Are we done with subzero temperatures?

- This is one of my most frequently asked questions.  Unfortunately, it can be just as hard to predict as everything else.  I think we can all agree that winters in Minnesota are bearable as long as that thermometer stays above zero.  Once we drop to subzero levels, standing outside for more than a few minutes isn’t much fun.  But if you look at this winter so far, it’s been pretty easy…

So far, we have had just 10 days with subzero temperatures.  Now, this does not factor in the wind chill, so I’m sure there were days that felt just as cold.  But this can be a pretty good judge of just how bad the winter was.  Last year, we had nearly triple the number of subzero days and two years ago, we had over 50! So, I know what you’re thinking, “We have only seen a few subzero days so far and we are now past the coldest part of winter, so we have to be done.”  NOT NECESSARILY! For example, there have been years with dozens of subzero low days in December and January, and then all of a sudden we have a pattern shift in early February, and we don’t get another.  There have also been relatively mild years where we get through much of the winter with just a few subzero days, and then get a string of them in March.  So it just depends on the overall weather pattern at the time.

If you wanna talk averages though, our average last subzero day over the last 30 years is February 21st, which is coming up this weekend.  Amazingly, that is also our average last day in the last 5 years as well.  But just like every other aspect of Minnesota weather, the stats vary WIDELY.  For example, the earliest we have been done with subzero was January 19, 1999… while the latest was just 3 years earlier on March 26, 1996 where we managed to drop to -10°!  If you’re counting, that is an 8 week swing!  So back to the original question, are we done with subzero lows?  No way to know for sure, however, I will give you my thoughts. 

It is an El Nino year, which are notoriously warm for Minnesota.  That pattern is holding up as we are a solid 5° above average so far over the winter, which is substantial!  Also, our current trend is heading toward a warm up for the latter half of February as more zonal flow (west to east flow across the U.S. versus the polar flow out of the north) is taking shape.  Based off that, I would say chances are quite good that we are done, BUT, the wild swings in the polar jet stream over the last 6 weeks has me thinking that another shot of arctic air may be waiting for us in March.  IF we can even get one, will it be cold enough to send us back below zero?  Well, I guess we’ll know soon enough.


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