Surprising data about cold snap

Just goes to show, stats and empirical science beats the pants off of anything else:

WU — As notable as this week’s cold wave was–bringing the coldest air seen since 1996 or 1994 over much of the nation–the event failed to set any monthly or all-time record low minimum temperature records at airports and cooperative observing stations monitored by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. As wunderground’s weather historian Christopher C. Burt summed it up for me, “The only significant thing about the cold wave is how long it has been since a cold wave of this force has hit for some portions of the country–18 years, to be specific. Prior to 1996, cold waves of this intensity occurred pretty much every 5-10 years. In the 19th century, they occurred every year or two (since 1835). Something that, unlike the cold wave, is a truly unprecedented is the dry spell in California and Oregon, which is causing unprecedented winter wildfires in Northern California.” Part of the reason that this week’s cold wave did not set any all-time or monthly cold records is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to do so in a warming climate.

As Andrew Freedman of Climate Central wrote in a blog post yesterday, “While the cold temperatures have been unusual and even deadly, climate data shows that intense cold such as this event is now occurring far less frequently in the continental U.S. than it used to. This is largely related to winter warming trends due to man-made global warming and natural climate variability.” For example, in Detroit during the 1970s, there were an average of 7.9 nights with temperatures below zero. But this decade, that number has been closer to two nights.


  1. echidna says

    Meanwhile, in Australia, 2013 was the hottest year on record.

    The article lists numerous breaking records, and notes that this isn’t unique to Australia, but is consistent with what the various Bureaus of Meteorology are seeing around the world.

    I was going to quote sections of the article, but found myself wanting to include most of it, so I’ll recommend following the link instead. It’s a newspaper report that quotes the Australian Bureau of Meteorology extensively.

  2. comfychair says

    Locally, wunderground says just about all the records were smashed. Both low temps and lowest maximum temps.

    Statement as of 2:57 PM CST on January 8, 2014

    … Several record cold temperatures broken across the area…

    Here is a summary of new temperature records that have been
    established across the NWS Jackson forecast area so far during the
    Arctic outbreak.

    1/6/2014 record low temperatures

    Greenwood : 12f (prev 15f – 2010)
    Vicksburg/Tallulah : 19f (prev 20f – 2010)

    1/6/2014 record cold high temperatures

    Greenville : 27f (prev 30f – 1988)
    Greenwood : 25f (prev 28f – 1988)
    Hattiesburg : 34f (prev 35f – 1972)
    Jackson : 28f (prev 37f – 1942,1988)
    Vicksburg/Tallulah : 29f *tie* (prev 29f – 1972)

    1/7/2014 record low temperatures

    Greenville : 11f (prev 14f – 1970)
    Greenwood : 10f (prev 18f – 1996,2004)
    Hattiesburg : 14f (prev 17f – 1970)
    Jackson : 14f (prev 16f – 1912,1924)
    Meridian : 10f (prev 15f – 1970)
    Vicksburg/Tallulah : 12f (prev 17f – 1970)

    1/7/2014 record cold high temperatures

    Hattiesburg : 34f (prev 40f – 1940)
    Meridian : 30f (prev 33f – 1996)
    Vicksburg/Tallulah : 33f *tie* (prev 33f – 1988)

    Coldest since…

    Greenville : 11f lowest since 10f on 2/11/2011
    Greenwood : 10f lowest since 8f on 2/11/2011
    Hattiesburg : 14f lowest since 7f on 12/25/1989
    Jackson : 14f lowest since 14f on 1/24/2003
    Meridian : 10f lowest since 8f on 2/5/1996
    Vicksburg/Tallulah : 12f lowest since 12f on 2/5/1996

  3. says

    I have query for clarification into Jeff on it, but reading around a bit I think the key is going to be ‘airport or cooperating NOAA climate center’. There maybe an official hurdle there, where maybe a TV meteorology set up or a personal thermometer owned by a serious amateur that’s only been around for a few years doesn’t clear the hurdle. But I’ll find out.

  4. MattP (must mock his crappy brain) says

    I get the feeling “all-time record lows” is not about the particular day, but out of any day in the year. Tuesday did set a new record at the athens airport of 7F beating the previous record of 12F (1970). I was on guard duty most of that night to make sure none of the pipes in the unheated laundry room froze (had to monitor the crap space heater: ~20 minutes on, ~40 minutes off). How I hate this house; at least there is nothing owed on it.

  5. Holms says

    This weather data source (for-profit company, rather than government body) claims that low records beat high with a ratio of 6.5:1. While I have no idea about the accuracy of that ratio, I am also wary of the claim that this cold snap caused zero low records at all.

