Today marks the 150th day with at least 1 inch of snow on the ground this cold season. This is only the 5th time on record that Fargo Moorhead has recorded at least 150 days of snow cover. As a reference, the winter of 1996-1997 recorded 147 days with snow covering the ground. Including this cold season, that ranks as the 5th highest such total on record.
The years with the highest total number of days with snow cover occurred during the winters of 1935-1936 and 1978-1979. Both of those cold seasons recorded 155 total days with at least 1 inch of snow depth. Last year, the winter of 2012-2013 recorded only 65 such days. Because of the warmer temperatures expected beginning tomorrow it is likely we will not be breaking the record for the most snow covered days in a season, but we did break the record for the most such days in the month of April by at least 7 days and counting
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.
This week marks the anniversary of two powerful blizzards that struck this area. The first was a storm that occurred on March 15, 1941. A powerful Alberta Clipper turned a fairly nice Saturday, into a deadly Saturday night. A light south wind quickly changed to the north and gusted as high as 85 mph. Travelers were caught completely unaware of the sudden change in the weather and 75 locally, mainly of exposure seeking shelter away from their vehicles.
The other blizzard also struck on March 15 back in 1920. This blizzard is sometimes called the “Hazel Miner Blizzard” in reference to an Oliver County, North Dakota teenager who sacrificed herself to save her younger brother and sister. The three got lost in the blizzard heading home from school, got stuck and the 15 year old Hazel Miner eventually spent the night laying on top of her siblings to keep them warm. Sadly, she passed away during the night, but her siblings survived.
A memorial still stands in her honor at the courthouse in Center, North Dakota.
The winter of 2011-12 was one many of us may never forget. The average temperature last winter was 22.1 degrees, the warmest on record. Our just completed winter was nearly 10 degrees cooler with an average temperature of 12.7 degrees.
Although much colder than that remarkable winter we experienced last year, the past three months finished right near the 30 year average winter temperature of 12.6 degrees. That was warm enough to rank the winter of 2012-13 as the 37th warmest winter since 1881.
Total snowfall for the three principal months of winter was 28.7 inches in comparison to the average of 29.4 inches. Although the amount of snow fall these past three months was close to the average, the moisture content was above average. In total, 2.56 inches of rain and melted snow was recorded from December 1 through February 28 which is 0.42 inches above the 30 year winter average.
During the winter of 2011-2012 (December through February) Fargo Moorhead recorded a high above freezing 47 times. That is the equivalent of the high temperature exceeding 32 degrees every other day during that three month stretch. That was the most such days during a winter since records began in 1881. The previous record was set during the winter of 1923-24 when 44 such days were recorded.
So far this winter, Hector Int’l has gotten above freezing on just 13 days. Although that is a significant change from last year, the long-term average is only 18, meaning we will finish our current winter at least near the average. We may finish this winter with fewer melting days than an average winter, but overall, unless the last week of this month is bitterly cold, the winter of 2012-2013 will be our second straight winter with above average temperatures.
The first half of winter (December 1 through January 15) is behind us and if it has felt a lot colder than last year the data definitely supports that perception. The average temperature during that stretch was 10.5 degrees colder this year then that same period last winter. Granted, that is a significant difference, but as a reminder, last winter was the warmest on record and the first half of the winter of 2011-2012 was nearly 4 degrees warmer than any other such period since records began.
Although this season has been much colder than last year, it is still running approximately 4 degrees above average, so unless the next six weeks record well below average temperatures, this will be our second winter in a row with an above average temperature. Previous to the past two years we recorded four colder than average cold seasons. In fact, the first half of the winter of 2008-2009 the average temperatures was 8 degrees below average.
Winter can be a very hard time of the year for many of us. The persistent ice on many surfaces makes it difficult to both drive and walk. The bitter cold forces many people to stay home frequently and besides a wave from driveway to driveway as we are shoveling, we tend to not see our neighbors very much.
It is with that backdrop that every winter I think back to the original European settlers in this area living in a so called “shanty” or “soddie” that were frequently just one room. In that one room an entire family lived, slept and ate in just a few hundred square feet of space. The nearest neighbor may be a mile or more away and the then treeless prairie was very prone to whiteout conditions with little if any warning.
Winter may or may not be your favorite season, but modern technology has certainly made it a much more pleasant season then it was a couple of generations ago and for that we can be thankful.
Today not only marks the last day of the month, but in weather also the last day of autumn, meaning tomorrow will be the beginning of climatological winter. Any forecast you may hear for winter is always referencing the three coldest months of the year, December, January and February.
Granted, our winter goes well beyond those three months, but even locally, those are the core months of the winter season. The average temperature for the next three months in Fargo Moorhead is 12.6 degrees. Four out of the last five winters finished with an average temperature below that mark, the exception of course was last year when we recorded the warmest winter on record. Although our seasonal average snowfall is 50.1 inches, the three principal months of winter the average snowfall is 29.4 inches and the average liquid equivalency (rain and melted snow) is 2.14 inches.
Averages are just that, averages, and the weather the next 90 days will likely be highly variable.
Tomorrow is the last day of the season with an average high of 32 degrees for warmer until next spring. Then for the next 104 days the average high will be below 32 degrees in Fargo Moorhead. Of course that does not mean we will not be seeing any melting during this stretch, in fact, historically we average 20 days with a high at or above 32 degrees during December, January and February, the three principle months of winter.
Although some winters we have only recorded a handful of above freezing days, last year the official high at Hector Int’l reached or exceeded the freezing mark on 53 occasions from December 1 through February 29. That was more than the previous four winters combined. You may remember that all four of those winters finished colder than average and last winter was the warmest on record.
That is another great example of the high variability from year to year this region experiences.
The winter of 2011-2012 was the warmest on record in Fargo Moorhead. It was nearly 10 degrees above the current 30 year average.
There is no doubt that the overall pattern last winter was a mild one. The upper level wind pattern was consistently from the west allowing mild Pacific air to dominate the season with only a couple of intrusions of Arctic air disrupting that pattern. But another very important element to the warmth was our lack of snow cover. This past week has been a prime example.
Fargo Moorhead missed the big storm earlier this month that left a significant snow cover over central and northern North Dakota. The eight days following the storm the average high in Fargo was 40 degrees, but in usually warmer Bismarck with a snow cover the average high was just 32 degrees. Even Grand Forks with minimum snow from the storm (like Fargo), the nearby snow pack lowered their average to just 33 degrees.
Because the sun angle is so low this time of year making it difficult to melt much snow, an early season snow storm can in turn, influence the average temperature for the entire cold season.
Current snow cover over the area.