Still Waiting on Signs of Warmer Weather

Posted at 9:42 AM, Feb 25, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-25 09:42:21-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Feb. 25, 2014) — The forecast for the next week or more in West Michigan features yet another shot of brutally cold Arctic air, and there is no sign in the longer-range outlook of any real thaw into early March.

Average highs for this time of year are climbing into the mid- to upper-30s; yet, we’ll only manage readings in the teens for much of the next week.  You can always find the 7 Day Forecast on the Weather page.

One of the main features that has made this winter noteworthy, and caused additional headaches, is our inability to see even a brief warmup of 50° or better.  The lack of that milder weather has kept the snow piles high, the rivers ice-covered, and pipes frozen around much of the area.  Even in some of our snowiest winters, we’ve seen at least some of the snow melt on occasion as temperatures warm up temporarily in January or February.

In order to see how this season compares with those in recent memory, I searched the Midwestern Regional Climate Center’s archives for Grand Rapids to find the first date each year in which the high temperature was 50° or more.

One of the big things that stood out to me was how frequently we get a January thaw — out of the last 25 years, 18 of them have featured at least one 50° day in January.  Even more interesting is how this compares to the previous time period.  In the 25 years from 1964 to 1988, we had a 50° day in January only nine times.  It’s safe to say that holding onto cold air this consistently is becoming increasingly rare.

If we keep temperatures below 50° beyond the scope of the current forecast, we’ll be getting into some very unusual territory in the month of March.  Only twice in the last 25 years have we seen our first 50° in March, and no later than March 15th (2003).  That compares with ten times in the previous 25 years, with the latest coming on March 28th of 1978.  That’s the most recent time that the first 50° has been later than the “ides of March,” as a March thaw usually occurs in the first half of the month.

The combination of those statistics underscores something that many farmers in West Michigan can attest to — a trend toward earlier spring thaws than in the past.  The 1964-88 average date of the first 50° was around February 15th; from 1989-2013, that date was around January 22nd.  That’s a full three weeks earlier!

Here are some of the numbers in more detail:

Years Average First 50° ** # in January February March 1-7 March 8-14 March 15 or later Earliest Latest
1964-88 (25 years) February 15 9 6 1 6 3 1/5/66 3/28/78
1989-2013 (25 years) January 22 18 5 0 1 1 1/1/11 3/15/03
1964-2013 (50 years) February 3 27 11 1 7 4 1/1/11 3/28/78

**date not exact due to rounding & leap years