  6. comfychair says

    Maybe the definition of “…monitored by NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center” has something to do with it, but if so, maybe that monitoring program doesn’t give an accurate representation of the data. I do know that on my regular bookmarked WU page it only gives the official airport data and not the ‘backyard amateur’ stuff, and the airport temps were in line with what’s shown in the record list I pasted above.

  7. Caish P says

    It’s about how you define records – a lot of places may have broken records for that day (e.g. the coldest ever 7th of january), but no records were broken for the coldest January day or the coldest day ever.

    In Australia (and most sensible places) we only talk about a record if it’s the hottest/coldest day ever recorded for that month. Because talking about a record for a specific day is a) pretty meaningless and b) much easier to record, since there’s about 30x less data for a given day than a given month. By our standards, there weren’t any records for your cold event.

  8. says

    Yesss! Thank you Caish and everyone else! I don’t know why it took so long to click, but yes, that’s what both Masters and Mike Mann told me today and reading it just now here finally did it for me. An all time high or low means the most extreme temp ever recorded in a given month. Which makes complete sense.

    Got it? We can talk about the coldest January 7 ever recorded in a location, say Detroit for example, we can talk about the coldest day ever recorded in Detroit, or we can talk about the coldest day in January ever recorded in Detroit! Scientists who study weather and climate often use the latter convention as it provides the more ideal apples to apples, seasonal comparison when analyzing climate trends. The usual suspects have been glossing over that important distinction all week, talking about record cold, and it’s high time we correct them.

  9. Suido says

    Reliability of old records is paramount in these types of comparisons. I was talking to a friend yesterday who is a weather reporter on a local news station, and he relayed a story about a particular high temperature record in Australia.

    It was recorded, as was typical at the time, with the gauge inside a beer crate – plastic box with holes in it. Outside of the tropics, this is fine, as the beer crate provides enough shade and allows air flow. However, this particular town is north of the tropic of capricorn, so on particular days of the year, the sun shines from directly above the beer crate and directly heats the temperature gauge. This means an increase of about 8 degrees C. So this town got the high temp record way back, and it is the town’s only claim to fame.

    Since then, every time the Bureau of Meteorology tried to take the record off them due to poor data recording, the town has threatened to sue for potential loss of tourism income. In the last decade or so, the BoM has stopped trying to take the record off them and advises all staff to make no comment on the matter to journalists interested in the story.

    Another story involved a particular town wanting to move from 3rd wettest town in a particular state to the wettest, and the local data recorder would add water to the rain gauges when it was raining. This fairly blunt attempt to fix the readings was pretty quickly noticed and controlled for with the introduction of a new gauge which measured both volume and rate of rainfall – the additional water showed up as impossible large rates of rainfall on the new gauge.

  10. unbound says

    I would be interesting to see averages for a month as well for a selection of states and/or countries. I remember looking a little over 2 decades ago that the average high temperature in North Dakota in January was 1 degree F (I was raised there). When I look now, that average is about 20 degrees F.

    The primary reason I checked is that while I was going to NDSU (late 80s), I clearly recall at least several days each January where the high was in the -20s with wind-chill in the -40s. So when I was looking early this week at these “record” cold spells, I was thinking “Yeah, that’s what I walked in going to college”.

  11. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ alanuk :Well it won’t be in degrees kelvin that’s for sure!

    BTW. Over here in Adelaide Sth Oz there’s a week of temperatures above forty predicted – that’s degrees celsius.
    (I.e. above 104 Fahrenheit.)

    See :

    Tomorrow = 40,Tues. 41 (105 F), Weds & Thurs 43 (109 F) and Friday 40 again.

    Its also quite possible the bureau is wrong and it will be even hotter than predicted too.

  12. Holms says

    Its also quite possible the bureau is wrong and it will be even hotter than predicted too.

    Well… if we’re going to second guess the forecasts, then it has to be said that the potential for error in the other direction is equal. I suggest simply going with the forcast for the time being, until / unless they happen to be shown wrong on the day. They are nasty enough that they amply make your point anyway!

  13. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    @ ^ Holms :

    The potential may be equal in theory, yes, but recently I’ve noticed they often forecast cooler than the temperatures we end up getting. Could be co-incidence but seems to be how it often is.

    As it turned out :

    Thatday wa sthe fourth hottets ever recorded inAdelaide and Iwas right -itwas hotter.

    Today is predicted to be 46 degrees and is already well over forty. It will very probably break all the records and be the hottest Adelaide day ever.

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