How Cold/Snowy Was January Really?

There has been a lot of talk about this winter and how bad it has been, especially in January, where the term “polar vortex” became a household name. Of course, polar vortexes are a fairly common winter term in the meteorological community and they happen every single year somewhere. The only real difference this year has been that it came further south in some areas than normal. Combined with frequent snowfalls, it has given the perception that the winter overall has been unusually severe. But how does the winter so far, and January 2014, stack up historically?

First, let’s look at temperatures since December 1st, the start of meteorological winter.

For December 1st to January 31st, the average temperature has been 28.75 degrees. Normal for this period is 31.55 degrees, so it has been below normal by 2.8 degrees. But is that departure from normal really historically bad? Not really. In fact, it doesn’t even rank in the top 20 coldest. However, the average temperature alone doesn’t really tell the whole story. January, in particular, was very cold overall, with an average of just 22.8 degrees. That DID rank the month in the top 20, at #15 out of more than 135 years of records. It also featured 7 days with low temperatures at or below 0 degrees. Only a handful of other years featured more than that, even though the coldest low of the month (-11) did not come close to the coldest readings on record. So it has been more about repeated bouts of cold rather than record cold.

Next, we’ll look at seasonal snowfall through January 31st. This is where the 2013-2014 winter really begins to take its place in history. After having the snowiest 1st 10 days of December on record, the winter has continued to add to its totals. Through January 31st, Columbus had received 35.1″ of snow, which was already 6.2″ above what would fall for an ENTIRE SEASON, let alone through that date. In fact, the season was more than 20″ above normal by then. The 35.1″ is also the 6th highest total by the 31st of any winter on record, and the 17.7″ that fell during January made it the 16th snowiest, and this was after the 8th snowiest December on record, with 12.7″. Even if not a flake of snow more fell the rest of the winter, it would still end up as the 30th snowiest.

February is looking to keep with the same winter pattern, at least for the next week or two. A winter storm warning is currently in effect for 8-10″ of snow for the Columbus area and continued below normal temperatures. Could the 2013-2014 winter season end up in the record books? Yes, and already has. With the current storm bearing down and potentially more on the horizon, the season will keep moving up.