By Brenden West
This just in: the 31 days of January 2014 were cold.
While most Clintonians won’t need an almanac to understand that, Jim Blaess, Clinton-area weather observer for the U.S. government, is able to quantify that fact in a historical, statistical perspective. It’s just not enough to say people froze half to death last month.
“Extreme temperatures like this are something that doesn’t happen every January, that’s for sure,” Blaess said. “It stands out in that when you get these periods below zero, it’s hard on everything.”
In addition to snowfall, lows and highs, Blaess uses terms like “average mean temperature” and “days of zero or below” to indicate the severity of each winter. While he has to go back 35 years to find a more brutal January, Blaess found through history that it could be worse.
An average mean temperature is found by adding the low and the high of the month and dividing by two. This year’s average mean was 14.6 degrees, which wasn’t even as cold as the January of 2009. In fact, 2014 only ranks as the 27th coldest in the 135-year history of weather observing, according to Blaess. Cut the 2014 average mean temperature in half and it’s still warmer than the winter of 1912 (average mean of 7.0 degrees).
This January saw 14 days that reached zero or below and this winter season (December to March) has already seen 21 such days. That’s nine days above the normal for the month (Januarys average five days).
But if 2014 hopes to approach the unforgiving 1977-1978 season, February and March will need to have 17 days of zero or below temperatures. The 1977-1978 season saw 38 total days.
Blaess doesn’t think this winter will be quite that cold.
“Everybody was probably thinking it’s the coldest winter ever,” he said. “But it’s not.”
That’s not to say Clintonians haven’t already dealt with a heavy load in light of recent winter months. From Jan. 5-7, the region saw 40.75 straight hours of below zero temperatures, with another 35 consecutive hours coming Jan. 26-28. As for snowfall, Blaess said this season’s 28.7 inches (dating to October) is nearly 10 inches higher than normal.
“It’s colder than normal, snowier than normal,” he said. “In the past two winters, we’ve had a total of four zero degree or below days. We’ve already had 21 this winter and we’ve still got February and March to go. After two easy winters, you’re not used to that. You get another winter that’s a little harsher and it’s hard to put up with.”
If given the choice between low temps or high snowfall, though, Blaess said he’d take his chances with a shovel.
“It’s a winter you don’t like to have,” he said. “We can deal with the snow a lot better than we can deal with the cold.”