The record for the latest 50 degree high temperature we broke this week was previously set in 1881. Although snowfall and snow depth records were not kept that year locally, based on the melted precipitation and the temperatures, it is likely the winter snow cover persisted into April that year.
If you ever read Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Book “The Long Winter”, you are perhaps unknowingly familiar with the spring of 1881 as the winter she described took place in 1880-1881. In the book she describes a warm up finally coming in April. Fargo Moorhead also recorded a shift in the temperatures that month from the 30s to the 70s in a span of 10 days that quickly melted the snow. That warm up melted the huge snow drifts blocking the trains from getting into South Dakota that allowed the Ingalls’ family to finally have their Christmas turkey in May.
Our past winter was far less severe, but this snow season did start in October and is still on going in April, just like the winter described in her book.
The official recording of temperature and precipitation data started in Moorhead on January 1, 1881. It was not until April 17, that year, did the observer record a temperature at or above 50 degrees, but on this date in 1881, the high was written down as 57 degrees. Every year since that first year of record keeping the first 50 degree day occurred earlier than that date. In fact, the overall average of such an occurrence through the years is nearly a month earlier on March 18.
That record stood for 131 years, but the warmest high so far in 2013 has only been 43 degrees and with no chance of hitting 50 degrees today or any time soon, this spring will now set the future late standard for reaching that milestone. Now that we have broken the latest 50 degree high on record, the next milestone is 60 degrees.
The average first 60 degree day is April 3 and the latest on record was May 6, 1893.
Edit: It is official, no 50 degree reading yesterday, so a new record is set and continuing. Grand Forks needs to make it to midnight on April 21 to break the record there.
I was recently invited to guest lecture at NDSU to talk about atmospheric optics. It may sound boring so some, but the interaction of the sun with the atmosphere makes for many displays that we may take for granted.
For instance, it is the scattering of the violet and blue colors from the incoming solar radiation with the atmosphere that makes the sky look blue (our eyes are more sensitive to blue than violet). When sunlight strikes the water droplets in a cloud, all the colors tend to be scattered and when our eyes detect all the colors at once, we see that as white.
Another white object we see in the sky are crepuscular rays, often called sun beams or “Jacob Ladders” as dust and other particulate matter in the atmosphere also tend to scatter all colors. When the sun in near the horizon, the light must penetrate much more atmosphere to reach our eyes, meaning most of the violets, blues, and greens are all scattered away, leaving us with our beautiful orange and red sunrise and sunsets we often witness.
Accumulating snow in April is the norm, rather than an exception in Fargo Moorhead. In the 127 years with snow data, at least 0.1 inch of snow was recorded in 102 of them. Or put another way, accumulating snow has occurred in 80% of Aprils.
Our current April was not included in those statistics, but of course, we have recorded an accumulating snow event this month as well. Several recent years have been snow free in locally with no accumulating snow measured in 1999, 2005, 2006, 2010 and 2012. Yet, intermixed with those years was one of the snowiest Aprils on record.
Just five year ago, 16.9 inches of snow was recorded in Fargo Moorhead. That nearly broke the record for the month that was set in 1904 when 17.4 inches was measured. That nearly 17 inches including a nine inch event on April 25 and 26. That was the heaviest snow event so late in the season on record for the metro.
The highest temperature in 2013 so far was a 43 degree high on both January 10 and April 3. You would need to go back to 1979 or 1881 to find a year with a maximum temperature lower than that so late into the year.
In 1881 it did not reach the mid 40s until the April 15, although, just a week later the first 70 degree day arrived right near the current average. In 1979, that first 70 degree day did not arrive until May 16 and April recorded mainly highs in the 40s. Persistent high temperatures in the 40s even lingered in May that year with nearly one inch of snow falling on May 5. Plus, although, no significant individual rain events were recorded, from the middle of April to the middle of May a total of 15 days recorded some rainfall (or snow).
So not only was it a cold spring in 1979, it was also, cloudy and wet much of the time. The odds favor our pattern changing before the middle of May this year, but if it happened once, it could obviously happen again.
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 average temperature last month was 17.3 degrees. That was 10.5 degrees below average and 24.3 degrees colder than the record setting March of 2012. This past month tied March 1923, and March 1996, for the 14th coldest March since records began in 1881. It should be noted that there are 40 Marches on record with an average temperature between 15 and 20 degrees, so although last month the ranking was fairly low, a couple of nights that may have been cloudy instead of clear would have altered the ranking significantly. I point this out because although the average temperature in March is 27.8 degrees, only 43 of the 133 Marches on record have recorded an above average temperature.
When a March happens to lack snow cover, they tend to be exceptionally warm and skew the average upwards, yet as noted, approximately one out of three Marches have recorded temperatures very similar to what occurred this year. The coldest March on record was in 1899 with an average temperature of just 11.1 degrees
With the lack of melting in March, Fargo Moorhead residents will be starting the month of April with nearly all the winter snow cover still on the ground. I have written through the years that it is unusual to enter April with much snow on the ground, unless there was a late March snow event. Two years ago, April 2011 did have 6 inches of the winter snow cover still on the ground, but that was gone by April 4.
In the record breaking winter of 1996-97 when an average of 32 inches of snow was on the ground in early March of that season, the snow depth on April 1 was down to 6 inches and it was also gone on April 4, although, a horrible blizzard dropped 7 inches of snow two days later. But this year the snow pack is likely going to last well beyond the first few days of the month.
Probably the only years on record similar to this year in carrying so much of the winter snow pack into April were 1969 and 1989 and neither of those had as much on the ground as we do this year.
Bank thermometers will often show erroneous temperatures. It is not so much that the sensor being used is inaccurate, but instead, the sensor is often placed in a poor position. To accurately measure the air temperature, official thermometers have historically been placed in a white shelter box referred to as a Stevenson screen and more recently in a white enclosed ventilated plastic cover.
Often a thermometer used by a business is directly in the Sun part of the day, plus the thermometers are often placed over parking lots that are black and absorb much of the incoming solar radiation and make the surrounding air much warmer. That dark surface influence has been particularly noticeable in recent days as the strong early Spring sunshine has a lot of potential to warm, but our snow pack has been limiting the area from reaching our temperature potential.
So if you see a bank thermometer flashing 50 degrees on a sunny day, the reality is, it would likely really be 50 degrees if it was not for our deep snow cover.
One of the most noticeable elements during this cold March has been the lack of days with a temperature above 32 degrees. Tomorrow looks to be only the third day this month with a high above freezing. That would rank this month as having the second fewest such days on record with only March 1898 recording fewer when only two such days occurred. Of course, the month is not quite over and the forecast would suggest more melting days are coming, but the most we can get is six total days (and likely will end up with five) above 32 degree days meaning this month will finish either ranked as the 4th or 5th fewest such days on record.
Other recent Marches with very few days above freezing include, 1969 with five days, 1965 with six days and 1975 with 7 days. On the other extreme, in 1973, all 31 days of March recorded a high above freezing. Last year, March 2012, recorded 26 such days which is tied for the 7th most since records began in 1881.
Looks like we will end up with 6 days this month, tied for the 4th fewest on record.