Just because the calendar says it’s spring, Minnesotans know that doesn’t make it so. In fact, I’ve heard plenty of complaining until just the last few days, along the lines of, “Is this winter ever going to end?”
The short answer is, it will. The long answer is that your complaints have been justified.
West’s Winter Misery Index (WWMI) finds that this was the 18th worst winter since the winter of 1950-51, putting it in the bottom 30 percent. Even worse, it immediately follows the all-time “best” winter in that time span, the winter of 2011-12.
The WWMI uses a scientific formula to reach a subjective conclusion. Talk about the weather is always based more in opinion than fact. Most folks have extremely short memories about the weather. (For example, answer this question: How many days ago did it last snow?)
The WWMI compares the facts going back through the years. That way, when somebody says, “It’s never been this bad,” one can refer to the WWMI and determine if it’s true.
The WWMI is based on three factors. The average daily high and average daily low for each month, November through December, and the number of inches of snow.
The average high and the average low are added together and divided by two. That gives equal weight to the cold and the snow. Since winter misery is a negative, the colder it is, the lower the number. And since misery increases with the amount of snow, the number of inches of snow is subtracted from the average temperature to establish the WWMI.
The data is taken from a Central Minnesota reporting station for the National Weather Service.
Only one winter, 1978-79, resulted in a WWMI below zero, finishing at -2.90.
By comparison, the balmy winter of 2011-12 had the highest WWMI ever, finishing at +25.46.
This year, however, proved how finicky the weather can be. Through January, Central Minnesota was on course to having a relatively nice winter. The three months from November through January rank as only the 35th worst, with worst being first on the WWMI.
However, February 2013 proved to be the fourth worst February since 1950-51, with a WWMI of only -5.15.
The reason Minnesotans became really cranky was because of what happened next. That tough February was followed by the fourth worst March in 63 years, with a WWMI of only +2.10.
The all-time worst single month since 1950-51 was March 1965 when the monstrous St. Patrick’s Day blizzard led to 41.5 inches of snow being dumped on this area during the month. The second snowiest March, in 2002, had only 26.5 inches of snow. The 19.1 inches that fell last month was the fifth snowiest since 1950-51.
Minnesotans have been complaining about how deep the snow has been of late. It seems like it has outlived its welcome. The average snow depth for the month just ended was 19.4 inches. The last time the snow was that deep in March was that worst-of-all winter of 1978-79.
While February 2013 was only the 29th coldest February, it was also the sixth snowiest, with 18.8 inches falling.
Taken together, February and March were the fifth worst combination of the two months.
Here are the 10 worst winters according to the WWMI with worst being first:
1. 1978-79 -2.90
2. 1951-52 0.43
3. 1950-51 0.49
4. 1964-65 0.53
5. 1996-97 1.23
6. 1968-69 2.80
7. 2000-01 3.05
8. 1995-96 3.30
9. 1974-75 3.73
10. 1988-89 3.83
And here are the 10 nicest winters since 1950-51 with best being first:
1. 2011-12 25.46
2. 1986-87 23.29
3. 1980-81 21.29
4. 2009-10 21.02
5. 1999-’00 20.53
6. 1960-61 19.87
7. 2002-03 19.17
8. 2005-06 19.16
9. 2004-05 18.71
10. 1957-58 18.32
For those who want to argue about global warming, this should give both sides plenty of ammunition. Note that five of the 10 nicest winters have occurred since the turn of the century, while only one of the 10 worst winters appeared in this millennium.
Judging from the complaints I have heard in recent months, most Minnesotans don’t like harsh Minnesota winters. About this time of year, many think global warming is a welcome idea. However, a word of caution before using the WWMI to beat up global warming’s non-believers: Because snow is a factor in the WWMI, these results shouldn’t be used in such a debate.
No, the WWMI is designed to extract, in the words of Sgt. Joe Friday on the old “Dragnet” TV show, “Just the facts, ma’am” of winter misery.
And as we’ve shown above, the facts are that Minnesotans have a right to complain about this winter, at least the last two months of it.
The short answer is that winter will end. The longer answer for most Minnesotans is, as explained above, “But not soon enough.”
Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Peach. Reach him at (320) 352-6569 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.