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.
Do you ever notice 1 degree? The answer is likely no. Granted, when I forecast 70 degrees for the first time next spring and the official high ends up at 69 degrees, you may notice, but 1 degree is generally too insignificant to be noticeable.
But to a meteorologist, 1 degree is often the difference between a good forecast and a terrible miss. You see, one degree can easily be the difference between a cold rain and snow, or vice versa. A 6 inch snow forecast that turns out to be a cold rain will have you unknowingly noticing that magical 1 degree. Plus, that one degree could mean rain in one area with minimum travel difficulties to heavy snow and hazardous travel just a few miles away.
So the next time it rains instead of snows, or the rain ends up being freezing rain, remember, that often it was just one degree that made a world of difference.
Each spring, there are usually many inquires as to when our first 60 or 70 degree reading can be expected. Our long term average first 70 degree reading of the spring occurs on April 18. Each spring, of course, we are guaranteed to eventually record that first 70 of the season. In the autumn on the other hand, it is difficult to know when we have experienced our last such day of the year.
This past Wednesday, the official high temperature was 71 degrees and the question has been asked of me several times if that was the last 70 of the year. The average last 70 degree day of the year is October 18. We have recorded a 70 degree day after that average only twice in the past decade.
Although we will be experiencing cool weather over the next several days, the over all pattern may yet give us one last warm day before the cold of winter settles in permanently.
The warm weather this week has prompted several individuals to ask me if temperatures in the 80s this time of year is unusual. Including this month, 64 of the 131 Octobers on record have recorded at least one day with a high temperature at or above 80 degrees, Although recording a high in the 80s happens in about one-half of all Octobers, what is more usual are years with multiple 80 degree days.
There have been only 22 Octobers with three or more 80 degree days with a maximum of seven set back in October 1910. Last year, Fargo Moorhead recorded three 80 degree days, all consecutively from October 8-10. The longest 80 degree consecutive streak in October occurred in 2003 when for 5 straight days, October 6-10, the high reached 80 degrees or higher.
That record may be in jeopardy of being broken this week if the clouds can stay away the next couple of days.
Although the next few days will be the coolest since May 13, the first 12 days of September brought some of the finest weather of the year to the area. For only the 4th time since 1881 no measurable precipitation was recorded during that stretch. Plus, it was the first time since 2003 that the beginning of September finished with below average precipitation.
Last year, the first 12 days of September brought 3.54 inches of rain and back in September 2008, 4.46 inches was recorded. Both of those years finished with over 5 inches of total precipitation for the month which in turn was the first step to the flooding the occurred the following springs. Not only was the beginning of this month dry, it was also mild.
Those first 12 days of September finished as the 20th warmest such stretch on record with an average temperature of 67.5 degrees including our first 90 degree day in September since 2008.