Archive for Sunday, December 24, 2000

Dreams of White Christmas come true

Early arrival of snow, bitter cold has bordered on nightmarish

December 24, 2000


Dashing through the snow, the cold, the ice all are visions that make good fodder for Christmas carols.

If it were only that pleasant.

Though much of Kansas and Missouri will have a white Christmas this year, the weather conditions that produce it have brought little holiday cheer. A brutal mix of snow, ice, freezing drizzle and persistent subzero overnight low temperatures have kept large sections of both states in the deep-freeze, with scant relief in sight.

"There is nothing really that would change the pattern that we see now," said Mary Knapp, state climatologist at Kansas State University.

John Woynick, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Topeka, said two factors are putting the states' weather on ice:

The absence of a strong El Nir La Nin the Pacific Ocean has allowed more snow systems during any one winter season since 1992-93, Woynick said. That season also was bolstered by the effects of the eruption of the Pinatubo volcano in the Philippines. Ash from the 1992 eruption entered the sky and triggered increased atmospheric changes that many meteorologists blame for the 1993 flood.

With the increased snow fall, the effect of arctic air masses out of Canada is only made worse. Air passing over snowpack from the U.S. border to northeast Kansas and Missouri has had no chance to warm. (Some parts of Kansas have escaped the bitter cold. For instance, Goodland has repeatedly posted high temperatures in the 50s.)

"Every couple days the systems turn south and over the upper Midwest, with a reinforcing shot on its heels," Woynick said.

Not a record

Some can take heart: While December has been bitterly cold, it's not likely to be the coldest on record, Knapp said.

Officially, the coldest reading in Kansas recorded history was minus 40 in Lebanon on Feb. 13, 1905, she said. But the cold of 1905 did not linger, and by Feb. 23, temperatures where in the 40s and did not fall below freezing in some parts at all in March.

In 1989, several cities set records, including minus 27 in Goodland and minus 30 in Horton.

"Most people think of December as winter, but really it's January or February," Knapp said. "February can be surprisingly cold."

With a week remaining, December 2000 has been the fourth coldest on record in Missouri, with a daily average of 23.9 degrees. The average is 32.6.

"People just remember the latest month, but let's not forget that we have been having a warmer than average year," said Adnan Akyuz, Missouri state climatologist.

Missouri's last three winters have been among the warmest on record. While the average temperature 23.9 degrees, it averaged 37.3 in 1999-2000, 36.4 in 1998-99 and 36.9 in 1997-98. The coldest winter was in 1978-79 with an average of 24.1.

Coincidentally, the coldest reading ever in Missouri was minus 40 in Warsaw on Feb. 13, 1905, Akyuz said, the same day Kansas' record low was recorded.

Early blast

As for December 2000, it could be one for the ages. Though temperatures may not consistently reach extreme lows, steady readings in the single digits or teens could make the month among the coldest ever.

"From what I've been seeing, our monthly average will be below average," Knapp said. "There have not been a lot of records. A lot is due to the fact that highs have not broken the freezing mark."

So far, only one system has produced a major snow the Dec. 12-13 snowfall that dropped nearly a foot or more of snow on parts of southeast Kansas and southern Missouri. More systems have not been major snowmakers because they haven't been able to tap into moisture from the Gulf of Mexico.

Woynick said indications were that the pattern of cold and snow was not going to break any time soon, absent a change off the Pacific coast which would push jet streams farther north and allow the Midwest to thaw.

Another blast of arctic air is expected today for both states. A system was likely to move into the region from the southern Rockies tonight, bringing a chance for significant snow in some areas on Christmas Day, Woynick said.

Woynick said that shocked reactions to the continued cold are understandable.

"It's not necessarily overblown, but it's an initial shock to people because this has been so much colder and we're not getting above freezing," he said. "And because we have not had typical winter weather in a while."

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