2008 US Coldest in Decade; Children Lost in Blizzard

Blizzard Before Global Warming

Blizzard Before Global Warming

On This Date In History:  Aside from a week around Christmas, its been pretty cold around here since mid November.  It’s going to be very cold this week.  But, that doesn’t mean that we won’t have a warm-up before winter is done.  It’s not unusual, so much so that it is known as a “false spring”.   It has happened before and it happened well before anyone suggests that global warming had started. January warm-ups happen.  In the Midwest, January 11, 1888 had been unseasonably warm as had the morning of January 12. A cold front came barrelling down with air that dropped temperatures well below zero with high winds. Some reports of the day say that the mercury fell 100 degrees in 24 hours. ..while its possible, that may be an exaggeration.

You Can Read The Book

You Can Read The Book

When the mercury fell, the snow began to fall. Most likely a shortwave blew up from the southwest and grabbed all of the warm moist air to the south and threw it over the cold air. People who had gone to work and especially school children had not dressed for the extreme cold as the whole thing was a total surprise. 235 people died that day, many of them school children trying to get home. Hence, on this date in 1888, the Midwest of the United States suffered from what is now known as either the “Schoolhouse Blizzard” or the “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard.” One story holds that a teacher was trapped in her schoolhouse with 3 children and by 3 pm they had run out of heating fuel. She tried to lead them 82 yards to her boarding house. Visibility was so poor that they got lost in the short distance and the 3 kids died. She survived but lost her feet to frostbite. There are many other tales of rescues using rope to tie children together as they tried to get to safety. (Blizzard Tales)

Extreme weather changes have gone on in this country in the winter for a long long time….long before anyone thought of global warming. Its just that now we have better forecasts to be able to prepare. 

Wall Street March 1888
Wall Street March 1888


It was a tough winter in 1888. In March, New York City had one of its greatest snowfalls and blizzards. From March 12-14, about 50 inches fell and wind drifted the snow to up to 40 feet. The city came to a standstill.

Weather patterns really haven’t changed all that much, its just that forecasting has gotten so much better. Be thankful for the bus-stop forecast. People get upset if the weather guru on TV says  “up to an inch of snow” and they only get a quarter inch, which is what they said but it wasn’t an inch. The folks in the Midwest in 1888 would trade that for what they got any day of the week.

US Temp Graph 1895-2008

US Temp Graph 1895-2008

 Global Warming Update:

  For what it’s worth, NOAA has issued this little tidbit regarding US temperatures for 2008.  As it turns out, temperatures were the coolest in the United States in over 10 years.  Why do I think that this little bit of news was NOT the headline on your local or national newscast?  Had it been the warmest in over a decade, you can bet that it would be.  However, to be fair, it must be pointed out that while it was the coldest since 1997, it was still 0.2 degrees F above the 20th century average and this is hardly evidence of anything one way or another.  Nevertheless, I do not believe that this little anomoly was part of Al Gore’s movie nor a part of the data spit out by the modeling data.  What? Could there be a flaw in the computers?  Consider this…our weather forecast models for daily prognastications have a fair amount of certainty through about 48 to 72 hours and then the accuracy declines rapidly.  In hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center always points out the hurricane forecasts can be up to 200 miles off when looking at a 72 hour landfall.  Yet, the global community is supposed to change fiscal and economic policies and perhaps upset the balance of power in the world based on computer models forecasting decades out.  This past year in the US should be a reminder that man and his machines are fallible and mankind should have a bit more humility in understanding both its capability and also its limitations.  Here is the full report.

GFS Critical Thickness (freezing lines) Fri AM 01.16.09

GFS Critical Thickness (freezing lines) Fri AM 01.16.09

Weather Bottom Line:  As a little addition to the above report, we will be very cold for the week ahead. Monday may see the mercury get around 40ish and then after that, once we fall below freezing, don’t look for a return above 32 degrees until maybe next Sunday afternoon.  I still think that low single digits overnight on Thursday night is not out of the question and highs in the low teens for the last day or so of the week is still not unreasonable.  Keep in mind that the NAM does not advertise snow and also has us above freezing for a short time on Wednesday but it is the odd man out like the last go around.  The GFS is still quite bullish on the colder air with freezing conditions over about 2/3 of the nation all the way to the Gulf Coast.  It is in fair agreement with other long range models.  In that scenario, there will be opportunities for a little snow Monday night through Thursday with Monday night being the best chance.  Overall 72 hour snowfall will probably be less than two inches but its something.  Little disturbances will be wandering through the flow but they will be moisture starved and only the extreme cold will allow them to squeeze whatever moisture is available out as light snow or flurries from time to time.  Remember, there is a 40% chance that we will be warmer than average for January!  Guess we’ll have some catching up to do.


6 Responses

  1. I bought The Children’s Blizzard and could not put it down. The way David Laskin put it all together – the drama of the day from so many viewpoints interspersed with loads of interesting facts – brilliant.

  2. Yes. It was a pretty dramatic story and very compelling. It’s a great example of the extreme weather conditions that happen in the midwest. The “breadbasket” of the world can be anywhere from -30 to 120 degrees in any given year with droughts, floods and blizzards, not to mention tornadoes. It is called “tornado alley” because from North Texas, to South Dakota and from the Rockies to the Mississippi River there are more tornadoes annually than the rest of the world combined. thanx for writing.

  3. According to a story in the LA Times today, Sat. Jan. 17, 2009 on A11, 2008 will go as #8 of the top 10 hottest years on record–and all of them have been recorded since 1997. That’s as reported from the National Climatic Data Center. NASA says 2008 in the 9th warmest on record.

  4. Please note, my report was for the United States…..The LA Times on-line reported on Dec 27 what you are referring to, which is global temperatures…..http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/weather/article5400414.ece…I like the way that they say that if it hadn’t been for the Pacific being colder than average….as if that is not a part of normal processes. Anyway…that is the difference…US vs. the world.

  5. Hey Simon, Your take on the weather is amazing, I don’t watch the weather channel anymore, I just come to your blog
    and get educated.

  6. Are you hiring?

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