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Comments on 2012 Climate Summaries

Comments on 2012 Climate Summaries

As many people already know, 2012 was one of the warmest years in history for Minnesota and much of the USA. It tied 1931 for warmest year in the Twin Cities record, and it was clearly the warmest year in history for Rochester. Also, Winnipeg, Canada reported its 5th warmest year since 1873. The signal of warmth was evident in the monthly climate statistics through October as the first 10 months of 2012 were the warmest ever statewide in Minnesota.

You can read more about the temperature rankings for 2012 at our web site.

About 80 percent of all climate observers in the state reported below normal precipitation for 2012. The dominant pattern in the state was one of drought. For many areas 70 percent of the total precipitation for the year fell in the first 6 months, as drought gripped much of the state by late summer and carried on into fall and winter. In the late fall and early winter there were some reports of shallow wells going dry in some northern counties, another consequence of the drought. Thanks to severe thunderstorms and flash flooding over June 19-20, some northeastern communities reported record-setting rainfall values for the month of June: 13.93 inches at Floodwood, 13.86 inches at Two Harbors, 13.03 inches at Wright, 12.64 inches at Cloquet, and 10.03 inches at Duluth. This produced above normal annual precipitation for some climate stations in the northeast, including Cloquet (40.33 inches), Floodwood (38.31 inches), Duluth (33.18 inches), and Two Harbors (36.11 inches).

Many citizens have asked me about the wind patterns for 2012. For example was it a windier than average year? Looking at both the mean daily values of wind speed, along with the maximum gusts I find that only in January and March of 2012 did the average wind speed exceed the historical average. All the remaining months show average wind speeds that are less than the long term values. These statistics hide the fact that there were some extremely windy days. In the Twin Cities for example there were 25 days in 2012 when the maximum wind gusts exceeded 40 mph. In fact during the stormy month of May, this happened on six days, with a maximum gust of 58 mph on the 19th.

The January Thaw - A common feature of southern Minnesota

Most residents of the Twin Cities area consider the January thaw to be a given each year. They know it will come, just not precisely when. This time around it looks like next Monday through Thursday (Jan 7-10) may bring a thaw period.

Indeed for many central and southern Minnesota locations a January thaw is quite common. The definition of a January thaw is variable. Some consider it to be any single day with a temperature above 32 degrees F. But consequences associated with a January thaw, like loss of snow cover, melting and drying of street surfaces and sidewalks, softening of lake ice, etc are generally not realized unless temperatures rise above the freezing mark for two or more days. Using this as a sorting criteria we can look at the historical frequency of such temperatures for various locations in Minnesota. These frequencies of January thaws (listed below) indeed show great reliability in most of southern Minnesota, and even parts of central Minnesota, but more like a 50/50 probability in the northern sections of the state.

Historical frequency of January thaws at various locations since 1948
(here defined as two or more days with daytime temperatures greater than 32 F)

Twin Cities 92 percent Rochester 95 percent Pipestone 92 percent
Fairmont 93 percent St Cloud 87 percent Morris 80 percent
Crookston 62 percent Duluth 60 percent International Falls 50 percent

It is interesting to note that the three consecutive years of 1977, 1978, and 1979 brought no January thaw to most of Minnesota. All three were dominated by abundant January snow cover and are ranked among the top 15 coldest in state history. The most recent years without a January thaw in most places were 2009 and 2011.

Retirement of Byron Paulson

Congratulations and best wishes to Byron Paulson, who retired this week. He was a long-time forecaster with the National Weather Service in the Twin Cities (35 years). A dedicated public servant, expert on fire weather, and a good friend, Byron will be missed by many of us. He was especially valued as an "incident meteorologist" deployed to serve fire fighters with specialized forecasts during major outbreaks in our region, including the Cavity Lake fire (2006), Ham Lake fire (2007) and Pagami Creek fire (2011). I consider myself lucky to have known and worked with him. You can see a picture and read more about him here.

Weekly Weather potpourri

Tropical Cyclone Dumile was spinning in the Southern Indian Ocean east of Madagascar this week. It was slowly moving to the south with winds of 85-95 mph that were producing sea waves of 30 to 35 feet. Heavy rains and high winds were forecast for La Reunion Island. Earlier in the week Tropical Cyclone Freda had brought heavy rains (10-12 inches) to parts of the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia in the Southern Pacific Ocean. But it had died off by mid-week.
The United Kingdom Meteorological Office reported this week that based on preliminary data 2012 was the 2nd wettest in history for that country (trailing only 2000). Their annual nationwide summaries date back to 1910. Many areas of the country reported over 50 inches of precipitation during 2012. You can read more about this here.

