August 2013 was second dryest since 1900

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

Most people in these parts have only one word to describe the summer just past: “Weird.”

Snow in May always gets the planting season off to a bad start, and when the fields are a quagmire past Memorial Day, some folks turn downright sullen.

But perception and reality are two different things, and so West’s Summer Complaint Index (WSCI)has arrived at a different conclusion from everyone else. This summer was: “Normal.”

The WSCI was invented because everybody complains about the weather. Most of us wouldn’t know how to start a conversation otherwise.

And when we talk in terms of weather, it’s mostly in terms of negatives. It seems like we have only about 20 or maybe 30 nice days a year. The other 335 are too hot, too cold, too wet, too cloudy or too dry.

So it is that the WSCI tries to give the appropriate amount of validity to the constant catterwauling we hear about the weather.

The WSCI takes the actual weather reported for Central Minnesota by the National Weather Service, and then awards points for bad weather.

In summer, the complaint is mostly about the heat, so temperatures over 90 receive a point. An additional point is added for the misery when the temperature tops 100. Another point is given when the minimum for the day is above 70, which makes for bad sleeping weather if one doesn’t have air conditioning.

While gardeners and farmers are busy growing things, they are usually complaining that it is too dry or too wet. The WSCI gives one point for each rain event that totals over one inch in a day. Those gullywashers do little to promote plant growth and a lot to enhance soil erosion.                 What’s  the proper amount of rain? We know it when we see it. A gentle, misting rain that lasts most of a day is great, as long as the sun shines the day after. The WSCI gives points, however, if any given month has less than 10 days or more than 15 days with precipitation.

So how did the summer of 2013 fare? The WSCI looks at the daily weather from May through August, going back 114 years to 1900.

The WSCI scored 26 complaints for 2013. That’s only a few more complaints than the annual average of 23.21. Thirty-five of the 114 years had more complaints than 2013.

In fact, if it hadn’t been for the drought that hit in August, this year was on schedule to be one of the 10 nicest summers on record.

Granted, one of the weaknesses in the WSCI is that it doesn’t count shoveling slush in May as a complainable offense. But the fact was, the thermometer reached 90 only three times through July 31, and rainfall was well spaced with the only complainable downpours being a one-inch soaker on June 5 and a four-incher on June 21 (which caused the area to qualify for state and federal disaster relief — with no extra credit given).

May did have 14 days of rain compared to an average of 11 days, and some fields were washed out. But that was balanced by the fact that we have not yet had a frost, so growing continued for plants that germinated late.

The most complaints, however, were focused in August, with 15 of the 26 coming then. That made August the eighth worst in 114 years.

Droughtwise, we’ve had 14 summers since 1900 with fewer rain events than this year.

But August was close to a record. Only 1922, with only two days of measurable precipitation in August, had fewer days of moisture than the three days reported in 2013. That’s one record I’d just as soon not break.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 632-2345 or by email at [email protected].