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Barbara Mayes Boustead, Martha D. Shulski, and Steven D. Hilberg


The story of the winter of 1880/81 in the central United States has been retold in historical fiction, including Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter, as well as in local histories and folklore. What story does the meteorological data tell, and how does it measure up when compared to the fiction and folklore? What were the contributing factors to the severity of the Long Winter, and has it been or could it be repeated? Examining historical and meteorological data, reconstructions, and reanalysis, including the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index, the Long Winter emerges as one of the most severe since European-descended settlers arrived to the central United States and began documenting weather. Contributing factors to its severity include an extremely negative North Atlantic Oscillation pattern, a mild to moderate El Niño, and a background climate state that was much colder than the twentieth-century average. The winter began early and was particularly cold and snowy throughout its duration, with a sudden spring melt that caused subsequent record-setting flooding. Historical accounts of the winter, including The Long Winter, prove to be largely accurate in describing its severity, as well as its impacts on transportation, fuel availability, food supplies, and human and livestock health. Being just one of the most severe winters on record, there are others in the modern historical record that do compare in severity, providing opportunity for comparing and contrasting the impacts of similarly severe winters.

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Barbara E. Mayes Boustead, Steven D. Hilberg, Martha D. Shulski, and Kenneth G. Hubbard


The character of a winter can be defined by many of its features, including temperature averages and extremes, snowfall totals, snow depth, and the duration between onset and cessation of winter-weather conditions. The accumulated winter season severity index incorporates these elements into one site-specific value that defines the severity of a particular winter, especially when examined in the context of climatological values for that site. Thresholds of temperature, snowfall, and snow depth are assigned points that accumulate through the defined winter season; a parallel index uses temperature and precipitation to provide a snow proxy where snow data are unavailable or unreliable. The results can be analyzed like any other meteorological parameter to examine relationships to teleconnection patterns, determine trends, and create sector-specific applications, as well as to analyze an ongoing winter or any individual winter season to place its severity in context.

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Toward Regional Climate Services

The Role of NOAA's Regional Climate Centers

Arthur T. DeGaetano, Timothy J. Brown, Steven D. Hilberg, Kelly Redmond, Kevin Robbins, Peter Robinson, Martha Shulski, and Marjorie McGuirk

For 25 yr, the Regional Climate Center (RCC) program has provided climate services to six regions encompassing the United States. The service provided by the RCCs has evolved through this time to become an efficient, user-driven program that exemplifies many of the components that have been cited for effective national climate services. To illustrate the RCCs' role as operational climate service providers, a brief history of the program is presented with recent examples of RCC innovations in the provision and creation of data products and decision tools, computer infrastructure, and the integration of climate data across networks. These strengths complement the missions of other federal climate service providers and regional and state-based programs, such as the Regional Integrated Sciences and Assessments, state climatologist programs, and National Weather Service climate services program managers and local focal points with which the RCCs actively partner.

Building on this expertise, a vision for the RCC role in climate services during the next quarter century is presented. This strategy includes five main components encompassing 1) operational linkage of an array of climate data sources with climate products, tools, and monitoring systems; 2) engagement of new and existing climate service partners to reduce the risk associated with climate impacts; 3) implementation of innovative user-driven approaches to regional and local climate services; 4) climate data stewardship; and 5) scientifically sound assessments and solutions to climate-related problems through active stakeholder collaboration and engagement. These elements will be equally applicable and important to decisions related to the historical climate record, real-time interannual climate variations, or future climate change assessment and adaptation activities.

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Eugene S. Takle, Christopher J. Anderson, Jeffrey Andresen, James Angel, Roger W. Elmore, Benjamin M. Gramig, Patrick Guinan, Steven Hilberg, Doug Kluck, Raymond Massey, Dev Niyogi, Jeanne M. Schneider, Martha D. Shulski, Dennis Todey, and Melissa Widhalm


Corn is the most widely grown crop in the Americas, with annual production in the United States of approximately 332 million metric tons. Improved climate forecasts, together with climate-related decision tools for corn producers based on these improved forecasts, could substantially reduce uncertainty and increase profitability for corn producers. The purpose of this paper is to acquaint climate information developers, climate information users, and climate researchers with an overview of weather conditions throughout the year that affect corn production as well as forecast content and timing needed by producers. The authors provide a graphic depicting the climate-informed decision cycle, which they call the climate forecast–decision cycle calendar for corn.

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John L. Campbell, Lindsey E. Rustad, Sarah Garlick, Noah Newman, John S. Stanovick, Ian Halm, Charles T. Driscoll, Brian L. Barjenbruch, Elizabeth Burakowski, Steven D. Hilberg, Kristopher J. Sanders, Jason C. Shafer, and Nolan J. Doesken


Ice storms are important winter weather events that can have substantial environmental, economic, and social impacts. Mapping and assessment of damage after these events could be improved by making ice accretion measurements at a greater number of sites than is currently available. There is a need for low-cost collectors that can be distributed broadly in volunteer observation networks; however, use of low-cost collectors necessitates understanding of how collector characteristics and configurations influence measurements of ice accretion. A study was conducted at the Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in New Hampshire that involved spraying water over passive ice collectors during freezing conditions to simulate ice storms of different intensity. The collectors consisted of plates composed of four different materials and installed horizontally; two different types of wires strung horizontally; and rods of three different materials, with three different diameters, and installed at three different inclinations. Results showed that planar ice thickness on plates was 2.5–3 times as great as the radial ice thickness on rods or wires, which is consistent with expectations based on theory and empirical evidence from previous studies. Rods mounted on an angle rather than horizontally reduced the formation of icicles and enabled more consistent measurements. Results such as these provide much needed information for comparing ice accretion data. Understanding of relationships among collector configurations could be refined further by collecting data from natural ice storms under a broader range of weather conditions.

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