Saturday, February 11, 2012


Washington Island, Wisconsin -

We're approaching the middle of February, a time we often think of as mid-winter.  

The temperatures have been colder the past several days with an overnight low of 10 degrees last night, and also the night before according to my unofficial porch thermometer.   On the harbor the 8-10 inch ice layer may have just thickened by an inch or two, in time for ice fishermen who will participate in the 10-day Lions Club fishing derby that officially starts today.   A few inches of snow fell yesterday morning and covered up the otherwise bare, frozen ground.   It's not what we'd call a typical winter, based on our seat-of-the-pants observations.

But how did this past month of January compare with previous Januarys?   Is it just our short term memory tricking us, or was this January warmer?

For those answers we turned to local NOAA Weather Observer John Delwiche.   John keeps accurate daily records for his island location and tabulates them at the end of the month.  But, as an official observer, John's still unable to easily locate and access data from previous years.  In order to obtain past information for comparisons, he is required to register and pay a fee for access, very surprising to us considering he's doing voluntary observation in the first place and represents NOAA's meteorological network at this location. (The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has a regional office in Green Bay.)

"The best I can do," said John, "is to say that this January's average temperature ranked somewhere in the top ten of Januarys over the 67 years of recorded data.   It didn't quite make the top five.  The average January temperature of 1990 was 26.3 degrees."   John's data for January 2012 showed an average January temperature of 24.1 degrees.  So much for my thinking it was a record month for temperature.  

How about snowfall?   I've only shoveled twice, and that activity bordered on the unnecessary.  I was only looking for the exercise.  Our January snowfall was down, according to John's measurements:  9.9" of snow this year compared to the average of 14.8" of snow.  I thought as much.  Well, my hunch based on time-behind-shovel turned out to be correct.

We did set or tie two records, however, and that was the "Warmest night (highest low) of 30 degrees on 01/27.   Also, the warmest temperature for day 01/07 was recorded this year:  43 degrees.  

"One thing we can say," John noted, "is that when we take the two months of December and January combined, we've experienced milder than normal temperatures.  But just how that compares to other years, again I'm unable to make that comparison."

We hope the data access through NOAA loosens up a bit, for John's and our curiosity's sake if nothing else.

Meanwhile, the current forecast extending beyond Sunday shows daytime temperatures will once again climb to the mid-30s, without precipitation.   Snow cover, according to a Detroit Free Press article forwarded by Fred Hankwitz, which is considered the biggest source of water for the Great Lakes as a whole, remains low.  This lack of snow cover will effect the long term lake levels.  The Corps of Engineers forecasts levels to be initially higher in spring than last year, by 5-7 inches, but this will even out by June when it will remain close to 2011 levels.      

 -  Dick Purinton

No comments: