The official snow total for January 2012 was 8.0 inches, well within the range of what would be considered average for the month. Our current 30 year average snowfall for January is 11.1 inches because of some recent heavier snowfalls during the month, but the historic average is 8.5 inches, so last month’s snow total although considered light by many, was very typical for the month.
The melted snow and rain added up to 0.58 inches of liquid which also falls near average for January. The average liquid precipitation in January is currently 0.70 inches. Although many recent winters have been quite snowy, the month of January has not typically been the problem month in recent years.
The last time the month of January recorded over 20 inches of snow was back in 1997. Including this year, since 2000, Fargo Moorhead residents have had to shovel less than 10 inches of snow in 10 of those 13 years.
Snow is like the star quarterback or running back on a football team. It gets all the publicity and to a large degree for good reason. Snow gathers our attention; it needs to be shoveled and plowed. It creates hazardous travel conditions and often disrupts our schedule.
But the long 50 yard pass for a touchdown that makes the highlight reel would not be possible if your offensive line did not do their job. In the same way, although everyone notices the snow, the moisture content of the snow is something that largely goes unnoticed. Yet in the end, it is the most important element of a snowfall. Although until the event on Sunday this winter has been mainly brown, precipitation amounts have been far from zero.
The three principle months of winter average 2.14 inches of liquid precipitation (rain and melted snow) and since December 1, officially, Fargo Moorhead has recorded 0.87 inches of precipitation, certainly below average, but not by as much as most people would probably guess.
Yesterday I wrote about how 2011 had quite the contrast from a cold beginning to record breaking warm temperatures during the second half of the year. In many ways, the precipitation pattern was similar in the sense it started off wet and finished dry.
On August 6, 0.97 inches of rain was recorded at the airport pushing our yearly rainfall total to 21.74 inches. With nearly 5 full months of the year left to go, we were already near our average annual precipitation of 22.58 inches. Little did we know that the rest of the year would be one of the driest stretches since 1881.
From August 7 through December 31 only 2.21 additional inches of liquid precipitation would be measured bringing the yearly total to 23.95 inches. In the end, the year finished 1.37 inches above average which continued our trend for above average precipitation with 8 out of the last 10 years finishing wetter than average.
With all the reports of snow and cold this winter you would expect that like our region, much of the country experienced a cold and wet winter. Although as previously mentioned in this space our past climatological winter was colder than average across much of the United States, as a whole, the lower 48 states experienced a dry winter.
In fact, the country experienced the 16th driest winter of the 117 winters with such statistics. Most of the southern one-half of the country experienced a very dry, albeit, cold winter. The main region with above average precipitation this past winter was here in the northern plains. South Dakota, by average, had the wettest winter in the lower 48 states recording their 4th wettest winter on record.
North Dakota recorded the 3rd wettest winter overall in the country with the past 3 months ranking as the 11th wettest on record. Montana and Minnesota also had much above average precipitation for the season.
Sunday marks the end of climatological winter. The official stats will be mentioned in this space next week, but preliminary numbers suggest we finished the winter nearly 2 degrees below normal. This was our third straight colder than average winter, albeit, not quite as cold as the past two.
There were two interesting temperature features to this cold season. First was the number of below zero days was well below the number of the past two winters, yet with a similar seasonal average temperature. Second, our warmest temperature these past three months was only 36 degrees which ranks as the 3rd coldest winter maximum since 1881 and the coldest since the 1970s.
But the winter of 2009-10 will likely be remembered most for the record breaking precipitation with 4.28 inches measured which is nearly one-half inch above the old record of 3.81 inches set back in the winter of 1896-1897.
The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) released their statistic for the summer of 2009 last week. As a whole the United States experienced a cooler than average summer with most states east of the Rocky Mountains experiencing a cool summer with the exception of the gulf coast region.
The coolest readings were in the Great Lakes states and surrounding areas. Michigan had their 5th coolest summer with Minnesota, South Dakota and Wisconsin all recorded their 7th coolest summer since 1895. Taken as a whole, North Dakota had the 12th coolest summer on record with Fargo Moorhead locally having the 16th coolest since 1881, but the 13th coolest since NCDC has kept such statistics in 1895.
Precipitation-wise, the United States seemed to fall into two categories, either well above or well below average rainfall. Both Minnesota and North Dakota fell into the dry side of that equation with Minnesota having the 23rd driest summer and North Dakota the 24th.