By Scott Levine
Area residents are thawing out today after experiencing something they haven’t felt in awhile.
Two years of above-average winters came to a halt Monday and Tuesday, with temperatures dipping below zero for the first time since February 2011. Monday’s low of zero was the first time local thermometers read zero since Jan. 20, 2012, and Tuesday’s low of minus -3 was the first below-zero temperature since Feb. 10, 2011, Jim Blaess, official weather observer for the National Weather Service, said.
Overall, though, the month of January has been warmer than usual, posting an average temperature of 26.1 degrees through the first 21 days, up from the normal temperature of 22.5 degrees. This year’s January still isn’t on pace to beat last year’s fifth-warmest record of 28.3 degrees.
“Until we ran into these two days, (January) hasn’t been that bad,” Blaess said. “And on days like this, when the sun shines, it makes it look better.”
Ordinarily, temperatures sink to zero or lower at least five times in January, and three times apiece in February and December, Blaess said.
Virgil Schmitt, field agronomist at Iowa State University extension, said although farmers don’t need to worry about crops during these temperatures, livestock, along with house pets, should field extra care.
“Animals need to have decent shelter,” Schmitt said. “They need to have an open water source. And they expend a lot of energy to stay warm, so they may need to have access to more food.”
Businesses also are dealing with the sudden cold weather. Blain’s Farm and Fleet Manager Shelley Miller said automotive batteries and workwear are hot items during times of below-freezing weather.
For the most part, though, Blain’s Farm and Fleet has had to adjust to the warmer winter temperatures.
“We try to get the warmer weather stuff in before the season hits,” Miller said. “Last year it hit a little sooner, so we had to adjust inventory accordingly.”
Instead of worrying about the cold weather, Schmitt said farmers are more concerned if the dryness will continue.
Snowfall doesn’t account for much moisture, Schmitt said, since about 8 to 12 inches of snow equals 1 inch of rain. But if the weather continues with dry conditions, Schmitt said farmers will need to do whatever they can to preserve soil moisture.
Any moisture is welcomed, Schmitt said, and right now, not much has surfaced. Snowfall for January is at 1.3 inches, down from the normal of 9 inches for the month. Normally, the area should have 18.9 inches of snow by the end of January. Right now, the area has seen 6.
Last year, by the end of January, the area had 12.5 inches of snow by the end of January.