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How Cold Has It Really Been?

BOSTON (CBS) - Well it's November. We start putting on weight. Eat pie. Split firewood for the cold nights to come. I can't say there's much I really like about November except that it includes Veteran's Day and Thanksgiving.

But there's one thing we always expect - it starts to get dark and cold.

No doubt, that's been the case this year. It's more than your usual lack of daylight and long underwear though - this time around it's looking like one for the record books.


Let's start here at home, since I'm assuming most of the readers will be in New England. We've been living on the edge of this constant barrage of arctic air over the past couple of weeks.

It's certainly been a below-average month for us, and should end with the largest departures from average to the cold side since March (-4.8F). We all remember that one - not a fun month in New England.

November won't be quite *that* bad versus what you'd normally expect. We're about 3ºF below average right now, with more cold coming next week. So when all is said and done, it'll be a markedly cold month but likely not one for the record books.


Temperature anomalies (ºC) for the past 7 days across North America. 10-15ºC below average for much of the nation! That's a whopping departure...and quite rare. Source: Weatherbell

To the west, it's a different story. A very negative Arctic Oscillation and major ridging over Alaska has kept the tap open to the North Pole (and at some points, Siberia). All that air has been pumping straight down the Front Range of the Rockies, whistling across the Plains, and continuing eastward to the Southeast and Midwest. It has run out of a little gas before reaching us, making things a little more tolerable locally.

This past Wednesday was an impressive one for records, with many cities seeing their coldest air ever recorded so early in the season. Charlotte, NC went all the way down to 16F - ridiculous cold for a southern city before winter even begins. Atlanta suburbs also fell into the 10s, and you could find the same all the way down into Florida where panhandle towns shivered in the 10s too. Miami isn't much of a cold weather city, but they also managed to hit a record for futility with highs in SoFla only hitting the low/mid 60s. The average high for this time of year is 81F in Miami.


You haven't heard a lot of headlines from the Midwest because it hasn't been stormy - just dry and cold. Really cold. You probably recall how brutal last winter was in Minneapolis - well they're back at it. Today will be the 12th straight day below freezing in the Twin Cities. Sure it's a cold place this time of year, but this is rare air. Even as the streak is forecast to end on Saturday, it will be the coldest November stretch in 134 years!

How about some more records? On Thursday, Grand Rapids, Michigan reached a November total of 28.4". That already makes this the snowiest November ever recorded there with over a week to go in the month. There's also another record from the Twin Cities - ice has shut down the mighty Mississippi River on the earliest date ever recorded. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, records date back to 1969 for this particular topic.

A week earlier than all these recent events, the story across the Rockies when places like Casper destroyed previous records for cold (falling to -27F one night!). So long as records go back, it's never been that cold in November. Not even close. Denver saw striking cold for days on end, and snow made its way down into Texas, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Georgia. And if you remember back one more week  before all this, there were several inches of snow covering South Carolina! That was also their earlier snowfall on record.


Source: Weatherbell

I posted the 7-day temperature departure above, but this shows the month as a whole. Only the southwest is slightly above average for the month (Tucson is lovely this time of year). As is typical when the Lower 48 is freezing, Alaska has been enjoying unusual 'warmth.' Keep in mind even temps well above average this time of year in Alaska are still in the 30s/40s. Vast swaths of the Lower 48 are running 5-8ºC below average, which is a very significant departure.


So where do we stand? This graph from Dr. Ryan Maue of puts it into perspective. We're neck and neck with 2010 for the coldest November in at least 60 years for the CONUS. Impressive stuff, especially considering there's plenty more cold on the way. It's also interesting to note that while the U.S. has been freezing its collective butt off, the globe as a whole is still running above average for the month. Always important to remind people that the U.S. only takes up 2% of the world's surface. We're a small speck in the overall picture.


What's ahead? This. After a very brief 1-2 day warm up for most of the eastern U.S., we'll be back to our old tricks. The milder air will shift from the middle of the country on Saturday to the southeast/midwest on Sunday and then the East Coast on Monday. But that's all she wrote - another huge trough is poised to dig in for the Thanksgiving stretch. Temperatures again should be about 15-35º below average, with Florida and perhaps the SE Atlantic coast the only real warm spots. This should stick around to close out the month, and so we'll have a good shot at a Top 3 coldest November ever recorded in the Lower 48!

According to Dr. Ryan Maue, the projected average temp for CONUS for all of November is currently 37.4F. Below are the coldest Novembers on record in the past century. We'll see where we end up, but there's no doubt this has been an historic stretch.


1911: 37.2°F

2000: 38.0°F

2014: ???

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