Winter misery reaches historical levels

Tom West, West Words

Tom West, West Words

There is a lesson to be learned here, and mine is: Don’t mock the weather gods.

Last month, I wrote a column suggesting that all the whining about the weather was unwarranted. As of that date, the winter had been about average. Things have changed quickly since.

According to West’s Winter Misery Index (WWMI), we are now experiencing a winter of historical significance.

The WWMI was created because everybody talks about the weather, but short of a 10-year weather event, nobody remembers it. The WWMI tells us when our complaining about the weather is justified, and when we are just filling dead air space.

The WWMI takes the daily highs and daily lows for this area from the National Weather Service (NWS) from November through March, adds them and divides by two. Then the number of inches of snow that fell during the period is subtracted since both cold and snow are negatives.

The lower the number, the worse the winter.

As of Wednesday (before the snow that fell Thursday) we were experiencing the second worst winter since 1950-51, 64 years.

However, without question this is the coldest winter so far during that entire time.

Weather can change quickly, as last month’s column shows. I would have had egg on my face, but when I tried to crack it on my forehead, it was frozen solid.

How bad has it been? This is the first time in the history of the WWMI that the average low from Nov. 1 to now has been below zero. The temperature first dipped into minus territory this winter on Nov. 24. In the 89 days since, we have had lows of zero or below on 60 days.

From Dec. 29 to Feb. 17, 51 days, we had only nine days with lows above zero.

We had 12 consecutive days from Dec. 29 to Jan. 9 with lows below zero. That was followed from Jan. 21 through Feb. 12 with a whopping 23 consecutive days below zero.

The low for the winter so far, 27 below, was recorded on Jan. 28, but I swear that one morning on the way to work, my car thermometer said 29 below.

We’ve had 13 days so far when even the highs did not get above zero.

As for the snow, the first measurable amount fell on Nov. 29. In the 85 days since then, we have had 42 days when at least a trace fell.

Usually, when it gets really cold, it doesn’t snow.  The sun simply shines to no effect.

On about Jan. 18, however, Old Man Winter decided to really get nasty with us, dropping 5.1 inches of snow on a day when the high was 11 above and the low was 7 below. We’ve had only five days since then when the low was above zero, but 17 of the 31 days until this was written had at least a trace of precipitation.

I am a believer that no one over 40 should climb on a roof, and anyone under 40 should be very careful doing so. Nevertheless, for the first time ever, I hired someone to shovel the snow off my roof after hearing several stories of collapsing sheds.

None of the beams were sagging yet, but peace of mind is worth something.

The snow is not as bad as it has been many winters, but with this cold it isn’t melting much. At 17 inches, the snow depth is three inches deeper than last year, but is still only the 18th deepest in the WWMI, and the amount of snow that has fallen is the 13th most inches — above average, but not record breaking, like the temperature.

As you may have heard, many people are suffering the additional indignity of having their water and/or sewer pipes freezing up on them. At the Record, we have been working under conditions that our great-grandparents could relate to, with no indoor plumbing  for the past week. When it gets close to lunch time or the end of the day and somebody says, “I gotta go,” they often mean it in multiple ways.

It’s been a very difficult situation in which the plumbers have been stumped. We’ve finally got a plan we hope will solve the issue, but until it actually warms up above freezing so the ground starts thawing, the chance of a recurrence remains real. We still have March to get through.

At church the other day, the minister warned the congregation that although they would still be serving coffee after the service, the bathrooms were not functioning there either, so parishioners might want to watch their intake. So it is with the winter of 2013-14.

It has been a Third World experience — but without the palm trees.

Ask any Minnesotan these days, and I think you’ll find a lot of sentiment to bring back global warming.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at tom.west@mcrecord.com.

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