Today’s forecast calls for more snow and more cold.
But wasn’t that the forecast last week? And the week before that?
It seems like the winter of 2013-14 has been one of the worst winters on record, with week after week of low temperatures and wintry precipitation.
Well, it has not been that cold or that snowy compared with previous winters. In fact, this winter is closer to the norm. What has happened, weather observers say, is that after two winters that were drier and warmer than normal, a normal winter like this one seems almost unbearable.
“This winter is not even in the top 10 for coldest temperatures,” said Gene Hatch, a climate meteorologist with the National Weather Service forecast office in Springfield.
“This has been a colder than normal winter, but not a record setter.”
Still, this winter has seen plenty of cold and snowy conditions. That has kept students home from school and has driven up the price of propane fuel for heating.
HELP WITH PROPANE
On Monday, Gov. Jay Nixon announced a plan to put $15 million toward helping low-income Missourians cope with rising propane prices. The additional funding would allow low-income people to continue heating their homes even though prices for the fuel have increased to more than $4 per gallon.
“No hard-working Missouri family should have to choose between putting food on the table and staying warm,” Nixon said in a written statement.
U.S. supplies of propane were depleted by a late harvest that increased demand from farmers who use it to dry grain before storage. As lower-than-normal temperatures spread across much of the country, supplies dropped to the lowest level ever during the second week of January.
The additional funds in Nixon’s plan would come from the federal government’s Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program. The plan would double the amount each Missouri household can receive for propane assistance.
The governor’s office estimates that 245,000 Missourians rely on propane to heat their homes.
State officials are calling for an investigation into possible price gouging.
About 2 inches of snow fell Tuesday in Joplin. It was enough to cancel classes for the day in many local and area school districts.
Tuesday marked the Joplin School District’s seventh day this school year lost to snow or ice. Most local school districts, which had canceled classes Tuesday in anticipation of accumulating snowfall, have now racked up more than a week’s worth of snow days.
State law requires that school districts make up six days, plus half of any additional lost days up to a total of 10 days. If a school district misses 20 days because of inclement weather, for example, it would have to make up 10 of the 20 days missed — the first six, plus half of the remaining days up to a total of 10 days.
Missouri Southern State University, Pittsburg (Kan.) State University and Crowder College also closed their campuses Tuesday. The first meeting of MSSU’s presidential search committee, which was slated for Tuesday afternoon, will be rescheduled at a later date.
NO RECORD COLD
Hatch said December was the 12th coldest December on record for Joplin and that January was the 15th coldest January on record for Joplin. The weather records for Joplin go back to 1921. Some spotty records exist for 1901 through 1921.
“This winter has been more like the winters experienced in the 1970s and 1980s, when there were long periods of cold and snowfalls, than in the 1990s and 2000s,” he said.
So far this winter, some parts of Southwest Missouri have accumulated as much as 24 inches of snow. The average annual snowfall for the region is 17 inches.
“That compares with less than 6 inches for the 2012-2013 winter, and with less than 3 inches for the 2011-2012 winter,” Hatch said. “A normal snow seems like it is a tremendous amount.”
Though more snow has fallen this winter compared with the previous two, the amount of precipitation has been lower because the snow “has been light and fluffy,” Hatch said. “This has not been heavy, wet snow.”
WHY SO MUCH COLDER?
So why does this winter seem so much colder?
Hatch said the weather this winter has been dominated by the Pacific–North American teleconnection pattern. That is a climatological term for a large-scale weather pattern that connects the atmospheric circulation pattern over the North Pacific Ocean with the one over the North American continent.
The PNA pattern is associated with strong fluctuations in the strength and location of the East Asian jet stream. Hatch said the pattern is in a positive phase that creates above-average temperatures over western Canada and the extreme western United States, and below-average temperatures across the south-central and southeastern United States.
“We are in a persistent positive PNA pattern that keeps a ridge of high pressure over the West Coast,” he said. “That has caused the drought in California.
“All of our weather here in the central part of the country is coming out of northern Canada because of the jet stream. When your winter weather comes out of northern Canada, it tends to be cold.
“We expect this pattern to continue through mid-February and then start breaking down toward the end of the month.”
“The extreme cold will be the issue over the next couple of days,” Hatch said.
The area should awaken to mostly cloudy skies today and a high of 20 degrees after some overnight freezing drizzle and an inch or so of snow. The wind chill factor this morning will make it feel like its zero outside.
A cold air mass will cross the region tonight. The high Thursday is forecast to be 16 degrees, with the low at 1 degree. Breezy winds of 15 to 20 mph will create a wind chill factor of minus 5 to minus 15 degrees Thursday morning.
The continued cold means that snow- and ice-covered roads across the region will remain that way until conditions improve.
David Mitchell, spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said 21 snow-clearing trucks were active in Joplin on Tuesday.
“Most of our highways are covered or partly covered in this area. Interstate 44 all the way to Springfield in partly covered,” he said. “Interstate 49 north from Joplin is covered to Kansas City. It’s partly covered to the Arkansas state line.”
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.
By the numbers
DECEMBER 2013 was the 12th coldest December on record for Joplin.
JANUARY 2014 was the 15th coldest January on record for Joplin.
THE LOWEST TEMPERATURE recorded in Joplin was minus 15 degrees on Dec. 23, 1989.
THE LOWEST TEMPERATURE recorded in Springfield was minus 29 degrees on Feb. 12, 1899.
Source: National Weather Service