Can’t complain about 8th best winter since 1900

There’s been a nip in the air the last few days, which may be enough to send impatient Minnesotans over the edge.

We’ve just come off one of the mildest winters on record, and people are getting antsy to plant, de-hibernate or otherwise bask in the sun.

Tom West, West Words
Tom West, West Words

Never mind that it was the eighth nicest winter since 1900, according to West’s Winter Misery Index. It was the kind of winter that tempted one’s fate.

We had just enough snow and ice to keep the bicycles in the shed, but warm enough to think an extended walk wouldn’t result in a slip and fall.

That won’t happen now because the ice and snow are long gone — or if they do make an encore appearance, it won’t be for long.

West’s Winter Misery Index (WWMI) is not meant to engage in the climate change debate. It’s designed to remind people that their weather memory is exceedingly short.

Unless a tornado or blizzard ruined your wedding, the average Minnesotan’s weather memory is about two weeks.

The WWMI is also not designed to be all-encompassing of winter’s ills. When the weather is really nasty out, most Minnesotans have the good sense to stay home. When it turns mild, however, they are out and about, spreading cold and flu germs with abandon.

The winter just past was met with more sneezing and wheezing than normal, said our unscientific survey.

But back to the weather, the WWMI was developed to remind you that the weather is almost always too hot, too cold, too wet or too dry.

It’s our conversational compensation tool. When we run into a friend we haven’t seen in a bit, they ask, “How you been?”

We reply, “Can’t complain,” and then, if not for the weather, the conversation comes to an end.

The weather saves us because then a person can say, “Hot (or cold or wet or dry) enough for ya?” and a person can go on for 10 minutes about how awful it is out, like they’ve never seen it like this before.

Trees down, basements flooded, heat stroke on the golf course or cars in a snowy ditch become as worthy of conversation as the president’s comb-over.

As it was, the winter just past was not standout exceptional, other than that all five of the months from November through March were in the top third for niceness over the past 117 years.

The one month that stood out was February, which was also the eighth nicest on record. What made the whole winter eighth best, is that none of the other four months were terrible.

The WWMI is calculated by adding the average daily highs and lows for the month and dividing by two. Then because winter moisture is a negative because it is hazardous, subtract the number of inches of snow from the average temperature. The higher the number, the nicer the winter.

Making this winter particularly nice were the near drought conditions of February and March. (Better a drought then than in July and August).

Snow depth records were not kept in this area until 1950, but only the winters of 1960-61 and 1986-87 had less snow on the ground in February and March than this year.

The high temperature was the 11th warmest in 117 years, but just three years ago, the winter of 2013-14 was the second coldest on record.

The weather is warming a little, however. This may have been the 11th warmest in 117 years, but five of the 10 years that were warmer occurred in the last 20 years.

As for the total snowfall, this was the 32nd least snowiest winter since 1900.

My own memories of winter take me back to my youth, when the snow was always on the ground by Thanksgiving and always seemed to stay until mid-April.

I remember as a small child when our car was stuck in a snowdrift a block from home during a blizzard. We were on the way to catch a train to visit my grandparents in St. Paul for the November holiday. We barely made it to the station on time.

I also will never forget the Christmas Eve when, had I known how bad it was, I never would have risked the drive from our house to my mother-in-law’s with two young children and my wife. It was only 10 miles, but we were in a caravan of about a dozen cars, in which we could just barely see the car in front of us, and the oncoming lane was impassably drifted.

And only three years ago, it was so cold that the sewer pipes in our Little Falls office were frozen for 18 straight days.

To have a winter like this, one which was worthy of throwing a few logs on the fire and settling in with a warm beverage on many evenings that, as a lifelong Minnesotan, if you had asked me how I was doing, I’d have said, “Can’t complain,” and if you had then started in about the weather, I’d have ended the conversation by saying again, “Can’t complain.”

Still, the weather was a bit unusual. One of Minnesota’s weather axioms has been that it snows during the state boys’ basketball tournament.

So, to have a winter when it didn’t snow during either the boys’ or the girls’ state tournament must be a first.

 

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. Reach him at (320) 616-1932 or by email at [email protected]