Monday, March 16, 2015

Coldest Airmass of the Winter

The 850 mb temperature observed by balloon sounding in Fairbanks dropped to -29.9 C on Saturday morning, which is the coldest of the entire winter.  Prior to the arrival of this cold airmass, the coldest observed at 850 mb was -27.7 C on January 25.  If the previous low point had stood, the winter's coldest measurement would have been the second warmest on record for an entire winter, but this new cold is closer to (but still above) the long-term normal for coldest of the season.

Is it unusual to see the coldest air (aloft) of the season in March?  Not especially; the chart below shows the month in which the coldest air was observed at 850 mb for each winter since 1948-1949.  It's nearly as common to see the coldest air in March as in December.  The last time the coldest air was observed in March was in 2003, which followed the very warm winter of 2002-2003; obviously the odds of this happening are heightened after persistent warmth earlier in the season.  Over the history since 1948, the earliest that the coldest air was observed was November 16, 1956, and the latest was April 18, 1959.

At the surface, Fairbanks airport observed 6 consecutive days with a daily minimum of -30 F or lower, culminating in -37 yesterday, March 15.  This is fairly impressive for so late in the season; it's the most consecutive days reaching -30 this late in the winter since 1966.  However, it can't compare to the 13 straight days reaching -30 F from March 9-21, 1959.

The -37 F yesterday morning is the coldest this late in the winter since 1995 (-37 F on March 24).  The record for coldest this late or later is -46 F on March 15, 1964.


  1. One thing I would like to see which I haven't found in an easily read way is a year graph of daily temperatures expressed in percentiles. For instance, it seems that a low of -30 is in the 10th percentile. But what if we has reached -40? Would it be at the 1st percentile? There is something like this at but it's not very readable and lacks lower percentiles.

  2. I recall March 1995 well. I was out in the woods and it was cold for a couple of weeks at night with temps in the -30's.

    But then after the 24th it warmed to +50 within a few days and stayed that way. That was a unique weather event.



      Check out March and April 1995, Seems like we're repeating that event in 2015.