For those interested in the climatology of college football bowl games, the Southeast Regional Climate Center has published the climate records for most of the bowl games. You can read more about this here.

NOAA announced a correlation in independent paleoclimatic data (corals, lake sediments, and ice cores) with observer network measurements of climate change over the period from 1880-1995. Further both sources of data confirm an acceleration in temperature trends since 1980. You can read more in the NOAA press release.

MPR listener question

Has there ever been a January without snowfall in the Twin Cities?

Answer: No. The closest we came to no snow in January was a long time ago, 1892 and 1898. In January 1892 it snowed measurably only twice, 0.4" on the 7th and 0.2" on the 16th. In 1898, it only snowed measurably on three dates, 0.1" on the 11th, 0.4" on the 18th, and 0.1" on the 24th.

Twin Cities Almanac for January 4th

The average MSP high temperature for this date is 25 degrees F (plus or minus 13 degrees F standard deviation), while the average low is 11 degrees F (plus or minus 15 degrees F standard deviation).

MSP Local Records for January 4th

MSP weather records for this date include: highest daily maximum temperature of 41 degrees F in 1898 and 2007; lowest daily maximum temperature of -14 degrees F in 1884; lowest daily minimum temperature of -32 F in 1884; highest daily minimum temperature of 33 F in 2007; and record precipitation of 0.57 inches in 1997; Record snowfall is 3.2 inches in 1910.

Average dew point for January 4th is 5 degrees F, with a maximum of 37 degrees F in 1946 and a minimum of -39 degrees F in 1924.

All-time state records for January 4th

The state record high temperature for this date is 50 degrees F at Worthington (Nobles County) in 1930. The state record low temperature for this date is -48 degrees F at Breese (Marshall County) and Leech Lake (Cass County) in 1896 and at Red Lake (Beltrami County) in 1968. State record precipitation for this date is 2.90 inches at Coleraine (Itasca County) in 1949; and the state record snowfall for this date is 24.0 inches at Wheaton (Traverse County) in 1997.

Past Weather Features:

1884 brought perhaps the coldest first week of January in history for the Twin Cities. Here are the readings from the Signal Corps Office in downtown St Paul for the first full week of the month:
Jan 1, .01 12 -14
Jan 2, 0 -1 -22
Jan 3, 0 -15 -33
Jan 4, 0 -26 -33
Jan 5, 0 -11 -30
Jan 6, 0 -9 -30
Jan 7, 0 -3 -28
The -26 F maximum temperature on January 4th was the coldest ever measured on that date. St Vincent (Kittson County) reported consecutive nights of -41 degrees F. Interestingly enough by January 12th daytime temperatures were in the 40s F in 1884.

January of 1886 was the wettest in history for the community of Winona with 5.60 inches of precipitation. During the first week 2.85 inches fell as a mixture of snow and rain. This record was broken in 1998 when Winona recorded 6.73 inches of precipitation in January, one of the largest amounts for the month in state history.

Arctic air dominated the state over January 3-5 of 1896 bringing extreme and record-setting cold temperatures to many communities. At least a dozen cities reported temperatures of -30 degrees F or colder and for some the daytime high temperature remained -20 degrees F or colder.

January 4-5, 1949 brought a strong winter storm to Minnesota with a mixture of rain, sleet, and snow. Many communities reported 1-2 inches of precipitation. Coleraine in Itasca County reported 4.30 inches of precipitation over the two days, a phenomenal amount for the month of January. Most of it was rain as they only received 3.5 inches of snow with temperatures in the mid 30s F.

January 4, 1971 brought a winter storm to southern Minnesota where snowfall amounts ranged from 9 to 16 inches. Some roads were closed in southern counties.

January 3-4, 1981 brought arctic cold to northern counties as six communities reported lows of -40 degrees F or colder. Tower reported a low of -44 degrees F and a high of -9 degrees F on the 4th.

January 4-5, 1997 brought a strong winter storm to central and northern Minnesota, with 10 to 20 inches of snow and strong winds. Wheaton in west central Minnesota reported 2 feet of snow with winds gusting to over 40 mph. Snow drifts of 5-7 feet blocked many roads. I94 was closed down from Sauk Center to the North Dakota border. Many rural buildings were damaged by the high winds and heavy snow loads on roofs.


Near normal temperatures over the weekend with a chance for scattered flurries, then warmer next week and mostly dry until Thursday and Friday which will bring a chance for snow.
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