Winter 2008-2009 in Review

Winter 2008-2009 in Review
Colder and Snowier Than Normal
With March 1 comes the end of meteorological winter, a period defined as covering the months of December through February. The winter of 2008-2009 in Central Indiana goes down in the record books as one that was just a bit colder and snowier than normal. This is remarkable because it is the first winter to finish below normal since 2002-2003. However, it will not be a winter remembered as consistently cold every day, and in fact it was largely due to one of the strongest Arctic Outbreaks in more than a decade that gripped Central Indiana for the better part of a week in mid-January.
Precipitation was above normal, but this was due to a very wet December. January was drier than normal and February was slightly wetter than normal. 
The following is a review of weather conditions experienced in Central Indiana during the winter season of 2008-2009.
December 2008 finished with an unusual combination for a winter month. Observations showed colder than normal temperatures, more precipitation than normal, but snowfall well below normal. Typically the combination of cold temperatures and more precipitation will result in more snow than normal, but this was not the case in December 2008. Rarely did the cold air and moisture seem to come together at the right time. The month featured frequent ice storms across the area, and ice became the predominant form of winter weather instead of snow during the month. 10 of the 31 days in December saw either Freezing Rain or Sleet.
December started out with a roller coaster of temperatures, with readings ranging from 18 degrees below normal on the 5th to 10 degrees above normal on the 9th. Readings varied from the 20s and 30s one day to the 50s on the next. Things turned sharply colder by the 21st as the season’s first Arctic air mass came to visit, bringing two nights in a row with a low temperature of 1 degree above zero on the 21st and 22nd. This cold weather gave way to extremely mild and even record breaking warmth by the end of the month. On the 27th of December the high was 68 degrees and the low was only 56 degrees. This made the day above normal by a remarkable 34 degrees. It was the second warmest high temperature on record during the month of December in Indianapolis. The low of 56 degrees was the warmest low temperature ever recorded during December in Indianapolis. The variability in temperatures ended up with a month just slightly below normal, with an average temperature of 30.7 degrees.
Precipitation came in abundance during the month, as the total of 5.58 inches was above normal by 2.55 inches, and made this the 8th wettest December since records began in 1871. Torrential downpours dropped 1.39 inches on the 9th and 1.45 inches on the 19th. Snowfall was on the light side, with a monthly total of just 2.1 inches, below normal by 4.3 inches. The heaviest one day snowfall was 1.2 inches on the 6th. Despite the low total of snow for the month, there was at least a trace reported on 17 of the 31 days, including the first 7 days of the month in a row, part of an 8 day streak that started on November 30.
This was the third year in a row where December saw more than five inches of precipitation.
Average Temperature
Total Precipitation
Total Snowfall
Highs below freezing
December 2008
Normal December
2008 Difference from Normal
December 2008 All-Time Ranks:
Temperature: Tie- 51st coolest
Precipitation: 8th wettest
Snowfall: Tie – 36th least snowiest
January 2009 ended up being the most memorable month of the past winter season. It featured the biggest snow storm since 1996 and the coldest temperatures since 1997.
The month started out on the mild side, with 10 of the first 12 days of the month experiencing daily average temperatures that were above normal. This was not to last much longer as the calendar turned to mid-month. A bitterly cold Arctic air mass came to visit by the 14th. A light blanket of 1 to 2 inches of snow was laid down by a storm on the 14th, and this was followed by the arrival of some of the coldest air in quite a while. Temperatures fell to 6 degrees on the 14th and then only recovered to a high of 7 on the 15th, with a low of -9 degrees that night. The next day, the 16th, saw morning low temperatures fall to -12 degrees at Indianapolis. This was the coldest temperature since the same reading was observed on the 12th of January in 1997.
The cold weather was intense, but thankfully it moderated by the 22nd as temperatures reached the upper 40s. Winter was not done with Indianapolis, however, and the rest of the month closed out with colder than normal temperatures, including 3 more days with lows in the single digits. The month finished out with an average temperature of 23.0 degrees, below normal by 3.5 degrees. It made January the coldest since 2003.
A large storm impacted central Indiana on the 26th through 28th of January, dropping impressively heavy snowfall totals. An official measurement of 12.6 inches at the Indianapolis International Airport made it the largest snow storm (defined as a 3 day total) since the January 2-4, 1996 storm brought 12.8 inches. Snow readings of 10 to 15 inches were common across a large portion of central Indiana. Southern portions of the area suffered under both a heavy snow storm and an ice storm which brought up to half an inch of ice on top of 8 to 10 inches of snowfall. This late January storm was quite significant for Indianapolis, and in terms of three day snow totals, it marked as the 6th greatest ever.
Despite the heavy snow late in the month, it was below normal for precipitation. The greatest one day precipitation value was the 28th, when 8.0 inches of snow melted down to 0.69 inches of liquid. The monthly total was just 1.72 inches, and made it the driest January since 2003.
Average Temperature
Total Precipitation
Total Snowfall
Highs below freezing
January 2009
Normal January
2009 Difference from normal
All-time Ranks
Temperature: 26th coldest
Precipitation: 48th driest
Snowfall: 11th snowiest
February 2009 finished out the winter season with a shift towards warmer weather. Despite occasional bouts with temperatures of 10 to 18 degrees below normal, the month also saw two days with highs in the 60s. This helped to cancel out some of the cold weather, and caused the month to end up warmer than normal, with an average temperature of 33.9 degrees, compared to the normal of 31.2 degrees. Precipitation was slightly above normal this February. The monthly total was 2.69 inches, compared to a normal of 2.41 inches. February is, on average, the driest month of the year in the Indianapolis area. Snowfall this February was fairly close to normal. The monthly total of 5.6 inches was half an inch below the normal of 6.1 inches. The greatest snowstorm this month came on the 3rd with a total of 3.8 inches.
February also brought the first tornado of the year to Central Indiana when an EF1 tornado touched down in eastern portions of Delaware County on the 11th of February, causing damage to several homes and barns. Other areas that day experienced falling trees and power lines with winds gusting above 60 mph.
Average Temperature
Total Precipitation
Total Snowfall
Highs below freezing
February 2009
Normal February
2009 Difference from Normal
February 2009 All-Time Ranks:
Temperature: 43rd Highest
Precipitation: 86th Driest
Snowfall: 86th Least Snowiest
Average Temperature
Total Precipitation
Total Snowfall
Highs below Freezing
Lows Below Zero
Winter 2008-2009
Normal Winter
Difference from Normal
Winter 2008-2009 All-Time Ranks
Temperature: 49th Coldest
Precipitation:  35th Wettest
Snowfall:  30th Snowiest
In terms of seasonal averages, the winter of 2008-2009 looks like a rather normal one. While the temperature was just a bit colder than normal, and the snow just a bit more than normal, these values are significant. It has been since the winter season of 2002-2003 that Indianapolis has experienced a winter both colder and snowier than normal. And it shows that while the winter season averages are computed from 90 days, individual days may vary widely from the normal. This winter brought significant cold and snow events, which have not been observed for more than a decade in Central Indiana.
This winter season, just like last year’s winter, was strongly influenced by the ongoing La Nina pattern in the Pacific Ocean. La Nina is notorious for extremes, and this year surely fell into that category.  

Return to News Archive is the U.S. government's official web portal to all federal, state and local government web resources and services.