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Cold not record-breaking for Red River Valley

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It's been a cold winter for much of the U.S., and AccuWeather.com reported last week that it just might end up being the coldest winter for the country as a whole since the 1980s or even the late 1910s.

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But Mark Ewens, data manager for the National Weather Service, said it's "not that dramatic" of a tale to tell for the Red River Valley.

Grand Forks was about 2.6 degrees below normal from Nov. 1 to Feb. 2. Still, it's only the 26th-coldest winter on record for the city -- meaning it's cold, but not as bad as it's been a couple dozen times since 1890.

Fargo, meanwhile, is in the midst of its 46th-coldest winter on record, which goes back to 1881.

Ewens said it's hardly been a record-breaking winter in terms of the temperature, even if it has been colder and snowier than normal in Grand Forks and Fargo.

"Here we are two-thirds of the way through the winter and we've only had one really, really cold snap," he said.

An unusual winter

Paul Walker, senior meteorologist with AccuWeather.com, said much of the eastern two-thirds of the country have dealt with "a persistent cold" this winter. And it's been an unusual season compared with what typically happens after a La Niña system goes into effect, which happened last summer.

"It certainly has not been warm across the south like you would often see in the southern United States, and the Northern Plains has been cold and not as stormy as what you would normally expect," he said.

Joe Bastardi, chief long-range forecaster for AccuWeather.com, said the first winter following the onset of a La Niña system tends to be warm, while the next two or three winters typically are colder than normal. But that isn't the case this year, he said.

Bastardi is predicting that three or four of the next five winters will be colder than normal for the U.S. based on these historical trends.

But Walker said it all depends on what happens next for the La Niña system, which could remain in effect for the next two to three years.

"We'll have to see how the pattern holds over the summer and see what it brings in the fall," he said.

Ewens said during a typical winter with a presiding La Niña system, the southern and eastern areas of the U.S. get above-normal temperatures.

"If they're colder than normal, that would be unusual for them," he said. "But, for us, it's been pretty much a normal La Niña winter."

This winter, nationally speaking at least, has been colder than normal -- but Ewens said much of that is influenced by the cooler temperatures in the south.

"When you're talking about the south, their normal temperatures are so much higher that the departures would seem so much more dramatic," he said. "What's brutal to them is good, or not so bad, weather to us."

Climate outlook

Even if the Red River Valley hasn't experienced an especially chilly winter, it has seen an unusually high amount of snow, Ewens said.

From Nov. 1 to Feb. 2, 41.7 inches of snow fell on Grand Forks. That's about 10.6 inches more than normal, he said.

The city set new snowfall records Dec. 31 (4.6 inches) and Jan. 14 (3.5 inches), and also experienced its sixth-coldest January on record with an average temperature of 0.5 degrees that was 4.6 degrees below normal.

But that's nothing compared with Fargo, which got 59.2 inches of snow during the same time period -- about 30 inches more than the normal amount by Feb. 2.

Fargo set a new snowfall record Nov. 22 (12.6 inches). And the city ended up with 26.6 inches of snow in December -- 18.2 inches above normal and enough to rank it as Fargo's third-snowiest December on record.

Ewens said the Climate Prediction Center's 2011 outlook calls for the region to continue to deal with below-normal temperatures and more snow and rain than normal over the next few months.

La Niña systems typically contribute to milder and drier summers, but Ewens said it's still "a real guess" what the region can expect as the snow begins to melt and the days get longer.

"We've still got a few months of winter to go."

Ryan Johnson is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald which is owned by Forum Communications Co.

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