The 2013-2014 Meteorological Winter

The meteorological winter of 2013/2014 will be long remembered, but not necessarily for the reasons many folks think. True, it was unusually cold but it was not the coldest on record. What December 2013 to February 2014 will be remembered as it the consistency of the cold weather.

At Fargo Hector Field, which has one of the longest records in the area, the mean 3 month temperature of 4.3 degrees puts it as the 17th coldest for the Fargo area whose data goes back to 1881.

The temperature dropped to -25 degrees on January 2nd 2014, then hit 41 degrees 17 days later on the 19th. The three month mean departure from normal of -9.2 degrees is statistically in the lower third of coldest expected winters, another indicator of what we already knew.

To further support the idea of how consistent and frequent the cold was, we tallied the number of days when the low temperature fell to zero or below. Over the period from 1881 to 2013 there are 45 days, on average, that the low falls to zero or below during the December to February period. This winter that total was 65 days which ties for 5th place behind 1965, 1950, 1887 and 1884. The winter of 1882/1883 had 76 days with low temperatures at or below zero

There was 2.09 inches of liquid equivalent which is only 0.05 inches above the long term average.

Despite the cold weather the total 3 month snowfall was only 27.9 inches which is pretty much middle of the statistical pack. Despite the cold, a reason for the lower snowfall includes several days of light to moderate freezing rain. The winter of 1996/97 had 57.0 inches of snow during the December, january and February period.

The average wind speed was 11.7 mph which is about 3 mph above the long term median. The highest wind speed of 60 mph occurred on January 6th.

The University of North Dakota/National Weather Service Climate Site, UND/NWS, has over 120 years of records to draw from. Based on the data collected the 3 month temperature of 1.5 degrees puts it as the 7th coldest for the UND/NWS location. The data here goes back to 1890.
 
The temperature dropped to -26 degrees on January 2nd and again on The 6th 2014, then hit 42 degrees 6 days later on the 12th. The three month mean departure from normal of -9.4 degrees is statistically in the lower third of coldest expected winters, another indicator of what we already knew.
 
To further support the idea of how consistent and frequent the cold was this winter, we have calculated the number of days when the low temperatures fell to zero or below. Over the period from 1890 to 2013 there are 47 days, on average, which the low falls to zero or below during the December to February period. This winter that total was 71 days which is 3rd place behind the 2nd place 1949/50 winter and 1st place 1916/1917 winter. There was 1.42 inches of liquid equivalent which is only 0.53 inches below the long term average.

Because of the cold weather the total 3 month snowfall of 44.1 inches is the 4th highest on record. The winter of 199/97 had 57.3 inches of snow during the December, January and February period. The snowfall across the northern Red River Valley was generally higher than over the south due to the generally colder temperatures and lack of freezing rain.

At the Grand Forks Airport, which has the shortest period of record in the area, the mean 3 month temperature of 0.5 degrees puts it as the 3rd coldest for the airport location whose data goes back to 1941. Note that the December - February temperature was 1.0 degree colder than the UND/NWS 3 month mean temperature. Why? The more rural exposure of the equipment at the Airport frequently allows for colder morning low temperatures than the relatively protected, warmer suburban setting of the NWS. 

The temperature dropped to -33 degrees on January 2nd 2014, then hit 40 degrees 10 days later on the 12th. The three month mean departure from normal of -9.5 degrees is statistically in the lower third of coldest expected winters, another indicator of what we already knew.

To further support the idea of how consistent the cold was this winter, we have calculated the number of days when the low temperatures fell to zero or below. Over the period from 1941 to 2013 there are 48 days, on average, when the low fell to zero or below during the December to February period. This winter that total was 72 days which is 2nd only behind the 1949/1950 winter.

There was 1.89 inches of liquid equivalent which is only 0.21 inches above the long term average.

Because of the cold weather the total 3 month snowfall of 44.1 inches is the 4th highest. the winter of 1996/97 had 57.7 inches of snow during the December, January and February period. The average wind speed was 12.2 mph which is about 3.5 mph above the long term median. the highest wind speed of 57 mph occurred on January 16th.

Another factor adding to the overall apparent severity of this winter includes the 7 blizzards that impacted the Red River Valley. This is well above the usual 2 or 3 that occur every winter. The peak on record of 10 blizzards was the 1996/97 winter.

The above information is provisional, is based on edited data and will likely be changed slightly after further review by the National Climate Data Center. Official records and summaries will be available later this spring or early summer.

Below are images from the Regional Climate Centers that show how widespread the cold weather was during the December 2013 - February 2014 time period. Images courtesy of the High Plains Regional Climate Center.

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The image above represents the mean departure from normal for December 2013 - February 2014 for the lower 48 States.

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The image above represents the mean departure from normal temperature (top & lower left) and precipitation (top & bottom right) for December 2013 - February 2014 for North Dakota and Minnesota.



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