By now many of you may have heard that both Fargo Moorhead and Grand Forks set a record on Saturday, March 1 for the coldest high temperature not only for that date, but also for the month of March. The high in Grand Forks (UND/National Weather Service site) was -9 degrees and in Fargo Moorhead the high reached -8 degrees.
Of note, the high of -8 degrees in Fargo occurred just after midnight with the afternoon high reaching only -10 degrees. Both of those highs shattered the daily record for lowest maximum for March 1 and narrowly set new monthly records. The previous coldest March high was -7 in Fargo Moorhead set back on March 10, 1948 and in Grand Forks the previous record was -8 set on March 6, 1955.
Other cities in the region that set new March records for lowest maximum over the weekend included Sioux City and Waterloo, IA, Omaha and Lincoln, NE, and Eau Claire, WI, plus many others around the country.
The average temperature this past winter (December through February) was 4.3 degrees. That ranks as the 16th coldest winter of the 133 winters on record in Fargo Moorhead (records began on January 1, 1881, therefore the first winter has incomplete data, meaning the first winter of record was the winter of 1881-1882).
The last colder winter in Fargo Moorhead was back in 1981-1982 when the average temperature was 3.3 degrees. Other fairly recent colder winters were in the late 1970s. The winter of 1978-1979 the average temperature was 0.6 degrees and the winter of 1977-1978 the average was 2.8 degrees. Those were the two coldest back to back winters since the 1880s. Even with such a cold winter being recorded, no record lows were set. Of interest, the coldest temperature of winter was just -25 degrees on January 2 which is 3 degrees above the average coldest temperature recorded in a year locally.
There have been colder winters, but if you are under 30, it was the coldest winter in your lifetime.
Yesterday in this space I mentioned that the low temperature at Hector Int’l recorded a low below zero on 65 of the 90 days during our just completed winter season. On most of those days, the air temperature remained below zero for many hours of the day and on some days; the temperature remained below zero the entire 24 hours of that day.
Using the hourly reports from the airport, the temperature in Fargo was below zero for approximately 900 hours December 1 to February 28. That many hours would total 37 complete days of the 90 days of meteorological winter. Put another way, approximately 40% of winter was below zero. Grand Forks’ total hours represented in days would be about 45 days below zero, the Twin Cities, 20 days and Bismarck 25 days.
It may not have been even close to the coldest winter on record, but it was still a very memorable one.
It has been a very cold winter, yet, not only have no record lows been set, we have not even come close. February will be ending quite cold but the odds of Fargo Moorhead recording a record low this week does not look likely. Although we are rapidly approaching March, the record lows are still near -30 degrees.
Back on February 20, 2008 the temperature at Hector Int’l dropped to -31 degrees which did set a record for that date and we would likely need a reading that low to break any records with our current cold snap. One factor that will hinder the temperature from breaking any records is our current snow pack. Although deep, it is crusty and hard and not as conducive to strong radiational cooling as fresh more powdery snow. In other words, hard crusty snow will help keep the temperature up this week, meaning, although it will likely be a very cold finish to February, had we recorded some fresh snow cover recently we would be even colder.
One of the most asked questions lately has been how does this winter rank in comparison to past winters. Snow wise, this winter has been quite ordinary, but of course when this question comes up, it is almost always referenced for temperatures. Through Monday, February 10, the average temperature since December 1 was 3.5 degrees. That would rank that period as the 23rd coldest on record.
As a comparison, it would be similar to the average temperature for the same period during the winters of 2008-2009, 1996-1997 and 1995-1996. The biggest difference would be all those winters had significantly more snowfall to this point. Based on the warmer temperatures that have moved into the area and are expected to remain for at least the next week (most days), that ranking will slowly drop. When climatological winter ends on February 28, we may not even finish in the Top 30, yet, no matter the ranking, this is clearly a noticeably colder than average winter.
The lack of snow in the past couple of weeks have made for excellent travel conditions on the main roads, but many city streets and parking lots remain ice covered. That will likely be changing soon and not necessarily for the reason you may think. The one obvious reason that the secondary roads will be improving soon would be the rise in air temperatures, but there is another more subtle reason, the Sun.
As the Sun angle slowly increases, you will notice even on days with an air temperature well below freezing, that melting will take place on area roads on a sunny day. Although the stronger Sun will help with clearing the roads and parking lots from the abundance of ice, it also tends to cause problems. The melting that occurs will freeze nearly every night meaning slick spots each night.
That melt and freeze cycle also creates something that will be very common in the coming weeks, potholes.
Today is the 50th day with a low temperature below zero this season. The long-term average is 48 such days, so we have already surpassed that milestone with at a good month of potential negative lows ahead of us.
Perhaps even more noticeable is the fact that on 12 of those days, the high temperature also failed to get to 0 degrees. The long-term average for below zero high temperatures is 10 such days. Two of the days with a high below zero, the high was in the double digits below zero with the coldest being a high of -14 on December 31. We average two days per winter with a high of -10 degrees or colder. Considering it will become increasingly more difficult to remain that cold as our days continue to get longer, the odds are pretty high we will not record another -10 degree or lower high this winter.
But another single digit negative high is definitely a possibility.
When I was a kid growing up in southern Minnesota, temperatures in the -10s impressed me. In December 1983, when I was home for Christmas while attending college, the temperature dropped to -30 on our home thermometer. From that point forward, temperatures in the -10s never impressed me again.
Then in late January and early February in 1996, this region was in the grips of the coldest weather in 60 years. Although Fargo dropped to -39 degrees during that cold snap, in Sioux Falls, where I was living at the time, the temperature dropped to just -33 degrees. Yet, ever since then, the -30s no longer seemed extraordinary.
When I was young, my father would always tell me that it was so much colder when he was a kid and would rarely think the weather was special. Now that I have experienced most of what my father did (except a 1936 type year), I can relate to his weather wisdom, although, I still ponder how he walked up hill to school both ways.
Since records began in 1881, the average number of days with a low temperature below zero during the cold season in Fargo Moorhead is 48 days. With winter only about one-half done, the airport has already recorded 37 such days.
Last year the metro recorded 43 below zero days and during the very mild winter of 2011-2012 the temperature dropped below zero on just 16 days all winter. As a reference, our recently completed December had more below zero days than that entire winter. Looking forward, we could easily record as many below zero days by the end of this month as we did all of last winter with another six weeks of negative potential left after this month. Although patterns can change quickly, it appears this winter may rival the 61 below zero days recorded back during the winter of 2008-2009.
Excluded data from the 1880s, the highest number of negative days in a cold season was set during the winter of 1964-1965 with 76 such days.
December ranked as the 11th coldest on record in Fargo Moorhead. Such a ranking with over 130 years of records is a testament to how cold this winter has been so far in this area. Although, we live in a very cold place, there are of course, other locations that are even colder. One of those places, the so-called “Icebox of the Nation”, is Int’l Falls, Minnesota.
International Falls has weather records dating back to 1897 and last month ranked as the 2nd coldest on record. The average temperature was -4.1 and narrowly missed out on being the coldest on record by 0.2 degrees. The coldest December with an average temperature of -4.3 degrees was set back in 1983. The temperature dropped to or below -30 eight times in the month, which was also a record for the city.
Any time the “Icebox of the Nation” is breaking cold records, you know it was indeed a very cold month.