The North Pacific–Driven Severe Midwest Winter of 2013/14

Alan Marinaro Meteorology Program, Department of Geography, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois

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Steve Hilberg Midwestern Regional Climate Center, Climate and Atmospheric Science Division, Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, Illinois

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David Changnon Meteorology Program, Department of Geography, Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, Illinois

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James R. Angel State Climatologist Office for Illinois, Climate and Atmospheric Science Division, Illinois State Water Survey, Champaign, Illinois

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Abstract

The severe 2013/14 winter (December–March) in the Midwest was dominated by a persistent atmospheric circulation pattern anchored to a North Pacific Ocean that was much warmer than average. Strong teleconnection magnitudes of the eastern Pacific oscillation (−EPO), tropical Northern Hemisphere pattern (+TNH), and second-lowest Hudson Bay 500-hPa geopotential height field are indicators that led to severe winter weather across the eastern United States. Unlike in previous cold and snowy midwestern winters, Atlantic Ocean blocking played little to no role in the winter of 2013/14. The primary atmospheric feature of the 2013/14 winter was the 500-hPa high pressure anchored over the North Pacific in response to the extremely warm sea surface temperature anomalies observed of +3.7 standard deviations. Only one other severe midwestern winter (1983/84) since 1950 featured a similar Pacific blocking. The accumulated winter season severity index, which is a metric that combines daily snowfall, snow depth, and temperature data for the winter season, was used to compare the 2013/14 winter with past winters since 1950. Detroit, Michigan, and Duluth, Minnesota, experienced their worst winter of the 55-yr period. Seven climate divisions in northern Illinois, eastern Iowa, and parts of Wisconsin experienced record-cold mean temperatures. These climate conditions were associated with a number of impacts, including a disruption to the U.S. economy, the second-highest ice coverage of the Great Lakes since 1973, and a flight-cancellation rate that had not been seen in 25 years.

Corresponding author address: Alan Marinaro, Dept. of Geography, Northern Illinois University, Davis Hall 118, DeKalb, IL 60115. E-mail: amarinaro1@niu.edu

Abstract

The severe 2013/14 winter (December–March) in the Midwest was dominated by a persistent atmospheric circulation pattern anchored to a North Pacific Ocean that was much warmer than average. Strong teleconnection magnitudes of the eastern Pacific oscillation (−EPO), tropical Northern Hemisphere pattern (+TNH), and second-lowest Hudson Bay 500-hPa geopotential height field are indicators that led to severe winter weather across the eastern United States. Unlike in previous cold and snowy midwestern winters, Atlantic Ocean blocking played little to no role in the winter of 2013/14. The primary atmospheric feature of the 2013/14 winter was the 500-hPa high pressure anchored over the North Pacific in response to the extremely warm sea surface temperature anomalies observed of +3.7 standard deviations. Only one other severe midwestern winter (1983/84) since 1950 featured a similar Pacific blocking. The accumulated winter season severity index, which is a metric that combines daily snowfall, snow depth, and temperature data for the winter season, was used to compare the 2013/14 winter with past winters since 1950. Detroit, Michigan, and Duluth, Minnesota, experienced their worst winter of the 55-yr period. Seven climate divisions in northern Illinois, eastern Iowa, and parts of Wisconsin experienced record-cold mean temperatures. These climate conditions were associated with a number of impacts, including a disruption to the U.S. economy, the second-highest ice coverage of the Great Lakes since 1973, and a flight-cancellation rate that had not been seen in 25 years.

Corresponding author address: Alan Marinaro, Dept. of Geography, Northern Illinois University, Davis Hall 118, DeKalb, IL 60115. E-mail: amarinaro1@niu.edu
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