John was born in Baton Rouge, LA, and grew up near Birmingham, Alabama. As a teenager, his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and later to a small town in northeast Iowa. John traces his early interest in weather to the difference in climate between Alabama and Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in meteorology. Like any meteorologist, John is intrigued by extremes of weather, especially arctic air outbreaks and winter storms. John has been known to say he prefers his summers to be hot but in winter, he prefers the cold. When away from work, John enjoys long-distance running and reading. John has been a meteorologist at WDAY since May of 1985.
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Late November and early December is the time of year when our region historically begins to develop the winter snowpack. There is, of course, a lot of year-to-year variability. Snow that falls in early November is more likely to melt, and snow that falls in December is more likely to remain on the ground through the winter.
At the bottom of the year, in late November and December, a sunny day is a kind of a special treat. For one thing, sunny days are relatively rare in our climate this time of year. Secondly, with nights that are 16 hours long, sunlight is just hard to come by.
One way to define and measure the length of the growing season for a location is to simply add the number of days from the last 32-degree temperature in spring to the first 32-degree temperature in the fall. The average number of frost-free days in Fargo-Moorhead over the period of record going back to 1881 is 134 days. The average from 1881 through 1900 was just 120 days, but the average since 2000 is 150 days. This season's frost-free period was 161 days, from April 30 through Oct. 8. Last year was only 141 days, from May 17 through Oct. 6.
A cross-country ski enthusiast and loyal WDAY-TV viewer wrote to us this week with a concern that this could be another winter with poor skiing conditions. Skiers like snow. Specifically, skiers like enough snow to thoroughly cover up all the roots and rocks that can scratch ski bottoms. A steady base of around a foot with occasional refreshing little snows makes for a great ski season.
At what point does weather become unusual? I am often asked if weather qualifies as "unusual," and I usually say it is not and offer some sort of historical precedent. But does historical precedent keep something from qualifying as unusual? Every day in November so far has been colder than average, but we have set no weather records. Is this unusual? If something happens once every 10 years, is it unusual? What about once every 50 years?
It has been a lot colder so far this November than last November. Through the first eight days, the average high temperature this month has been 32 degrees. The warmest has been 36 degrees on Nov. 4. All eight mornings have been below freezing, including a low of 4 degrees Nov. 7. A year ago, the first eight days of November had an average high temperature of 63 degrees, including two days in the 70s. Seven of the eight mornings had been above freezing. The coldest temperature over the first eight days had been 30 degrees on the morning of Nov. 8.
Cold weather in November is not a sign of a cold winter nor is it a sign of a mild winter. Very cold weather in November 1996 led eventually to the epic winter of 1996-97. Very cold weather in November 1986 moderated by Thanksgiving, and the winter of 1986-87 was the warmest on the record books for Fargo-Moorhead until that record was tied in the winter of 2015-16.
October 2017 was a warm and dry month, relative to average. The average temperature of the month was 47.5 degrees, which is 2 degrees warmer than the long-term average. There were six days in the 70s, including the month's warmest temperature of 78 on Oct. 20. There were 10 mornings at 32 degrees or below, including the month's lowest reading of 14 degrees on Oct. 28.
If you look up the average annual snowfall for Fargo-Moorhead, you get 50.1 inches, which is just a shade over 4 feet. This average, like most averages in weather, is based on the present complete three decade period. Through 2021, the period used goes from Jan. 1, 1981, through Dec. 31, 2010. This 30 year period includes the record winter snowfall of 117 inches set in 1996-97. It also includes four of the top five snowiest winters, as well as six of the top 10 and 10 of the top 20.
Nov. 1 is a date with a great deal of historical variety for Fargo-Moorhead. The record high for Nov. 1 is 74 degrees set in 1990. There have been just three times since 1881 when it has been in the 70s on this date. The warmest low on this date was 50 degrees back in 1964. This is the only low in the 50s for Nov. 1. The coldest high temperature on this date was 17 in 1951. There have been highs in the teens just three times. The record low is zero in 1951, the same year as the 17 degree high.