December and January in the top 10 for cold and snow

We’re coming off a frigid December and January in Western Wisconsin. In January, it was either snowing or just plain cold through the entire month. Eau Claire ended up receiving 24.8” of snow for the first month of 2014. That was close to a foot above normal (+11.6”), and liquid equivalent precipitation was 1.58” (0.69”) for the month. Since 1950, this December and January stretch was the 5th snowiest.

When it came to temperatures, January was unrelenting with Arctic blast after Arctic blast. The average temperature was only 5.7 degrees, which was 8.7 degrees below normal. This January tied the average temperature of January 2009. Our average temperature this year was about 10 degrees colder than the average for last year.

This stretch of December through January was the coldest in 31 years for Eau Claire. Eau Claire tied with 2008-2009 for the 7th coldest December-January in Eau Claire since record keeping began in 1893. Below is a chart plotting the average temperature for the months of December and January. The year by all the dots show the year this time frame ends in January (so for 2014 that would be December 2013 and January 2014). The red line is the normal average temperature for this two month stretch. On the left, this chart shows the top warmest and coldest average temperatures. This chart was provided by the National Weather Service.

The cold weather has continued right into February. Once again this morning temperatures were down well blow zero. This marks the 40th day this winter season that the low temperature has been BELOW-ZERO. The average in a winter season for Eau Claire is 30 sub-zero days. With plenty more winter left, we are well above the normal AND you can see the record is not too terribly far away. The record number of sub-zero days in Eau Claire was set back in the winter of 1977-78, which saw 60 days below-zero. With no major changes to the weather pattern in the days and weeks ahead, we could give that record a run for its money this winter.

So what’s the deal with this winter? Why has it been so relentlessly cold and snowy? The National Weather Service put together this great graphic below outlining why this winter has been so frigid. One of the major reasons is the fact that a very expansive and above-normal early season snowpack developed in Siberia and Eurasia. It was the 4th greatest areal coverage since 1967 for the month of October. This would in turn develop a large and strong area of high pressure over Siberia over the fall and into winter, which would keep the storm track over North American pretty much stationary. The west was warm and dry will they east was cold and snowy. This type of scenario is similar to the very cold winter of the late 1960s and 1970s.

Unfortunately, things haven’t really improved much into February and really no major changes are in the forecast. Below is a look at the Climate Predication Center forecast for temperatures in the month of February. The entire state of Wisconsin is under a 60% chance of having a below normal month. That forecast appears pretty solid looking at the long range forecast models through the middle of the month. Right now our average highs are in the mid 20s in Eau Claire, but temperatures over the next 7 days continue to stay well below average. Have you planned that winter trip to Florida or Mexico yet?

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