Facts show this summer’s weather not so bad

Tom WestTwo months ago, I rolled out West’s Summer Complaint Index, (WSCI) indicating that we had a lot to complain about regarding this year’s summer weather.

I am such a wimp.

Or at least the summer was. When I wrote the column, it was in the 90s, and frequent hail storms were proving hazardous to anyone not wearing a bike helmet.

Because the number one ice breaker (pun intended) in Minnesota is the weather, the WSCI is designed to compare from year-to-year, the weather maladies people are most likely to complain about. In summer, that means it is too hot, too wet or too dry.

I have analyzed daily weather data from the University of Minnesota for May through August from 1900 through 2012, a 113-year span, at the reporting station closest to Sauk Centre.

We hear a lot about global warming, and recent satellite photos show that the polar ice cap has shrunk substantially.

But looking at the data, it appears that the global warming phenomena has skipped past central Minnesota.

While any single year may deviate substantially from average, the facts reveal that the summer of 2012 ended up tied with 1958, 1961 and 1975, for the 33rd most complainable summer weather since 1900.

This summer, the WSCI racked up 26 complaints, including 10 days in the 90s, no days over 100 (each such day being worth an extra point), 5 nights when the low was above 70 (making for bad sleeping weather), two rainfalls greater than one inch (which generate extra mosquitoes because of the resulting pools of water) and less than 10 days of rain in three of the four months, which leads to farmers complaining about drought. (No points are given if the number of days of rain in any given month are between 10 and 15 days. Over 15, then farmers can complain that they can’t get their work done because it’s too wet.)

The 113-year WSCI annual average is 23.11 complaints, so this summer was just slightly worse than average. Even though it was the worst summer since 2002, it wasn’t even close to downright bad weather.

Here are the 10 worst summers since 1900 and their WSCI totals.

1. 1988    77
2. 1976    56
3. 1936    55
4. 1947    47
4. 2001    47
6. 1931    44
7. 1901    42
7. 1921    42
9. 1922    41
9. 1933    41
9. 1934    41

The year 1988, some of you will recall, featured 41 days over 90 in June, July and August. It also featured 11 days over 100. The overnight lows stayed in the 70s 11 times, and it was somewhat dry except for August.

The runner-up, 1976, was notable because it did not rain a drop between May 1 and May 28. Farmers thought it was good for planting, but when the soil is bone dry, it doesn’t bode well for germination.

The year 1936 is renowned for being the worst weather year in state history. That’s not only because of the scorching summer, but for the Arctic cold that descended in January and February. (The overnight low was below zero from Jan. 13-Feb. 22, 1936, and the highs from Jan. 18-Feb.19 never exceeded four above. January 22, 1936, will live in infamy here in central Minnesota because the high was 27 below and the low was minus 38.)

Still, July 6-18, 1936, featured highs of at least 90, with a peak of 105 on July 10. Combined with 1.01 inches of rain for the month, a good share of the crop curled up and died.

Regarding the global warming issue, some people will say that just because 2012 ended up with only 26 complaints doesn’t mean all’s well with the ecosystem.

I’m not going to argue here, other than to say that the facts suggest that the summer weather in central Minnesota has not shown appreciable change over the 113 years. We always have something to complain about, but the complaints today are no worse than they have been for the past century.

The WSCI shows that the 10 nicest summers — those with the fewest complaints — include three of the past 10. The top 10 nicest summers and their WSCI scores include:

1. 1904     3
2. 1952     7
2. 2004     7
2. 2008     7
5. 1954     8
6. 1927     9
6. 1942     9
6. 1950     9
6. 2010     9
10. 1909   10
10. 1979   10

The year 1904 — which none of us remember — recorded only two days in the 90s and only one overnight low above 70.

Is it hotter? The average number of days in the 90s for the past 113 years has been 10.10. By decade, the worst was 1931-1940, with 17.30 days per year. By comparison, the period 2001-2012 had only 8.92 days in the 90s annually, sixth highest of the 11 decades, and the least since the 1950s.

The 1950s are also noteworthy as being the decade with the most rain events greater than one inch, averaging 4.70 such rains per year. From 2001 through 2012 we averaged 3.58 such downpours annually, which is the third highest of the 11 decades.

The 1940s was the wettest decade with an average of 48.50 days with at least a trace of precipitation during the four months. By comparison, 2001-2012 averaged 40.58 days of rain, ranking it only the seventh highest among the 11 decades.

The most recent 12 years have recorded the second lowest average of complaints about rain being too little or too much. The WSCI average was 4.50. Only the 1990s, with 4.40 rain-related complaints was less.

And overall, the WSCI complaints for the last 12 years have averaged 20.58. The only decades with less were the first two decades of the last century.

Finally, the purpose of the WSCI is not to tell you to stop complaining. It’s to tell you how many of your complaints are justified. With that out of the way, let me ask, “How’re the kids?”

Tom West is the general manager of the Peach. He may be reached at (320) 352-6569 or by e-mail at [email protected]