“Piercing;” “Biting;” “Bitterly;” “Frosty.” These are some of the terms we used to describe how cold we believed last winter’s weather would be, supporting our statement that “the days of shivery are back!”
And Shiver We Did!
Almanac readers and the media agreed that our predictions and warnings of a very cold winter for two-thirds of the country were on target. With the exception of parts of the Far West, particularly California, it was an incredibly cold and very stormy winter.
However, the bitterly cold winter seemed to have taken the government long-range forecasters completely by surprise. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Climate Prediction Center came up with a forecast that predicted temperatures would be “above normal from November 2013 through January 2014 across much of the lower 48 states.” They made their November through January prediction in October 2013. (We made ours in August.)
The Cold, Hard Facts
The three coldest months—December, January, and February—are regarded as “meteorological winter.” The winter of 2013–14 kicked off in December with several significant storms that impacted various parts of the nation. The contiguous U.S. snow cover was the eighth largest on record for the month.
In January, the average U.S. temperature was 30.3°F, or 0.1°F below the 20th-century average. The southeast quarter of the nation will never forget the storm of January 28th–30th, which caused massive travel disruptions, particularly in the Atlanta Metro area. Snow was observed as far south as the Florida panhandle. Chicago received 33.7-inches of snow during January, the third snowiest month on record for the Windy City.
In February, old man winter refused to let up: the average U.S. temperature was 32.2°F, or 1.6°F below the 20th-century average. Meteorological winter for 2013–14 as a whole averaged 1.0°F below normal.
Winter was cold and snowy across the Midwest, with Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin all experiencing a top-ten cold winter, and Detroit had its snowiest winter ever.
And the persistent cold during the winter caused 91% of the Great Lakes to be frozen by early March, the second largest ice cover on record.
How Our Forecasts Fared
In the 198 years of the Almanac’s history, I don’t think that we ever received as much interest and scrutiny about a single forecast than we did for Super Bowl XLVIII. Football’s biggest game was held on February 2nd at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey’s Meadowlands. It was the first time that a Super Bowl was to be played outdoors in a typically cold weather environment.
Our forecasts are made in three-day increments. The big game fell right smack in the middle of the February 1st–3rd timeframe, in which we called for a storm that could bring “. . . heavy rain, snow, and strong winds which could seriously impact the game.”
When the 2014 edition of our Almanac hit the newsstands on August 26, 2013, almost immediately a rumor went viral that we were forecasting a blizzard for the Super Bowl. And although we had actually forecast the potential for a storm within the 72-hour timeframe for February 1st to 3rd, many people were concerned that forecast was valid only for the three or so hours that the game would be played. Of course, we had to mention the possibility that a storm might adversely impact the Super Bowl, but we also pointed out that the storm could come the day before or the day after the game as well.
However, it was only eight hours after the big game ended, that a winter storm warning was in effect and moderate-to-heavy snow was falling. By 8 a.m. on Monday the 3rd, streets were a slushy mess and flights in and out of the three major New York airports were either delayed or canceled. Eight inches of snow ultimately fell on East Rutherford, New Jersey, the site of MetLife Stadium, which ironically had been a balmy 49° at kickoff. It was literally the calm before the storm. Or as ESPN noted: “The NFL dodged a blizzard.” Still not bad for a forecast that was initially crafted about 22 months earlier!
In fairness, we were not “spot on” everywhere. The warm and dry conditions experienced in California and the Southwest United States threw our forecast off slightly with a cool winter with near-normal precipitation. And over the Pacific Northwest we were banking overall on a drier-than-normal winter. That forecast looked promising during December into early January, but then the dry weather abruptly ended with a series of storms moving in from the Pacific.
Want to know what’s in store for this winter? We’ll be releasing our 2015 forecast next week. Watch our web site!