Winter months ending, but how cold were we really?

Cardinal in the snow.

Cardinal in the snow.

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – March begins this weekend, and that means Winter is over! At least, according to climatologists and meteorologists. We consider the “Winter months” to be December, January and February.

And what a Winter we’ve had! Near-average snowfall in Richmond, bitterly cold days, and numerous winter precipitation events. Many of us have talked about how rough this Winter has been. But has it been that bad, really? The numbers say no.

Here is a preview of how Richmond’s average Winter temperature (factoring in both the daily high and low temperatures), which shows that December-February (through Feb 24) has been practically in the middle in the spread of our coldest winters to our warmest winters on record.

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As of this posting, Richmond’s February 2014 average temperature is only 0.3 degrees F below the “normal.” January 2014 was a whopping 4.2 degrees F below normal, but that still didn’t even break into the Top 10 coldest Januaries on record!  December 2013 helped to counterbalance some of January’s cold weather, with an average temperature that was 2.8 degrees above the normal. So, all in all, that put us somewhere in the middle of our climatology records. Overall, not too cold, not too hot.

What about other parts of the U.S., though?

Let’s look at the Midwest and Great Lakes, for example, where they’ve had one of their coldest Winters on record. More than 85% of the Great Lakes are ice-covered for the first time since 1996, and with another arctic blast Thursday into Friday, the Lakes could break the all-time record (94.7%) set in 1979.

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Image aquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite on February 19, 2014. The image shows the Great Lakes in natural color in the early afternoon, when ice-covered 80.3 percent of the lakes, according to NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory.

“Persistently low temperatures across the Great Lakes region are responsible for the increased areal coverage of the ice,” said Nathan Kurtz, cryospheric scientist NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. “Low temperatures are the dominant mechanism for thickening the ice, but secondary factors like clouds, snow, and wind also play a role.”

“We had an early ice season this year, owing to cold temperatures in the fall and early winter,” added George Leshkevich of NOAA’s Great Lakes lab. “Ice was reported on bays and harbors of the Great Lakes as early as the end of November, as opposed to the normal timing of mid-December.”

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The natural color image below was captured by the Operational Land Imager on the Landsat 8 satellite on February 15, 2014. It shows the thick ice cover in western Lake Erie, along with shipping lanes carved by ice breakers.

Well that’s one cold extreme. But other parts of the U.S. like southern Florida and much of the Southwest states had one of their warmest Winters on record. And the devastating, multi-year drought continues in the West.

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Seasonal, and regional, year-to-year variations will continue as always, even in a gradually warmer world. This Winter is a great example of that very point!

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