Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Winter 2011-12: Some Cold Facts

I'm not a meteorologist and only had a one week introduction 30 years ago this year at the University of Colorado's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. Moreover, I'm limiting any analysis only to the time that we have lived in Fairbanks. All that I can say that yes, this has been one cold (I say bitter) winter season!

All that I know is that there has been a high pressure system in the high Arctic that has persisted for weeks now, locking us a cycle of cold and colder. We always get these systems and they can persist for a couple weeks, but we're now into the fifth week of this cold snap.

Here is a graph of the temps this winter. We had about two weeks (16 days actually) of very cold temperatures in November (mean daily temperature of -20.7 F), typically a very cold month, and then a three week relative warming trend in December (averaging 13.1 F, with most days above zero), immediately followed by the this cold slap from hell. It started in earnest on December 24 and the daily temperature average has been -21.0 through January 24.

We did have two days of respite, when some cloud cover helped alleviate the freeze and we actually enjoyed some above zero. At this point, if you believe in the seven day forecast there is no end in sight.

I also decided to see how this year has stacked up to other years since we came here (2004). Sure enough this is a bad one.

*note that 2011 only goes through the 24th of January, so we have another week of counting cold days.

So if you consider that a daily mean (high and low averaged for each day) of -20 is damn cold, and -30 is miserably damn cold then 2011 is indeed the coldest winter since 2004. We had that bad cold snap in 2008, but 2011 has had more under -20, and by the end of the month there will be more sub 30 days.

Finally, but I don't have quantified date for this, our beloved temperature inversions have not been consistent this year particularly in the last month. Frequently (if not usually) it can be -20 or -40 in the valley where Fairbanks proper sits, but 15 to 25 degrees warmer in the hills outlying town. Makes a big difference! Well this year we've hardly had inversions. In fact if anything it's often been a couple degrees colder at 800 to 1200 ft in elevation, compared to 450 feet in town.

I guess La Nina is not our friend.

Later I'll tally up February, which is usually not bad but who knows this year.


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