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Frigid February is one for the books

Snow in month’s final hour breaks Toledo snowfall record

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    Monclova Township residents David and Lisa Proctor cross-country ski at Oak Openings Metropark in Swanton. The Proctors said they bought the skis to ward off the cabin fever they experienced during last year’s rough weather.

    The Blade/Lori King
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    Andrew Pommeranz ice fishes in at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon. Other area fishermen, such as George Roth, Jr., were sometimes reluctant to get out of their shanty.

    THE BLADE/LORI KING
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  • 01n1shanty-6

    Elmore resident Chris Gyuras, left, and Doug Rahrig of Luckey ice fish inside of a toasty shanty, a refuge favored by many during the last month’s harsh temperatures.

    THE BLADE/LORI KING
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CTY-OUTDOORS28p

Monclova Township residents David and Lisa Proctor cross-country ski at Oak Openings Metropark in Swanton. The Proctors said they bought the skis to ward off the cabin fever they experienced during last year’s rough weather.

The Blade/Lori King
Enlarge | Buy This Image

David and Lisa Proctor were determined to avoid the cabin fever they endured last winter when record snow and recurring below-normal cold curtailed their outdoor activities.

So later last year, the Monclova Township couple bought cross-country skiing gear. Mr. Proctor would be renewing an acquaintance with a sport he had enjoyed in college, while his wife is a novice.

Their purchases were prescient.

While winter got off to a slow start in December and provided only modest offerings in January, February just ended was one of Toledo’s most extreme ever for both cold and snow.

The Toledo area’s latest snowfall arrived just in time to break the city’s February snowfall record.

During the final hour of February, 2015, 0.3 inch of snow fell at Toledo Express Airport. With 25.0 inches having fallen earlier in the month, that was just enough to break the 25.2-inch record set in 2011.

The developing storm is expected to deliver 2 to 4 inches of snow in and near Toledo, while slightly more snow is expected to the city’s south and slightly less is expected in southeast Michigan.

On the cold front, February ended Saturday with the month’s third record-breaking morning low, along with one tie.

The -9 reading at Toledo Express Airport beat out a -7 record that had been set just last year.

But by the time the Proctors hit the trails early Saturday afternoon at Oak Openings Metropark, the mercury at the nearby airport had climbed to 17, warmer than the high temperature on eight of the last 13 days.

At The Blade building downtown, Saturday’s high temperature was recorded at 29 at 4:15 p.m.

01n1drill-2

Andrew Pommeranz ice fishes in at Maumee Bay State Park in Oregon. Other area fishermen, such as George Roth, Jr., were sometimes reluctant to get out of their shanty.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

A brutal month

Call it the Polar Vortex. The Siberian Express. Or unprintable things if wintry outdoors activities aren’t to your fancy.

Whatever it was, it made Toledo and surrounding communities brutally, unrelentingly, and at times historically cold for most of February.

With an average daily mean temperature of 12.4 degrees Fahrenheit, it was the coldest month in Toledo since the 11.8-degree February, 1978, and the third-coldest month here since such record-keeping began in the 1870s, according to the National Weather Service. Toledo’s coldest month on record was January, 1977, with an average temperature of 9.6 degrees.

The cold was “locked in” by the jet stream, a high-speed wind flow aloft that steers storms and air masses, meteorologists said. In this case, it ushered wave after wave of frigid arctic air into eastern North America, sometimes all the way to south Florida.

“It was just locked into one specific pattern, and it just wouldn’t budge,” said Jay Berschback, chief meteorologist for WTVG-TV, Channel 13.

The white stuff

 

Regarding the record snowfall, more than half the month’s tally fell in its first four days, and most of that occurred on Feb. 1, when a strong winter storm dumped 10 inches at Toledo Express Airport and even higher amounts nearby.

A brief warm-up the next weekend, including some light rain, took away some snow, but otherwise Toledo and environs kept a white carpet for all of February, which meteorologists said was an important factor in the sustained deep freeze that settled over the region after Feb. 11.

“When you have a built-up snowpack, it tends to build upon itself,” said Karen Clark, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Cleveland. “There’s such an extensive supply of cold air.”

During February’s remaining 17 days, Toledo’s official high temperature at Toledo Express Airport reached 30 only once, on the 22nd, and that was after a morning low of 2. At The Blade building, the highest temperature recorded was 31 at 1:15 p.m, with a low of 15 at 3:15 a.m.

On only two other days did the mercury get above 24. And on more than half of those days — nine, to be precise, and including the final two — the morning low was below zero.

Daily temperatures weren’t just below normal, they were at least 13 degrees below normal — and often much deeper than that.

The lowlight of all that cold was the morning of Feb. 20, when the temperature tumbled to -19 at Toledo Express and even further in parts of southeast Michigan. It was the coldest February temperature recorded for Toledo and the second-coldest ever, surpassed only by a -20 reading back on Jan. 21, 1984.

On that day at The Blade building downtown, the lowest temperature recorded was -4 at 7:15 a.m.

