“Persistent.” Not exactly the word many Minnesotans may choose to describe this winter, but it’s appropriate, according to Mark Seely, University of Minnesota Extension climatologist.
According to a recent Google search, the word ‘persistent’ has many interesting synonyms: tenacious, determined, single-minded, relentless, interminable, and uninterrupted. Seely said the reason all these words fit is it hasn’t been this consistently cold in Minnesota and the Midwest in a long time. In fact, the Minnesota Public Radio website calls this “the coldest winter in 30 years.”
Seely said the interesting thing about this bitterly cold winter is, “it didn’t necessarily start early. The winter that we know it as, frankly, didn’t start until the first week of December.” Since then, Seely said the state has been in a deep freeze, the likes of which it hasn’t seen in some time.
“Since December, it’s been the coldest weather, by any measure, since the winter of 81-82.” Winter this consistently cold is a new experience for many young Midwesterners:
Seely said the Midwest has had colder winters, but few that have been this persistent. “It has been so consistently cold, we’ve had many of our observers report large numbers of nights with below zero readings.”
What is driving the cold?
According to the Weather Underground website, a weather phenomenon known as the polar vortex may be driving this relentlessly cold weather in the Midwest. The polar vortex is an area of very cold air that typically centers over Siberia and Canada’s Baffin Island. A piece of the vortex broke off, and was forced south in part by the Jet Stream, into the Great Lakes Area of the US.
DTN Senior Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said “An unusual area of warm air over Alaska and northwest Canada pushed the cold air south. They’ve had a lot of warm weather in Alaska this year.” The polar air has pushed south in the past, so it’s not an unusual occurrence.
Uneven snow cover
“I would say the eastern half of the state ended up with fairly decent snow cover that’s pretty consistent,” said Seely. “However, the western half of the state, because of the high winds, ended up with variable snow cover. In areas unprotected from the wind, our weather observers have reported seeing areas of bare soil in their farm fields.”
Seely said in unprotected areas, the lack of snow cover has allowed the permafrost has driven 4 to 6 feet deep, and that’s something, “We haven’t seen that in a long, long time.” That means the ground is going to take time to thaw for spring planting in Minnesota.
What is ahead?
“The weather models are coming together and showing some moderation for the rest of the winter,” said Seely. “That’s not to say we won’t have colder than normal days, but the sheer number of below zero days are going to go away.”
Palmerino said soils “east of the Mississippi River are in pretty good shape moisture-wise. If anything, I think the main concern going into spring is that it’s too wet.” He said “a stormy weather pattern and cooler than normal temperatures would definitely interrupt spring planting.”
Seely said the good news is the future models are showing moderating temperatures into March. However, not all the predictions are positive:
Palmerino said it’s a fine line when farmers look to spring. You want the weather to warm up and melt the snow, but not too fast either:
Here’s what it’s been like to drive in the Midwest this winter: