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Winter is bad, but used to be worse

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Winter is bad, but used to be worse
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Complaints about the irksome weather aren’t hard to find these days, but as Minnesotans who should be used to the conditions, are the complaints legit?

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Has this been a harsher-than-normal winter or has everybody simply experienced a little mid-winter amnesia brought on by a mild case of brain freeze?

According to experts, the bellyaching is indeed warranted — if you are considered a juvenile.

Baby, it’s cold outside

Younger Minnesotans, particularly teens and children, might have the perception that this winter is rough.

According to experts at the National Weather Service in Grand Forks, that’s because aside for a year or two, the area has experienced a pattern of fairly mild winters in the past 15 years.

“In the list of the top 20 warmest winters on record, several of them are from years in the 2000’s,” said Mark Ewens, data manager at the Grand Forks NWS office.

“And actually, 2012 was the very warmest on record, and so I think those warm winters biased our relatively short-term memories.”

While Ewens calls this “a real northern plains winter,” with snow totals that are so far right on track, he does say it’s legitimately been a rough one with temperatures on the lower side of “normal.”

He says over the last 60 days, the average high in the area has been around 2-4 degrees above zero, depending on what area in the region one is looking at.

To put that into perspective, since the weather station in Ottertail started keeping track 60 years ago, these past two months have been the second coldest on record.

For the Fargo stations that have been keeping track since 1881, it wouldn’t even crack the top 50 coldest.

“We have not broken one record this winter,” said WDAY Meteorologist John Wheeler. “This is a below average winter, but nowhere at breaking a record of number of days below zero, low temperatures — nothing,” he added.

In fact, Wheeler says the Januaries of 2010 and 2011 were both colder than this one.

So, what about those blizzards?

Has it been a bit more “blizzardy” than normal?

Ewens says, yes.  He says that is due to a few factors coming together — wind and dry snow.

“This winter is memorable in that it has been windier with more storms that have been impactful,” he said, adding that we haven’t seen a steady wind pattern, but one with huge swings.

“We’ve had big blows come through with 40 to 50 miles per hour winds, and then it gets calm,” said Ewens, who says in 2011 it was actually twice as windy as it’s been this year.

But because it has been cold this winter, snow on the ground is what weather experts would consider very dry, with little moisture or weight to keep it down.

From Dec. 1 to two days ago, Fargo has 1.98 inches of liquid equivalent out of its 25.8 inches of snow — that’s only eight percent and “that’s very, very dry,” said Ewens, who says this has translated into light snow being easily blown around causing significant ground blizzards.

“But again, I think if you ask some younger people if this is a rough winter they would say ‘yes’ because it has been colder than what we’ve seen in recent history,” said Ewens. “But if you ask somebody a little older, they’ve probably seen a lot worse — it’s all about perspective.”

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