If you think we've just concluded a cold winter, you'd be right. But compare it to winters of the past, and taken as a whole it doesn't actually rank with our most severe.
First of all, we are talking about the months December through February, which are considered "winter" for climatological purposes. The numbers show that the mean temperature in Columbus for those three months was 47.3º, which is 1.7º below the 30-year average. That's cold, but the winter of 1976-77 remains atop the list as the standard bearer for cold winters with a mean of 43.0º, more than 4 degrees colder than this winter, which falls only into 21st place among our coldest in modern records.
Our perception of a severe winter no doubt has a lot to do with January. That month did rank as the coldest month in 36 years (as described in an earlier post) and the 4th coldest January ever. We had two calendar days when the temperature did not get above freezing, spent 46 hours below 32º in one stretch, and bottomed out with a daily record low of 11º on the 7th, our coldest temperature in 18 years. We had snow, sleet, and/or freezing rain on three separate occasions in January.
Winter 2013-14 chart with daily temperature data for Columbus (from NWS-Peachtree City)
What we've forgotten is that December was actually milder (+2.4º) than normal, in fact ranking 18th on the list of mildest Decembers. (It was also our 6th wettest with 8.86" of rain during the month.) February was actually a very average month, just 0.3º below normal. So when you average out all three months, it comes out a bit cold thanks to the anomalous January, but not cold enough to rank with some of the severe winters we had in the 1960s and '70s.
Others may have a right to complain. The good folks of Eau Claire in northwestern Wisconsin suffered through their coldest winter ever, actually tying 1903-04* for that "honor". The temperature in Eau Claire? A bone-rattling 7.5ºF! Green Bay narrowly missed the 1903-04 record, but Titletown, USA did eclipse the notoriously bitter 1976-77 for their second coldest ever at 10.6º.
Ironwood, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, beat out 1978-79 for their coldest winter in a 113-year history. Average: 5.1ºF, clinching that mark when February came in as their coldest ever. Nearby Marquette, on the frozen shore of Lake Superior, had 49 days when the mercury dipped below zero, and also suffered through their coldest winter.
And back in Georgia, there were the first subzero lows recorded in years, at regular reporting stations in Cartersville (-2º) and Rome (-1º), plus at other co-op sites in Ellijay and Blue Ridge. The coldest I could find was a -5º low at Blairsville on January 30, demonstrating what a little fresh snow cover can do.
Even though Columbus didn't crack the Top Ten, we certainly have experienced our most severe winter in some time, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. Spring will come right on schedule (OK, maybe a bit late), and before long we'll be dealing with heat and humidity and wishing it would cool off. We'll see what kind of extremes July through August has in store for us.
Kurt Schmitz, Senior Meteorologist