Summer Complaint Index says 2012 one of worst years

Regular readers of this column will recall efforts to describe Minnesota winters with West’s Winter Misery Index (WWMI). The WWMI compares historical winter weather data from different years, thus making it possible (sort of) to determine  if the current year’s misery is the worst winter ever — or the nicest.

But winter is only part of the year in Minnesota. Nobody complains about the arrival of spring, and everybody loves fall. But that leaves summer, a time of more angst than one may realize. Summer is the time after the crops are planted and before they are harvested. Barring a major irrigation system, by the time July arrives, their fate is largely left to nature’s mercies.

Farmers, gardeners, and even walkers and bicyclists are left to tinker around, slapping mosquitoes and looking at the sky and wondering what is going to happen next.

And that leads us to (drum roll, please) West’s Summer Complaint Index (WSCI).

The WSCI compares the worst things about summer weather from different years to determine if our constant complaining is warranted or not.

The index has several components, and gives points for lousy weather. The worse the weather, the more points scored.

I compared the data from Central Minnesota near Sauk Centre for four months, May through August, from a fifth of the years since 1900. Why a fifth? Because that’s all I had time to research before this deadline arrived.

Nevertheless, the years were taken somewhat at random with the primary exceptions to randomness being 1936, which I had always heard was the worst weather year in state history (the facts don’t disappoint), and the years from 2007 right up to Wednesday.

I looked at the daily highs and lows and amount of precipitation.

A year received points on the WSCI for the following complaints:

1. The number of days the temperature was above 90 received one point. If the temperature reached 100 or more, an additional point was added.

Drive around town on a 90 degree day. You don’t see many kids or joggers having fun outdoors.

2. If the overnight low was 70 or above, another point was added. Until 1950, hardly anybody had air conditioning. When the temperature stays above 70 all night, without AC, that usually results in a lot of would-be sleepers tossing and turning while bathed in their own sweat.

3. Another point was given for the total of days less than 10 days or more than 15 days with at least a trace of precipitation in any month. Thus, during a drought, if a month had six days of rain, that was worth four points; if it had eight days of rain, that was worth two points. During a wet month, if it rained on 21 days (as it did in May 1962), that was worth six points.

4. And finally, one point was given for each day that the rainfall exceeded one inch. The reasoning here is that if more than one inch falls in a day, usually something bad accompanies it, like hail, perhaps a flash flood or maybe just a little pooling. Nevertheless, excess rain also means one thing about which all Minnesotans complain — mosquitoes.

Admittedly the WSCI rain gauge is unscientific. We have to have rain to grow anything, but if we have too much, then we can’t enjoy our precious few days outdoors.

So what is the optimum amount? Most of us wouldn’t complain about a quarter to a half inch of gentle rain every two or three days. That’s why no points were given if a month had 10 to 15 days of at least a trace of precipitation.

So how are we doing so far this year? It’s only mid-July, but we have had so much to beef about that it looks almost certain that this will be the third or fourth worst summer of the 23 years for which data was tabulated.

So far, we have had eight days above 90, five days with an overnight low above 70, five rain events greater than one inch, one month (May) with excessive rain (16 days) and two months with drought (June with only nine days of rain, and July thus far with only six days of rain).

The number of complaints is at 26, which, of the years tabulated, is the most since 2002.

As I mentioned, the worst year ever, both summer and winter, was 1936. In July 1936 alone, we had 17 days over 90, six days over 100, 10 days with an overnight low over 70 — and only three days of rain. You would have to ask your grandparents, but I bet there were a lot of cranky people that summer. The total number of complaint points for the summer of ‘36 was 55.

The second worst summer was in 1902, which also had an extraordinarily hot July with five days over 100.

The nicest summer? The WSCI has a tie between 1952 and 2008 with only seven complaints. The edge should go to 2008, however, because it had only nine days of rain in May, which most farmers would consider a good thing, compared to 13 May days with rain in 1952.

Regardless, the next time someone asks, “What do you think of this weather?” the WSCI allows one to say with some justification, “It’s bad, real bad.”

And if they then ask you what you are going to do about it, you can still just shrug your shoulders, turn around and walk away.

Tom West is the general manager of the Peach. He may be reached at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at tom.west@ecm-inc.com.

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