Winter Review 2013-2014

The volatile winter of 2013-2014 kept the news headlines revolving around the weather. While California and parts of the desert Southwest continued to suffer from record drought, portions of the northern and eastern United States experienced one of the coldest, and sometimes snowiest winter seasons on record (and most of those records date back to the mid-late 1800’s)! Myths about the polar vortex and its media craze were debunked in previous blogs, but that does not take away the fact that it was a frigid winter for millions of folks who are surely ready for some warmth. It is nearing the end of April, and locations in northern Minnesota and Wisconsin are STILL measuring new snowfall!

This map of statewide temperature rankings for the period of December 2013 – February 2014 demonstrates the stark contrast between the dominant weather patterns on opposite sides of the country:

Source: NCDC.

Additionally, this map of statewide precipitation rankings for December 2013 – February 2014 shows the wet, active storm track over much of the Midwest and Northeast, while many states in Southwest, including California, approached their all-time driest seasons:

Source: NCDC.

How cold is a “Top 10” ranked coldest winter on average in parts of the Midwest? This map from the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana region shows the time that various locations in the region spent below 0°F (listed in number of 24 hour totals). Keep in mind that this was only through February 26, and that March and April were also noticeably cold compared to averages.
Source: NWS Northern Indiana and the Iowa Environmental Mesonet.

And finally, these maps of Mean Temperature for January 2014 show observed temperatures (top) and temperature anomolies compared to past January data from 1981-2010 (bottom). Almost all of North Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan spent the month at an average temperature below 10°F (top)! Lows in the coldest spots often dipped to -40°F to -50°F! Even some states in the deep south like Mississippi and Alabama experienced average temperatures for the month only near or slightly above freezing (top). The average temperature was between 5°F to 15°F below average for the vast majority of the east, while almost the entire rest is shaded in above average temperature colors (bottom).

Source: Oregon State University.

Source: Oregon State University.

Because of the cold wave, the Great Lakes accumulated the most ice cover in 35 years. At one point, over 90% of all the surfaces of the Great Lakes were ice covered! As of April 15th, the lower 2/3 of Lake Superior, the largest of the lakes, is still frozen at record levels! This image will be one of the storytellers of the extreme winter of 2013-2014 for years to come:

Source: NOAA.