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State Climatologist: Iowa on Pace for the 8th Warmest Winter in the Past 139 Years

The weather seems even warmer because the last four winters have been even colder and wetter than average, says State Climatologist Harry Hillaker.

With high temperatures in Iowa City set to be in the 50s today and tomorrow, some may be wondering what they did to deserve all this great weather.

How about surviving the last four winters.

State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said that while this winter's average temperature of 27.8 degrees (high temperature averaged against lower temperature) for December and January ranks as one of the 8th-warmest in the last 139 years of Iowa weather history, the four years preceding this one were colder and wetter than normal.

"Our recent winters have been quite cold, and therefore this winter seems much different than that," Hillaker said. "This is quite a contrast to what we've seen in recent years."

In fact, Hillaker said while you would have to go back 10 years (2001) to find a winter nearly as mild, just a few years ago, in the winter of 2008, it was one of the coldest winters in the last 239 years.

"Certainly things seem a whole lot nicer than that, at least for most people's experience," Hillaker said.

Hillaker said that an unusually mild winter like this doesn't necessarily have anything to do with global warming, and that changes like that are only noticeable over a long period of time.

"If there is such a trend, it would certainly be such a longer sort of trend, so not even one year or even one decade," Hillaker said. "That's one thing that makes it such a difficult topic to figure out, because we do have so much variability that it makes it harder to find if there really is a trend."

Hillaker said one surprising thing about this winter is it is a La Nina year, which usually indicates a wet and cold winter in Iowa. However, "arctic oscillation" the movement of weather pressure in North America, has played its unpredictable hand for a warm and dry winter. Conversely, as a result, Alaska is having one of its coldest winters in the last 70 years.

Sorry Alaska.

John Haase, forecaster for the National Weather Service in the Quad Cities, said that the weather will gradually cool to the 30 degree range for highs this weekend, with another cold front sweeping in at the beginning of next week.

Still, since there is an unusual lack of snow on the ground this year, temperatures will continue to avoid dropping as much as they usually might.

"It's going to be a sort of gradual cooling," Haase said. "The temperatures will still be higher than normal."

Haase said the areas of the state, such as Burlington, where there is little to no snow on the ground could threaten breaking record highs today.

Stephen Schmidt January 30, 2012 at 08:19 PM
Note: It's the last 139 years (oddly specific, I know) because that's how far his records went back.

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