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Looking Back at 2008 and the Winter of 2008/09

By Joe D'Aleo
Monday, March 23, 2009


The University of Alabama MSU satellite based lower atmospheric temperatures for 2008 were the lowest in the 21st century and 14 coldest in the 30 years of record keeping. NOAA and UK Hadley’s ranking of 2008 as the 8-10th warmest in the last 114 to 149 years is nonsense as that data is not adjusted for urbanization and suffers from major station dropout, a tenfold increase in missing months, poor siting, instrument biases not adjusted for and then bad algorithms (see full analysis here).


The meteorological winter (December to February) was cold across the north especially in the north central and warmest in the south especially in the south central. As an average for the country, it was near normal.  NOAA's Residential Energy Demand Temperature Index, the contiguous U.S. temperature-related energy demand was 0.4 percent above average during the winter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Geological Survey and Maine State Climate Office announced that a minus-50 reading in northwestern Maine Jan. 16 at a remote site along the Big Black River near the Quebec border held up to scientific scrutiny. That beats Maine’s old record of 48 below zero set in 1925 in Van Buren, and ties the record for coldest temperature recorded in New England. That reading was made in 1933 in Bloomfield, VT.

All-time records were also set in Iowa in mid January. In Cedar Rapids, -29F on January 15th, 2009 broke the old all-time record of -28F set in 1974.  In Waterloo, IA, the -34F on the 17th tied the all-time record set March 1, 1962.

Florida experienced unusual cold in November, and frosts and freezes in January, February and March, the most damaging to crops in January. The temperatures reached as low as 19F in Archibald.

Ground zero for cold and snow this year was in the north central especially in December and January. Heavy snows fell in many of the same areas that set all-time records last year like Wisconsin, Michigan, and northern New England,. Though more snow fell south of that areas this year, the all-time records were further north and west this year in North Dakota. For example look at Bismarck. ND’s summary.



Temperatures for the 2008-09 meteorological winter season (defined as the months of December-January-February) at the Bismarck airport averaged 9.7 degrees, which was 3.3 degrees below the 1971 to 2000 climatological average. This marked the coldest winter season since 1993-94. Overall, the winter of 2008-09 will go down in the books as being tied with the winter of 1922-23 for the 41st coldest on record.


During the winter season, the temperature ranged from a modest 43 degrees on the 31st of January to a bone chilling -44 degrees on the 15th of January.  The all time record low temperature ever recorded in Bismarck was -45 degrees.  The last time a -44 degree temperature was experienced in Bismarck, was on January 18th, 1950. Overall, the temperature remained at or below freezing (32 degrees) on 66 days during the 90 day season. This was about 7 days more than average. Additionally, there were 47 days in which the mercury fell below zero. On average, this feat is only accomplished on 37 days during the winter season.


During the winter season, there was a total of 58 inches of snowfall measured at Bismarck.  This broke the old record of 48.6 inches set during the 1995-96 winter season. A majority of the snow fell during December, when 33.3 inches was measured.  This amount also set a record for the snowiest month ever in recorded history.  During January, a total of 16.0 inches was measured. Although this amount was not recorded breaking, it was much above what is typically experienced during the month of January.  In fact, it was tied as being the 6th snowiest January on record.  Finally, the month of February brought Bismarck the least amount of snow during the winter season. However, in spite of this fact, the 8.7 inches that did fall was still above the typical amount of between 4.5” and 5.9” normally expected for the month of February. 

In Wisconsin, Madison and Milwaukee had another very snowy winter especially early. Another snow event will put this year in the top ten again in Madison, where last year was snowiest on record. Madison has 66 inches as of mid March. It had the snowiest December (and snowiest any month) with 40.4 inches.


1          101.4               2007-08
2            76.1               1978-79
3            75.9               1885-86
4            73.7               1993-94
5            72.4               1985-86
6            71.2               1992-93
7            70.9               1909-10
8            70.7               1897-98
9            67.4               1970-71
10          67.3               1958-59

In Green Bay, it was another top 5 winter.



Green Bay has received 84.2 inches of snow so far this winter season (as of March 15th).  That amount places this winter as the 4th snowiest since Green Bay weather records began in the late 1880s.  Here is a list of the top five snowiest winters:




















The 84.2 inches of snow this season also makes back-to-back winters of at least 80 inches of snow (87.4 inches last winter).  The only other time Green Bay measured back-to-back winters of 80 inches or more was during the winters of 1886-87 and 1887-88!


The United States experienced its fifth driest December-February period on record. Texas had its driest winter ever and the Southeast experienced its 10th driest winter. North and South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin, Illinois, Michigan, Vermont, Connecticut, Massachusetts had precipitation averages that were above normal.


This has left the south with large deficits and in various stages of drought. Texas is especially dry and th souther plains dryness is a concern for winter wheat. Florida is also dry and likely to experience brush fires this spring, typical of La Nina.