WORDS on WEATHER & CLIMATE

Snowmageddon

by CRAIG JAMES 

Snowmageddon. Snowzilla. These are both terms I have heard used to describe some of the snowstorms of the past couple of years. How many more ways can the media hype winter weather? It is generally agreed that this past storm in our area was not as bad as either the 1967 or 1978 blizzards. If we have another storm to top those two, the media would go absolutely berserk trying to come up with a new word to out-hype the new catastrophic words they’ve already invented.

Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

To put things in perspective, the storm produced no more than the third highest snowfall totals from a single storm anywhere along its path. Chicago received 21 inches of snow, with five-foot drifts at O’Hare Airport, while Kenosha, Wisconsin, just north of Chicago, received 23 inches for the highest amount at any location. You can see from this map the snow totals recorded in our area.

The official total in Grand Rapids was 16 inches. The highest amount in our area was reported at South Haven with 20 inches. The 1978 blizzard produced over 19 inches in Grand Rapids—although I have always felt that number is too low—and around 30 inches in Muskegon.

The historic cold weather that plunged all the way into Mexico was more notable than the snowfall with all-time records broken in many areas. Over 80 locations had never experienced a colder February afternoon and over 30 locations had never experienced a colder afternoon in any month. El Paso, Texas on February 2 had a high temperature of just 15°F, which is the coldest high temperature ever recorded for any day of the year and a full 45 degrees below the average high for the date.

The temperature fell to 36 degrees below zero at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Even Phoenix experienced what must have been frigid weather for those folks. The high on February 2 was just 44°F with a low of 32°F and wind chill temperatures near 20°F. It was the coldest day ever recorded in that city in the month of February. I don’t imagine the golf courses were crowded.

Wind chill temperatures dropped below zero as far south as Monterrey, Mexico. The locals have apparently never experienced weather that cold. On Thursday, Feb. 3, Chihuahua, Mexico had a high of 18 and a low of 14. Since the electricity was out and cages couldn’t be heated, at least 30 animals froze to death in the zoo. The averages for the date in Chihuahua are 71 and 40. The high was 53 degrees colder than average. I have never seen that happen before. In Brownsville, Texas, the southern-most city in that state, freezing rain fell for several hours with the police reporting accidents occurring about once every two minutes. On Friday morning, Feb. 4, essentially all roads around San Antonio were closed, as well as many roads around Houston and Corpus Christi, due to freezing rain.

However, there is a break coming in the persistent cold and snowy pattern we’ve had across much of the country. Next week, temperatures will climb to near 80 in Texas and 60 up to the Ohio River Valley. We have a lot of snow on the ground to melt before we can get that warm. This is the type of pattern, though, that frequently produces an early, false spring only to have it get cold and snowy again by the end of March with snow into April. We haven’t seen any measurable snow in April in the past three years. That is not likely to be the case this year.

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