After a warm and relatively quiet December, winter made quite an entrance in Northwest Indiana just in time for Valparaiso University’s first week of classes.
Over the course of that week, students were greeted with subzero temperatures, dangerous wind chills, and poor driving conditions in snow and gusty winds. All in all, it was quite a shocking turnaround from the mild conditions that had prevailed for much of December in Valparaiso.
Over much of the Midwest, December was unusually warm and snowless.
According to the National Weather Service in Romeoville, Ill., Chicago (the closest station to Valpo where official climate records are kept) tied its record for least snowy December, with only a trace of snow recorded there during all of last month.
December 2014 also came in unusually mild, with Chicago at 4.8 F above normal for the month.
That all changed on Jan. 4and 5, when a strong storm tracked from the southern plains through the Midwest into Canada, bringing an initial wave of cold Arctic air in its wake and buckling the jet stream southward across the eastern half of the U.S.
Reinforcing shots of frigid Arctic air followed on Monday the 5 and Thursday the 8, behind two storm systems that dove southeastward along the buckled polar jet out of the Canadian Prairie provinces to track near the Chicago area.
These systems, called Alberta Clippers for their fast movement and origins in the Canadian province of Alberta, are usually relatively dry systems that tend to bring Valpo relatively light snow amounts due to their fast movement and lack of access to the Gulf of Mexico moisture that is usually needed for big snowstorms in the Valpo area, and the two Clippers the first week of classes were true to form.
According to the National Weather Service in Romeoville, IL, Chicago received 1.8 inches of snow from the first Clipper system, with reports from the Valpo area ranging from two to three inches.
The second Clipper packed a bit more of a punch, with strong winds accompanying the snow and creating low visibilities and frigid wind chills.
Chicago recorded three inches of snow with this system on the 8, with reports in the Valpo area ranging from one to 1.5 inches.
Overall, Chicago recorded 9.8 inches of snow for the week of Jan. 4 through the 11, including 2.2 inches of snow on the 4th from the storm that ushered in the cold air and 2.6 inches of snow on the 11th.
The extraordinarily cold air in the middle of the week posed its own hazards, combining with brisk winds to produce dangerous wind chills. According to National Weather Service reports, Porter County Municipal Airport in Valpo reached a low of nine below zero on the morning of the 8th, with Chicago reaching a low of eight below zero the same day.
However cold and snowy this first week of classes was, we only have to go back to last year at this time to put it in perspective.
The low temperatures recorded on the 8th of this year can barely hold a candle to the frigid 16 below zero that National Weather Service observations in both Chicago and Valpo recorded on Jan. 6 last year.
Furthermore, last year’s week of Jan. 1through 7 featured an amazing 19.6 inches of snow at Chicago, and in contrast to this year’s cold blast in January coming after a warm and nearly snowless December, last year’s Arctic chill followed a colder and snowier than normal December and was only the beginning of what would become Chicago’s third coldest and third snowiest winter on record.
Contact Matthew Wilson at firstname.lastname@example.org.