John Wheeler / Forum News Service
Twenty thousand years ago, at the peak of the last major world glaciation, the Laurentide ice sheet covered our region in ice to a depth of about one mile. The massive glacier may have been two miles high in northern Canada. So much of Earth’s water was being retained by the Laurentide glacier and others around the world that sea level was about 350 feet lower than it is today.
With about a week to go in the month, the average daily mean temperature for March is running just about exactly average. This is remarkable because there has been measurable snow on the ground just two days this month. This suggests the overall weather pattern has favored colder-than-average weather and it is just the absence of snow that has kept things closer to average.
Snowfall varies greatly from winter to winter. The least snow in a winter season on record for Fargo Moorhead was 9.3 inches in the winter of 1957-58. The most is 117.0 inches in 1996-97. The average winter snowfall over the three most recent complete decades, which is the amount used as the present-day “normal” is 50.1 inches. However, this figure is probably high because of the unusually snowy winters in the mid-1990s and again during the flood-prone period from 2008-2011.
The official measured total of 30.1 inches of snow so far this winter season in Fargo Moorhead is a bit below average. Unless we get a monster spring snowstorm, this will go down as the fourth consecutive winter with below-average snowfall. Last winter’s snow tally was just 27.4 inches. The 2014-15 total was a miniscule 16.0 inches. In 2013-14, total snow was 34.9 inches. This adds up to a four-year total of 108.4 inches since 1958-1962. The lowest four-year total in history was from 1956 through 1960 of just 62.1 inches, including a record low 9.3 inches in 1957-58.
The cycle of the seasons is not symmetrical, and it does not at all mirror the progression of the solstices and equinoxes. The Vernal Equinox was Monday. The mean temperature (average of low and high) in Fargo Moorhead Monday is 30 degrees. At the time of the Summer Solstice, the mean temperature is 68 degrees, a difference of 38 degrees. At the Autumnal Equinox, the mean temperature falls just eleven degrees to 57. But by the time of the Winter Solstice, the mean temperature has fallen 35 degrees to twelve.
Since this warm mild weather began last week, many people have asked me about “gut feelings” (theirs or mine), as to how much winter weather remains. The premise being that a number of people “have a feeling” we have seen the last of snow and cold.
The Vernal Equinox was at 5:29 a.m. Many people call this the first day of spring without thinking much about it. Can spring start at the same moment everywhere on Earth? Think about the equatorial regions. At the equator, March and September are when the sun is directly overhead at noon. It is hot all year at the equator. But it is often hottest in March and September.
FARGO, N.D. — When I lived in Bismarck I had the opportunity to witness ice rescue practice first hand. The local fire department was practicing in the spring as ice conditions on lakes were starting to weaken and become unsafe due to warm spring temperatures. I asked if I could get in the water with them as they had special suits to stay warm in the near freezing water. I’ll never forget how weird the ice felt as we walked to the area they had cut out to work on these mock rescues. The ice would actually move and sag as we walked across.
FARGO, N.D. — Late winter/early spring, in most years, is a necessary fifth season here in the Northern Plains. Typically, the snow is at its deepest in early March, and even though the days are longer and the sun higher, lingering snow pack usually negates a lot of these potential warming effects. Underneath the snow, ground frost usually reaches its deepest penetration in March.
FARGO, ,N.D. — February was a relatively warm month in the Fargo-Moorhead area. Only 14 of the 28 days remained below freezing. There were just two subzero mornings. The mean temperature for the month was 9.6 degrees above average and ranks as seventh warmest since 1881. More remarkably, over the same period of record, the February mean temperature over the continental U.S.