Today the National Weather Service reported that the long-awaited El Niño has arrived in the Pacific Ocean. El Niño occurs when we have above-average temperatures in the Pacific Ocean along the equator. It alters the Pacific weather pattern, which in turn alters our weather patterns over the US. The NWS forecasters say “it is likely (50 to 60 percent chance) that El Niño conditions will continue through summer. ” Due to the weak nature of this event, they are not expecting widespread or strong impacts from this event.
In other news, far southern Illinois was hit this week with another winter storm that passed through Arkansas; southeastern Missouri; southern Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio; as well as most of Kentucky and points beyond. Some of the largest snowfall totals from this event include Grand Chain Dam with 10.0 inches and Brookport Dam with 9.0 inches.
Much of the southern third of Illinois received between 1 and 12 inches in this last winter storm. The highest amount reported was 12.5 inches at Smithland with several other stations reporting in the 7 to 8 inch range, including Jerseyville with 7.8 inches, Newton with 7.8 inches, and Brookport Dam with 8.8 inches.
As a result, total February snowfall has ranged from 15 to 20 inches in northeast Illinois and widespread amounts of 5 to 15 inches across the state (first map below). As a result for the month to date, most of the state is 1 to 8 inches above average except for the northeast which is 8 to 12 inches above average (second map below).
After a slow start to the snowfall season in Illinois, we are now catching up. Heavy snow fell across northern Illinois over the weekend and more snow is arriving today.
The Chicago NWS office has a nice write-up on the recent historic winter storm that stretched all the way across Illinois and into Indiana. We can call it a historic winter storm because it was the fifth largest in Chicago history with 19.3 inches reported at O’Hare airport.
Here are our snowfall departure from average as of a week ago and as of this morning. Northern Illinois went from a deficit of 1 to 8 inches to a surplus of 1 to 8 inches in green and 8 or more inches in blue. And more snow is falling as I write this so some of the deficits across central Illinois may be erased soon.
This is Winter Preparedness Week (November 14-20, 2010). As I write this, a major winter storm is moving through Minnesota and Wisconsin, so it is never too early to start preparing for winter conditions in Illinois.
Winter Storm Preparedness Guide
The Illinois Emergency Management Agency has teamed up with the National Weather Service and the American Red Cross to develop a Winter Storm Preparedness Guide (pdf). It provides information on winter storms, forecast terminology, and how to plan at home, work, school, and while on travel.
Having survived 50 winters in Missouri and Illinois, here is my short list of things to consider:
be alert to the current weather and forecasts – my family and I spent one Christmas Eve in a hotel in Springfield IL because I underestimated the snowfall and overestimated the ability of other drivers to drive in the snow;
dress appropriately – invest in a good coat, warm gloves, boots, hat, and scarf, you will be better prepared (and happier) in cold and snowy conditions;
be flexible in your travel plans – go early, stay later, or don’t go at all to avoid severe winter weather;
be prepared to be stuck at home for a few days – keep up stocks of food, water, and any medications;
be careful with heaters and fireplaces – many home fires and carbon monoxide poisonings have been the result of improper operation of space heaters, fireplaces, or using inappropriate devices such as barbecue grills. Trust me on this one – my father-in-law was the fire chief so I heard all the stories.
As a historical footnote, the concept of a winter preparedness week started at the Illinois State Water Survey in response to the severe winters of the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was done in partnership with the Illinois Department of Energy and Natural Resources and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. Winter preparedness week was expanded through the National Weather Service, beginning around 1990.