An email arrived in the weather center asking what day of the year has the largest temperature range from the record low to the record high. The recorded low on January 8, 1887 was -48 degrees. Thirteen years later, on January 8, 1900, the recorded high temperature reached 50 degrees.
That difference of 98 degrees still stands as the greatest range between a record high and low for any date in Fargo Moorhead. In second place is March 18. On March 18, 2012 the high reached 78 degrees with the record low for that date being -19 degrees observed in both 1883 and in 1923 for a difference of 97 degrees from record high to record low. A snow free March as we learned in 2012 can be very mild, a snow covered March like last year and so far this year, can be bitterly cold.
Those snow variations in combination with a higher sun angle this time of year make March the month with most of the extreme record differences observed in this area.
This past winter season was definitely cold, but it certainly was not snowy. From December 1 through February 28, the official snow total from our cooperative observer in north Moorhead totaled 27.3 inches. That is 2.1 inches below the average of 29.4 inches for that time period. It was the second year in a row with snowfall being very close to the average during the three principal months of winter as last year 28.7 inches was recorded.
More important than the amount of snow is the water content in that snow. The 27.3 inches of snow that fell in the past three months contained 2.09 inches of liquid, right at the average of 2.14 inches. Meaning, this past winter was about as average as average gets for winter precipitation. The driest of the three winter months was February as only 1.5 inches was measured last month, the 8th lowest total on record for that month.
That snow contained only 0.11 inches of liquid making February 2014 the 7th driest since records began in 1881.
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.
Our average last day with a high temperature below zero in Fargo Moorhead is February 9. Therefore, any of the next few days if we fail to get above zero would be well beyond that average date. The record low maximum temperature this Friday (February 28) is -11 degrees set back in 1962, but once we hit March, high temperatures below zero become rare.
Since records have been kept in 1881, there have been only 11 instances with a high below zero in Fargo Moorhead during the month of March. The last occurred in 2009 when the high was -1 degree on March 11. A high below zero this time of year may be a bit uncommon, but low temperatures below zero are common place. The average last date with a low below zero is March 11.
Considering our current cold snap should last into next week, the odds are high our last negative reading of this season will be at least near that average if not later.
September 2013 finished well above average, but since then the temperature in this area has been consistently cold. This region is not alone with that statistic as, since October 1, about 75% of the lower 48 states have recorded temperatures below average. Locally, the average temperature has been about 5 degrees below normal during the past five months with an average temperature of 18.3 degrees from October 1 through February 21.
That would rank that period as the 33rd coldest out of the 133 years with available records. That would place this year in the top 25 percent coldest. As a comparison, the average temperature during our very mild winter of 2011-2012 was about 13 degrees warmer during that same period with an average temperature of 31 degrees. That was the warmest such period on record. The past few years makes for quite the contrast on the type of cold season this area can experience.
As February comes to a close and the traditional warmer weather of spring ahead of us, one very common question asked of me lately is what type of temperatures we can expect in March. The average high temperature on March 1 is 29 degrees which rises to 46 degrees on March 31. The average low climbs from 12 degrees to 26 degrees over the month.
The overall average temperature during the month of March in Fargo Moorhead is 27.8 degrees. My current forecast is for March to finish below that average, but I would be surprised if we finished anywhere near the bitterly cold average of 17.3 degrees that the metro recorded last year. That was the 16th coldest March since records began in 1881. Our average March precipitation 1.30 inches of rain and melted snow with most years a majority of that coming from melted snow. Our average March snowfall is 9.1 inches, the 3rd snowiest month of the year based on averages.
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.
It has certainly been a cold winter; yet, in Fargo Moorhead no specific cold records have been set. Elsewhere around the United States it has also been cold with more notable cold weather statistics. Toledo, Ohio for example, dropped to -15 degrees this past Wednesday morning for the second time this winter, in 140 years of records, this was the first time that the city hit -15 in two different months.
The Twin Cities, even with a significant urban heat island around the airport, has dropped below zero 44 times this winter, only four away from breaking into the Top 10. In Fargo Moorhead, we need 17 more days to break into the Top 10. Chicago has already recorded enough days to reach the Top 10 for most below zero days in that city. Snow locally has been uneventful, but Detroit, Michigan has already recorded enough snow to rank in their Top 10, plus the city recorded their snowiest January on record.
Yes, our winter has been tough, but other locations have by their standards fared even worse.
The past 21 days have all recorded a low temperature below zero. Although nowhere near the record of 44 straight days set in early 1936 (with 37 of those days recording a high and low at 0 degrees or lower), it has still been historically a very impressive stretch.
In the past we have recorded numerous instances of mostly below zero lows for periods of three weeks, but usually the streak is broken with one or two nights being slightly above zero. Another interesting feature of the negative streak of the past three weeks was the lack of extreme cold. Long periods of below zero often lead to at least one or two nights near a record low, but that was not the case this time. In many ways this winter reminds me of the summer of 2011 which was one of the warmest on record, but with no extremely hot days, just persistently above average.
This winter has recorded no extremely cold weather, but it has certainly been consistently cold.
Edit: The low Saturday was 1 degree ending the streak at 21.
Some of the largest negative temperature anomalies (departure from average) in the Northern Hemisphere this winter have been near the Great Lakes. Therefore, it is no surprise that ice coverage on the five Great Lakes is very high this winter. The five lakes combined were 87% ice covered as of last Friday.
That was the highest level since February of 1996. Lake Superior is almost completely frozen over with 95% ice coverage. It was near that point in March, 2009, but the last time the lake was considered 100% ice covered was in March, 1996. Lake Huron is also almost completely iced over with 95% coverage, Lake Michigan was at 80% coverage and Lake Erie was 96% frozen over as of last Friday. Although Lake Ontario is the smallest of the five Great Lakes in size, it has three times the volume of Lake Erie, meaning it is a much deeper lake and harder to freeze.
That is one reason why Lake Ontario has the lowest ice coverage this winter with just 33% of that lake frozen over.