That the cold weather is getting old is inarguable. However, we had it a lot worse last year. Through this date a year ago, the area had seen just two days above freezing – it was 33 on March 8 and 35 on March 14.
Back in the 1980s, when the climate across eastern North Dakota and western Minnesota was going through a dry period, dust storms were common, especially during the period after winter snow had melted and before crops had covered fields.
The National Climatic Data Center released its analysis of the winter of 2013-14 last week. The center ranked the period from Dec. 1 through Feb. 28 as the 25th-coldest on record for North Dakota. You may recall locally it was the 16th-coldest on record, but western North Dakota was not as cold, making the average for the entire state lower in the cold rankings.
The last El Nino, in the winter of 2009-10, was also the last time it got to minus 30 degrees in Fargo (minus 33 on Jan. 2). El Nino has traditionally meant an increased likelihood of a mild winter, but that relationship has become less secure since the Pacific decadal oscillation flipped to the cold phase a little more than 10 years ago.
NASA issued an El Nino watch last week, indicating a growing confidence that an El Nino is brewing in the Pacific Ocean. El Nino brings a weakening trade wind pattern across the Pacific, which flips the temperature pattern.
We talk about having a full, four-season climate here in the northern Plains, but I have always thought we really have five distinct seasons: spring, summer, fall, winter, and late winter/early spring. This fifth season is what we have now. It is not really winter anymore, but it is certainly not spring, either.
One year ago today, the area had 16 inches of packed, moisture-heavy snow on the ground following six weeks of cold and stormy weather. We had already received 42 inches of snowfall and had another 26 inches to go.
Leap day. It’s what we call Feb. 29; the day added onto February every fourth year to keep the seasons from slowly drifting through time due to Earth taking slightly longer than 365 days to revolve around the sun.
September 2013 finished well above average, but since then the temperature in this area has been consistently cold. Since Oct. 1, about 75 percent of the lower 48 states have recorded temperatures below average.
It has been a very cold winter, yet we have never really come close to setting any daily record lows. February will be ending quite cold, but the chance of Fargo-Moorhead recording a record low this week does not look likely.
We often get a little laugh when Southerners shut down for an inch of snow, but the weather across much of the South this past week has been serious. From Georgia to the Carolinas, freezing rain accumulated to more than an inch in many areas, causing whole trees to topple. Not only were roads incredibly icy, but they were covered with trees and power lines.
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