This winter may break records

ESCANABA – While Upper Peninsula winters have never been hailed as tropical, this winter has left a chill that will linger in both memories and record books.

“I’m pretty confident that this is going to be in the top 10 as far as coldest winters at any (weather monitoring) station in the U.P.,” said Matt Zika, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Marquette office, adding some U.P. weather monitoring stations have records stretching back to the 1880s.

In Escanaba Friday morning temperatures plunged to -26 degrees. Temperatures as low as -30 degrees were recorded at a station located on the Garden Peninsula, and in the Manistique area temperatures were recorded at -23 degrees. The lowest U.P. temperature recorded that morning was -41 degrees in Newberry.

“This is probably the coldest morning people have seen in the last few years,” said Zika Friday.

Normally high temperatures this time of year are in the low 30s with overnight lows dropping into the 10 to 15 degree range. While temperatures in the early part of this week are expected to remain much colder than average, temperatures should begin to normalize in the latter part of the week.

The reprieve from bitter cold temperatures could be short-lived. Long term weather patterns indicate temperatures are expected to remain below average into late March and even early April.

“The thing is by that part of March there’s no way we’ll see the magnitude of cold temperatures we’ve seen,” said Zika.

Extreme temperatures have been exacerbated by high winds for much of the winter. According to temperature and wind speed records maintained by the Escanaba Water Plant, on one day in late January temperatures reached -18 degrees with 21 mph winds driving wind chills to as low as -46 – cold enough for signs of frostbite to appear on bare skin within 10 minutes.

Although the colder than average temperatures are expected to continue, wind speeds are not expected to continue to be a significant factor in the severity of the winter season.

Heavy snowfalls this winter have blanketed the entire U.P. with a thick layer of snow. The heaviest snows have been in the Keweenaw, which currently has a snow base of more than 50 inches in some areas. Most of the U.P. has a snow base between 20 and 30 inches.

“There’s no big storms on the horizon,” said Zika, noting there may still be snow accumulation, but not at the magnitude seen earlier this winter.

As of Friday morning, 62.05 inches of snow had fallen in Escanaba, according to water plant records. Last year at that time 51.5 inches had fallen in the city.

One reason for the increase in snow fall may be the early start to the season. Last year even trace amounts of snow were not recorded in Escanaba until late November, but the snowy season stretched well into April. This year the measurable snow fall began falling as early as Oct. 3, when .14 inches were recorded.

While it may not provide much relief for the rest of us, spring is here for meteorologists. The “meteorological winter” – the three month period from December through February used by meteorologists to monitor weather trends – ended Friday. Any new weather trends are part of the “meteorological spring.”

“We can throw all of this out and start over,” joked Zika.