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Ask Mr. Answer Person: "What was the coldest winter in Decorah?"

Posted: Sun, Feb 9, 2014 5:03 PM

David asks: "Is this winter close to setting a record for the coldest winter in Decorah?"

Mr. Answer Person says: "The record low temperature in over a century of record-keeping in Decorah was 43 degrees below zero, recorded January 30th, 1951.  But 1951 wasn't the most severe winter in Decorah—in fact, it barely ranks in the top 20.

Decorah weather observer Richard Bernatz has developed a formula that uses six measures of severity—average temperature; number of days with a maximum temperature less than 32, number of days with a maximum temperature less than 10; number of days with a minimum temperature less than zero; total snowfall; and the number of days between the first and last snowfalls.  Using that formula, Bernatz says the toughest winters came two years in a row—November 1st, 1977 through February 28th, 1978 and November 1st, 1978 through February 28th, 1979.

17 inches of snow fell in November of 1977—kicking off a winter in which it snowed 20 days, dumping a total of 46 inches of snow.   The winter also featured 32 days with below-zero temperatures.  The winter of 1978-1979 didn't provide much relief.  It snowed on 23 days, dumping a total of 44 inches of snow.  28 days had below zero temperatures.

By contrast, November of 2013 had less than one inch of snow and no days below zero.  December picked up the pace with 13 inches of snow and eight days of below zero temperatures.  But that still leaves 2013-2014 needing 33 inches of snow and 24 days of below zero temperatures to match conditions in the winter of 1977-1978.

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