are.  Local gusts and turbulence in the wind field make big differences.  The Wind Chill is calculated from measurements made at the sensor at the airport, not where you are. Plus, there are other important factors that affect how we react to the cold.  A Wind Chill of 20 below is a lot less dangerous in the sunshine and a lot more dangerous at night.  Also, each of us reacts to cold, wind, and Wind Chill differently.  You know that person in your family who is always cold? That’s real.  Human physiology varies from person to person.  There is one absolute, however.  With all of us, when the temperature of a patch of skin reaches 32 degrees, it is frostbitten.  So be sure to take Wind Chill Advisories and Warnings seriously and be smart and safe in cold weather.    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

North Dakota is for Lovers

One cold winter night many years ago, I was at a party with friends when it was suggested that the old tourism slogan from the State of Virginia, “Virginia is for Lovers,” would apply very well to North Dakota or Minnesota.  The idea is that when it is very cold outside, it might be a good thing to just stay inside.  Therefore, North Dakota (or Minnesota) is for Lovers.  As a tourism slogan, this might not necessarily work too well. Though it is true that some people prefer our winter weather to anything hot and humid, to use our region’s Wind Chill Factor in order to increase tourism is a plan doomed to fail.  But it is, after all, Valentine’s Day.  So if you haven’t already made a Valentine’s Day reservation, consider that North Dakota (or Minnesota) is for lovers and just stay home tonight.    Meteorologist John Wheeler




What is a “Weather Event” Anyway?

There is a wonderful essay in the online “Chronical of Higher Education” from February 3 written by William Germano on the topic of the terms, “rain event” and “snow event.”  I laughed aloud as I read the article because these words have always bothered me.  Why do some reporters and meteorologists feel the need to call weather a “weather event?” Is a rain not just a rain?  Why do we need to call it a rain event? When the sun comes up and then goes down we call that a day and not a “day event.”  When I feed my dogs it is suppertime and not a dog food event.  Broadcast journalists strive to be efficient with words so as not to waste time.  My point is that describing a snowstorm as a snow event is really a wasted time event, which in this case would be about half a second.      Meteorologist John Wheeler

From No Snow to Buried

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The weather station at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, has recorded a total of 70.8 inches of snow in the past 17 days.  The barrage of blizzards began with an innocent enough five inch snowfall back on January 24.  Two days later, a monster snowfall of just over two feet broke the record for a single snowfall at Logan.  There was a 16 inch snowfall on Groundhog Day, followed by a few nuisance snows.  The crown was delivered this past Sunday and Monday as another 22 inches was measured.  The residents of Boston are somewhat used to getting big snows.  Their location so far north on the Atlantic Ocean ensures a snowy winter combination of freezing weather and ample moisture for snow.  But the past two and a half weeks have been extraordinary.  Prior to this recent 17 day snow sequence, there had only been about six inches of snowfall this winter.  Less, even, than what we had received here in Fargo Moorhead.    Meteorologist John Wheeler