Winter Weather Information, Illinois State Water Survey

Weather Information

Also see: Midwest Climate Watch
Current Climate Situation in the Midwest (Climate information for the last 30 days)
Special Report: The Cold and Snow of December 2000 in the Midwest
Champaign-Urbana Weather Highlights - December 2000 (December climate information - pdf @44k)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE December 28, 2000
December Brings Midwest Near Record-breaking Cold

     Sources:   Kenneth E. Kunkel - (217) 244-1488
Steven D. Hilberg - (217) 333-8495

"Preliminary estimates indicate that December 2000 is the second coldest December in the Midwest in 106 years, with temperatures averaging 14.6oF. Only December 1983 was colder, with temperatures averaging 13.9oF," says Kenneth E. Kunkel, climatologist at the Midwestern Regional Climate Center at the Illinois State Water Survey in Champaign, Illinois.

Arctic cold air outbreaks battered the Midwest in December, challenging records and plummeting temperatures since December 10 from 10 to 25 degrees below average levels. This bitter cold weather is part of a more extended period of below average temperatures that began November 10. With current forecasts calling for cold weather through the end of the month, December 2000 may very well end up as the coldest December on record in the Midwest.

Mid-November temperatures also were well below average. Temperatures were near normal for a brief period towards the end of November and early December before spiraling downward once again.

"This recent cold weather is perhaps more notable because the three previous winters were some of the warmest on record. For example, November-December 1999 was the fourth warmest on record, with an average temperature of 37.3oF, 12 degrees warmer than this year," says Kunkel. While bitter cold did strike the Midwest in early January 1999, following a record-breaking snowstorm, that cold period was of relatively short duration and the rest of that winter was very mild.

Midwest temperatures for December 2000 (see Table 1) ranked by state as follows: Illinois (first); Indiana, Iowa, Missouri, and Wisconsin (second); Michigan and Minnesota (third); Kentucky and Ohio (fourth).

Table 1. December 2000 Temperature (oF)
Rankings
(as of 12/26/00)

State

Ranking
since 1895

Average
temperature

Past cold years
and temperatures

Illinois

1

17.0

1983: 17.1

Indiana

2

19.2

1989: 18.4
1963: 19.9

Iowa

2

9.6

1983: 7.7

Kentucky

4

27.1

1989: 25.3
1917: 25.5
1963: 26.2

Michigan

3(t)

16.3

1989: 14.1
1976: 15.6
1983: 16.3
1958: 16.7

Minnesota

3

2.6

1989: -0.4
1947: 2.8

Missouri

2

21.1

1983: 18.4

Ohio

4

21.9

1983: 18.3
1917: 20.6
1963: 21.5
1903: 22.6
1958: 22.7

Wisconsin

2 (t)

8.1

1983: 7.4
1985: 8.1
1919: 8.9

Midwest

2

14.6

1983: 13.9

Table 2 shows temperature ranking for major cities in the Midwest.

Table 2. December 2000 Temperature (oF)
Rankings for Major Midwest Cities (as of 12/26/00)

City

Ranking
since 1895

Average
temperature

Chicago (O'Hare)

Cincinnati

Cleveland

Columbus

Des Moines

Detroit

Indianapolis

Kansas City (downtown)

Milwaukee

Minneapolis

St. Louis

3

3

4

4

2

2

4

2

4

2

3

16.1

25.9

27.7

23.7

12.1

19.2

20.2

22.4

16.0

7.0

27.8

Figure 1 shows the spatial distribution of the cold December temperatures, compared to normal conditions. Temperatures in Iowa and portions of adjacent states averaged more than 13 degrees below normal. The extreme eastern part of the Midwest and areas surrounding the Great Lakes were slightly warmer, with temperatures only about 7 to 8 degrees below normal.

Figure 1: Average Temperature Departure from Mean in Degrees F
December 1, 2000 to December 25, 2000

                                              
Midwestern Regional Climate Center
Illinois State Water Survey
Champaign, Illinois

There is a similar spatial distribution for November-December 2000 (Figure 2). Temperatures during this period averaged more than 8 degrees below normal in much of Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois.

Figure 2: Average Temperature Departure from Mean in Degrees F
November 1, 2000 to December 25, 2000

                                              
Midwestern Regional Climate Center
Illinois State Water Survey
Champaign, Illinois

What can we expect next? The National Weather Service's latest Climate Outlook calls for an increased likelihood that the remainder of the winter will be colder, particularly in the upper Midwest. However, it is important to remember that long-range outlooks are

probabilities in nature; they are uncertain and subject to change. If circulation patterns shift, temperatures could return to near normal or even above normal conditions later this winter.

Does this event have any implications for the concerns about global warming? "Probably not," says Kunkel.

"Single seasons, or even several consecutive seasons, or unusually warm or cold conditions occur naturally from time to time. While the Midwest is experiencing abnormal conditions, there are usually other areas experiencing the opposite conditions. For example, temperatures on the West Coast have been above normal this December.

"There is a great deal of natural variability in the climate system. Only after many years of observation can long-term trends be identified and confirmed," concludes Kunkel.

Lisa Sheppard, Editor

Illinois State Water Survey

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