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Northland Nature: Looking back at December’s weather

Larry Weber For the Budgeteer News January gets its name from the Roman god Janus. Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions and so he was depicted at doorways, gates, passages, endings and beginnings. He is often shown with a face on eithe...

Heavy snow
Snow piled on tree branches a month ago is still present. (Larry Weber photo)

Larry Weber
For the Budgeteer News
January gets its name from the Roman god Janus. Janus was the god of beginnings and transitions and so he was depicted at doorways, gates, passages, endings and beginnings. He is often shown with a face on either side of his head, looking forward and backward, which is what we often do when passing through a doorway or going from one place to another, or going from the old year to the new year.
We regularly take time to look back over the previous 12 months and make plans and resolutions for the new ones. We all have our reasons for going over the year just finished, but I find that for this year, it is the weather. What we’ve lived through in the last 12 months has been quite an experience.
Though cold, January and February were not much different than usual. This pattern changed as March and April were both chillier than normal with plenty of snow. The two months gave us more than 76 inches of snow: 25.8 inches in March and the record-setting 50.8 inches of April. (Just a few years earlier, in 2010, these two months produced no snow!)
The late cool spring gave way to a hot dry summer; July and August had several days in excess of 90 degrees.
The autumn was slow to cool, and by the end of November, the average temperature for the year was still above normal.
And then there was December. In a year of terrific months, it seemed as though Mother Nature saved the best for last - what a finale!
We always expect December to be cold and snowy, but what we received during this last month was far beyond expectations. With the presence of Lake Superior and the various terrains in the region, observations of the temperature and snowfall vary greatly, but we’ll take a look at the recordings of the National Weather Service in Duluth as being the basis.
Once again, the weather was very diverse in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin.
The Weather Service noted 40 inches of snow for the month of December, 2013; 17.7 inches is normal.
This number had been exceeded only twice in December during the 130 years of measuring snowfall in Duluth. This December’s amount was No. 3. No. 1 was December of 1950, with 44.3 inches; and No. 2 was December, 1996, with 42.3 inches.
We began the month with a three-day snowfall of nearly 2 feet in Duluth. This was followed by cold days and the addition of several small snow falls that helped form the 40 inches as we exited the month.
At this time, the snow on the ground at the Weather Service is about 20 inches. (Our snow season often stretches into April and this means that early January is about only one-fourth of the way. So far the seasonal snowfall is 45 inches. It could be interesting if this snowy pattern of December continues.)
And it was cold. If we looked at only the snowfall statistics and not the temperature, it would be very interesting by itself, but when we add the colder-than-usual readings to that of the snow, we get an amazing month that is one for the records.
December 2013 was not the coldest, that being the 1.8 degrees of December 1983; but once again, this December was far less than usual with an average of about 10 degrees below the normal of 14.8 degrees. This recorded temperature was sufficient enough to be in the top 10 coldest Decembers in Duluth (records go back 145 years).
Also of note is the consistency of the cold. On 23 of the 31 days, we had a reading of zero degrees or lower!
I found it of interest that the two Decembers that recorded more snow than our recent December were considerably warmer. And the previous Decembers that were colder than December 2013 all had much less snow. (Only December of 1983 recorded more than 30 inches.)
Or to put it in other words: there were other Decembers with more snow, there were those that were colder, but this December was a leader in both snowfall and cold!
The reaction of Northlanders to this varies, but for some of us weather watchers and nature observers, it was a delight. What a fabulous month we lived through. I look forward to more.

Retired teacher Larry Weber is the author of several books, including “Butterflies of the North Woods,” “Spiders of the North Woods” and “Webwood.” Contact him c/o budgeteer@duluthbudgeteer.com .

Related Topics: ENVIRONMENTWEATHER
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