Midwest Weekly Highlights - January 15-21, 2009
Frigid Weather Continues
Hundreds of low temperature records were set throughout the Midwest the first three days of this week as the polar regions emptied into the central U.S. The core of the cold weather was from Minnesota south through northern Illinois, where the average daily temperature ranged from -3°F to +5°F (Figure 1). Temperature departures ranged from -12°F to -16°F east of the Mississippi, with the band of greatest departures from eastern Iowa across the northern half of Illinois, the northern half of Indiana, and most of Ohio (Figure 2). This was the coldest period of weather for most of the Midwest in more than ten years. Many of the temperature records broken this week were set during January 1977, one of three consecutive severe winters in the Midwest. The lowest temperature recorded this week was -48°F at Babbitt, MN on the morning of January 15. A complete listing of temperature records this week can be viewed here. The low temperature at both Babbitt and Embarrass, MN (St. Louis County) was -42°F or lower for five consecutive days January 13-17), and has been below 0°F every day in January through January 21 at Babbitt and all but two days at Embarrass. By the morning of January 16 much of northeastern Minnesota had remained below zero for more than 90 hours.
Precipitation was generally well below normal, with only some light snow dusting the region east of the Mississippi River (Figure 3). The exceptions were in the lee of the Great Lakes, where snow piled up as the cold Arctic air streamed over the comparatively warm lake waters. Snow this week was heaviest in the Michigan Upper Peninsula, the western shore of Lake Michigan, and in northern Indiana and northeastern Ohio (Figure 4). There was little change to U.S. Drought Monitor (Figure 5), with a large area of Severe Drought still being depicted in central Wisconsin. At the end of the week, snow was on the ground from Kentucky to Minnesota, with more than 4 feet piled up in the Michigan UP (Figure 6)
On the morning of January 15 the cold front marking the leading edge of the Arctic air mass had reached the Gulf Coast, and a strong high pressure system extended from the Rockies across the Midwest to the east coast (Figure 7). Low temperatures the morning of January 15 were below 0°F over the northern two-thirds of the Midwest. The coldest weather was across Minnesota, Iowa, and Wisconsin, where lows were generally -20°F to -30°F and wind chill readings were as low as -55°F. High temperatures across the northern two-thirds of the region failed to reach 0°F (Figure 8). As the high settled to the south and winds calmed on the morning of January 16, clear skies, deep snow cover, and radiational cooling resulted in the coldest morning of the season and the coldest weather in more than ten years. Low temperatures in Minnesota, Iowa, northern Illinois, and Wisconsin were generally -20°F to -35°F and a number of locations as far south as central Iowa reported lows around -40°F (Figure 9). Record temperatures continued to be set through January 17 as the high drifted east, especially over snow-covered areas. The weather slowly moderated through the end of the period, and on January 21 high temperatures reached 50°F in southern Missouri and around 30°F in southern Minnesota.
The bitterly cold weather resulted in closed schools and canceled events throughout the region. Ice covered roads and sidewalks resulted in at least two deaths in Illinois. Severe icing resulted in an emergency landing at the Purdue University airport. The pilot of a single-engine aircraft reported vibrations and the windshield icing over as the plane reached 5,000 feet. The pilot was able to land the plane, although short of the runway, and both pilot and passenger were unhurt.
Snow Piles Up Around Great Lakes
The strong northerly and northwesterly winds blowing over the open waters of the Great Lakes resulted in lake-effect snow in most of the typical lake-effect areas of the Midwest. Snow fell almost every day in the Upper Peninsula, with the heaviest snow falling between January 17 and January 20. On January 17-18 heavy lake-effect snow fell in the Michigan U. P. and in western lower Michigan (Figure 10). More than 18 inches of lake-effect snow fell in northern Porter County, Indiana January 18-20. In northern Indiana emergency dispatchers reported numerous accidents and vehicles off the road January 17-18 due to the lake-effect snow. Lake-effect snow also occurred along the southern shore of Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio.
Precipitation associated with another fast-moving clipper system on January 17-18 was generally light, but freezing rain, sleet, and snow caused hazardous travel throughout Kentucky. The northbound lanes of Interstate 75 in Laurel County were closed for several hours on the night of January 17 because of a multi-car accident resulting from the icy conditions. Many secondary roads were impassable due to ice from freezing rain and drizzle.
The Indiana State Climate Office also contributed to this report