The snow and cold were enough for many people to go outdoors as little as possible.

For schools, it meant frequent closings, not because of snow, but because of frigid morning wind-chills that leaders decided would be hazardous to children waiting for a bus or walking to school.

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Elmore resident Chris Gyuras, left, and Doug Rahrig of Luckey ice fish inside of a toasty shanty, a refuge favored by many during the last month’s harsh temperatures.

THE BLADE/LORI KING
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Stress or worse

Daniel Rapport, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Toledo, said school closings are particularly hard on homemakers.

“It’s a lot of work to entertain kids, and they want attention — it can be relentless,” Dr. Rapport said.

But snow and cold can create added stress for anyone, he said, because of the time and effort needed to bundle up to go outside, battle ice and snow, and deal with issues that can arise, such as frozen pipes and balky car batteries.

“It’s a much more difficult time to live,” he said. “Summer is so much easier. There’s more to do, and you can just enjoy yourself and relax.”

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“Even a lot of the winter activities we enjoy are more difficult when it’s this rough,” added Peter Mezo, a visiting assistant professor of psychology at UT. “And with the lack of activity, the body naturally down-regulates, and we’re more likely to feel the blues.

At least five February deaths have been tentatively attributed to the cold, including that of a man found near a space heater in his otherwise unheated home; a squatter living in an abandoned house; a South Toledo woman with a history of dementia who was found in a neighbor’s back yard; a West Toledo man whose frozen body was found behind an Airport Highway home-improvement store last weekend, and a Sylvania man found partially frozen on a sidewalk outside his home. A formal ruling, in only the Sylvania case, cited alcohol abuse as a factor.

Taking advantage

For George Roth, Jr., of West Toledo, the cold was good for business and pleasure.

“The battery business has been very good the last couple weeks,” the manager at BG Battery in Bowling Green said Thursday.

And when he wasn’t working at or for the store, he headed out whenever he could to his favorite ice-fishing spots on Lake Erie.

“It’s my favorite time of year for fishing,” Mr. Roth said. “There’s no place I’d rather be than out on that ice.”

Rob LaPlante, an ice-fishing guide from Put-in-Bay, said some days the snow and wind were just too much — notably the weekend of Feb. 14-15, when a fresh 4 inches of snow, accompanied by gale-force wind out on Lake Erie, created whiteout conditions.

“That’s all tough to go through,” Mr. LaPlante said “It’s all about the wind.”

“Some days, it was too cold and too windy to be out there,” Mr. Roth agreed. “But we had one other day when we never got inside a shanty — it was just nice to be out.”

Alvin Buchele of Sylvania said that on some February days, it was also too cold for cross-country skiing, but Saturday was not one of those days despite its subzero start.

“It’s just a wonderful way to get some exercise, but I do it mainly to have fun. The exercise is just a fringe benefit,” said Mr. Buchele, a self-described “fanatical skier” in cross-country and downhill.

Also trekking through Oak Openings’ woods Saturday was Douglas Norris of Holland, but he was working out on snowshoes, not skis.

“The more snow the better, so I can get out and hike,” Mr. Norris said. “My brother-in-law and I are planning on doing a four-day hike this summer, so I decided to get out and do some winter training in preparation for that.”

Scott Carpenter, spokesman for the Metroparks of the Toledo Area, said activity “is certainly a lot lighter” when the cold is extreme, “but we’ve got diehards who won’t stay in for anything, no matter what the conditions.”

February was a busy month, Mr. Carpenter said, on the Metroparks’ ski trails, sledding hills, and ice rink, although the rink needed maintenance with each snowfall.

“When it snows on top of it, [the ice] gets real soupy under the snow, so we have to clear it, pour water on it, and let it freeze again,” he said.

Waiting for spring

Mr. Roth speculated that at least some people in the area had been softened by the Toledo area’s mild winters of 2011-12 and 2012-13, when snowfalls were well below normal and the temperature never fell below zero, and they’re unhappy with the extreme going the other way.

On the other hand, he said, “there are a lot of people that like snowmobiling and ice fishing, just like me.”

Mr. Carpenter said he’s eager to see spring arrive, but in the meantime, “if it’s gonna stay winter,” the Metroparks could use more snow to refresh the surfaces on some of its trails and sledding hills.

He should get his wish today, with forecasters expecting 2 to 4 inches in the Toledo area, but it may not last long.

Along with the melting power of an early-March sun on Monday, another storm expected to reach the area late Tuesday into Wednesday may be warm enough to be a rainmaker at least part of the time.

“We’ll get at least up near freezing, in the mid-30s,” Ms. Clark of the weather service said. “After that, we’ll have another big cold punch — maybe not as bad as we’ve seen, but we do cool down.”

Mr. Berschback, meanwhile, said forecasting models point to an even bigger warm-up in the middle of next week.

That “is when we see a significant pattern shift, at least for a few days,” he said. “And once we lose the snowpack, it will make it even easier to warm up.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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