A long, cold winter

This long, cold winter has gone on far too long. That’s the opinion of an increasing number of restless North Dakotans who are more than ready to shed their winter coats and gloves for more spring-like apparel.

If seems that when it hasn’t been snowing this winter, the wind has been blowing and producing bitter wind chills. It also seems that when the wind and has abated, the temperatures have been bone-chilling cold. Sometimes the below zero temperatures have combined with strong winds that the National Weather Service warns are “life threatening”.

Really? Is all this possible? Yes it is, and the proof is in cold-blooded statistics carefully compiled by the NWS.

While this winter may not be the worst in state history in terms of cold and snow, it certainly ranks very high on the misery index and likely the worst ever experienced for a number of state residents.

December 2013 went down in the record books as the fifth coldest in 108 years for Minot. January was lousy too, averaging 11.8 degrees against a norm of 12.2. It ranked 68th coldest in city history and gave some hope that perhaps February would bring a small measure of improvement. It did not.

The frigid truth is, February was well on its way to becoming one of the coldest on record just a few days ago. According to the NWS, the Minot’s average February temperature was a whopping 9.1 degrees below normal through Monday and the month was on track to rank among in the top twenty coldest months on record. Official statistics will likely be released in the next few days.

“In the 8 to 14 day outlook we are still looking at below normal temperatures,” Jeff Savadel, Bismarck NWS meteorologist, said last week. “We are kind of locked in that pattern with arctic intrusions of air sinking in.”

March has an average temperature of 28.3 degrees in Minot. Last March was much different though, averaging just 13.8, fifth worst of all-time. According to the latest projections offered by the Climate Prediction Center, we may be in for a similar March this year. There could be some meaningful precipitation too.

“There’s still the possibility of seeing some good snowstorms,” warned Savadel. “There’s nothing in the immediate future in terms of big storms but it still might happen in March or April.”

Major snowstorms have become synonymous with March basketball tournaments in North Dakota, with good reason. Minot boasts 11 daily snowfall records of six inches or more in March. In April the number jumps to 12 days, including a record dump of 27 inches on April 27, 1984.

The NWS doesn’t actually keep records of “longest” winters but, if this one continues to stretch out with more cold and snow, it will achieve that dubious honor in the minds of many Minoters who have grown weary of winter. For many it has reached that point already.

If further statistics beyond a thermometer reading are necessary to help prove a point, perhaps the ice covering Lake Sakakawea can do so. Lake Sakakawea was declared completely frozen Dec. 14, 2013. Only twice in history has that reservoir frozen earlier, on Dec. 11, 1961, and Nov. 30, 1985. Additionally, Lake Sakakawea became “ice free” May 13, 2013, the third latest date on record.

While the above statistics may appear to be indicative of a trend, it should also be noted that as recently as 2012 March went into the record books as the warmest March ever for Minot with an average temperature of 41.5 degrees.

The first day of spring arrives March 20, a day which saw a record high of 72 degrees in Minot in 1910. The record low for that date is 13 below set in 1913. The two records are proof that spring can arrive in any form with residents dressed in short sleeves or snowmobile suits.

Sooner or later though, with the amount of daylight increasing every day, our winter-like weather will be forced to fold and memories of this latest “longest” winter will remain in the NWS record books and in the minds of those who have grown increasingly tired of it.