March-April Posts

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How Bad is this Winter, Really?

Published: March 10, 2014

It’s that time of year in Minnesota when everyone has cabin fever. Every conversation is about the weather. Will it be above freezing from here on out or are we due for another plunge into the polar vortex? Is this year really the worst winter we’ve ever had? It sure feels like it. Meteorologists have developed a way to measure how bad a winter really feels: the Winter Misery Index. Known more formally as the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, the misery index takes into account temperature, snowfall, and snow depth to assign a score to each day of winter. The Twin Cities’ overall score for this winter—measured at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport—was 194 points as of March 6 (and it isn’t over yet!).

How does that measure up to years past?

If you’re under 30, you’ve probably never lived through a winter as severe as this one. The winters of the late 1970s and early 1980s were comparable to this year, according to the National Weather Service. But the most severe winter was actually 97 years ago. Woodrow Wilson was president, and Europe was in the middle of World War I. The winter of 1916-17 scored a whopping 305 points on the misery index with 55 days that saw low temperatures below zero. Keep track of Minnesota’s misery points on the Department of Natural Resources’ website.

1917 actually boasts another record: the highest temperature ever recorded in Minnesota was 114 degrees Fahrenheit on July 29 in Beardsley!

And with all the school closings and delays because of cold, ice, and snow, at least it wasn’t as bad as 1888’s infamous Schoolhouse Blizzard. This major storm affected South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho, some of which were still only United States territories at the time. On January 12, 1888, the temperature fell from 74F to -40F in a matter of hours; many people—including children attending one-room schoolhouses, where the disaster gets its name—were trapped by the blizzard and around two hundred lost their lives.

Keep in mind that just because we’re shivering here in Minnesota doesn’t mean the rest of the hemisphere is doing the same. That’s the thing about this winter—it’s been miserable, but we haven’t broken any cold-temperature records. Some lakes in Alaska have gone unfrozen, and in the rest of the world, this past January was the fourth warmest in recorded history.