A December to remember
by CRAIG JAMES
I know the month of December is not quite finished yet, but it certainly has been a December to remember in many areas, even though I think it has been a rather boring month in our area. Temperatures in West Michigan are running colder than average, but there have been no record lows and no big snowstorms. In fact, at inland locations, snowfall is running around a foot below average.
There have been significant lake effect snows in northwest Indiana and in Ontario downwind of Lake Huron. Near London, Ontario, up to five feet of snow fell in four days early in the month. On the 12th through the 14th, almost three feet of snow fell near Valparaiso, Ind., trapping several motorists in their cars overnight. The heaviest snowfall in Grand Rapids was just five inches on the 1st.
Our area missed the heavy snow from the storm on the 11th that gave Minneapolis its heaviest snowfall in 20 years, causing the Metrodome to collapse. The NFL game was moved to Detroit and played on Monday night. I guess this is the only way Detroit will ever get a Monday Night football game.
The biggest storm of the month occurred in California on the 19th through the 23rd. Some truly incredible snowfall amounts were recorded. The base station at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort in California received 123 inches (over 10 feet) with 186 inches (over 15 feet) falling at the top of the mountain in four days. The base station has already received a record 261 inches of snow this season. In addition, a wind gust up to 164 mph was recorded at a chair lift station at an elevation of 9,951 feet. Here is photo of someone trying to find his car at the resort.
As of this writing, it was already the wettest December of record in several California locations, including Death Valley, one of the driest places on Earth, where it rained over 1.51 inches in four days. The average rainfall for an entire year is just 2.28 inches. In Los Angeles, where the yearly average rainfall is 13.15 inches, over 7 inches fell in six days. Even the Hawaiian Islands were quite wet. The average yearly rainfall in Honolulu is about 18 inches, but over 5 inches fell on just the 19th.
The weather has caused chaos in much of Europe. Literally hundreds of flights and railway trains have been cancelled due to the cold and snow, canceling Christmas travel for many. Snow fell as far south as the Isle of Capri, off the southwestern coast of Italy for the first time in 25 years.
Great Britain has been especially hard hit. Food and mail delivery was actually halted for a while in England. London’s Heathrow Airport reportedly looked like a refugee camp with all of the stranded travelers.
The month of December may turn out to be the coldest in 100 years. Heathrow Airport in London recorded a temperature of 15º F on the 20th with readings into the single digits in the western suburbs and as low as -3º F in Central England. Behind what was labeled as the worst snowstorm in 25 years, Northern Ireland set an all-time record low temperature of 0º F. Even in normally cold Alaska, this may be the coldest December in 30 years.
Has there been any warm weather? Yes, indeed. A large, nearly stationary high pressure system over Greenland has been responsible for the record cold in Europe, while on the backside of the high, southerly breezes have brought unusual warmth to southern Greenland and parts of northeastern Canada. Hudson Bay is, on average, frozen over by mid-December, but not this year with this weather pattern—a pattern, by the way, which can be explained by purely natural forces and was predicted as early as last summer by several forecasters I know.
Craig James has been retired since July 1, 2008, after 40 years of broadcasting television weather. He was chief meteorologist at WZZM-TV for 12 years and chief meteorologist at WOOD-TV for 24 years. He is a graduate of Penn State University, where he received a Centennial Fellowship Award. He was also honored as a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society.