NewsNovember 14, 2014

Picture This: Cold, Cold, Cold (And Some Snow)

By Andrea Thompson

Follow @AndreaTWeather

There was really only one weather story this week: Cold, cold, and more cold. With some snow thrown in here and there for good measure.

That cold, of course, was the result of a massive outbreak of Arctic air over most of the United States to the east of the Rockies. Climate Central took a look earlier this week at some of the crazy images that showed just how stark the sudden changeover was from mostly mild autumnal weather to frigid winter temperatures. In our weekly roundup, we revisit a couple of those and bring you some of the mind-boggling (or maybe we should say face-numbing?) images that have popped up since. Hope you’ve got your mittens handy!

3 Seasons in 4 Hours

The mass of Arctic air first crossed over into the U.S. on Nov. 10, “oozing” its way southward along the Rockies, in the words of one meteorologist. As it moved into Colorado, it caused a stark and sudden change from what had been extremely mild, almost summer-like conditions. In Denver, the temperature dropped a staggering 44°F in just 6 hours (and more than 30°F of that drop came in less than an hour in some spots). The city ended up shattering several records, including a 132-year-old low temperature mark of minus-13°F on Nov. 12 (the previous record was -4°F).

University of Colorado-Boulder student Christopher Nie perfectly captured the seasonal change that happened in Boulder in just a matter of hours in a set of photos:

And in less than 4 hours, winter is here in @bouldercolorado. Taken from the EC at

— Chris Nie (@ChristopherNie) November 10, 2014

Bob Henson, a science writer with the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, said of the sudden seasonal switch, “It was quite a shock indeed!  We're used to large temperature swings here, but even by Colorado standards this was a remarkably sharp cold front.”

Temperature Reversal

As the Arctic air plowed its way southward, it also made for some sharp temperature contrasts on weather maps. Take this map of Iowa, where on one side of the front it was a balmy 72°F, while on the other side, and only around 300 miles away, it was 27°F.

3pm CST Iowa temps: 27ºF in Sheldon to 72ºF at Fairfield & Ft. Madison. #PolarInvasion

— The Weather Channel (@weatherchannel) November 10, 2014

Blue November

It took a few days for the Arctic blast to work its way across most of the country east of the Rockies, as well as the Northwest, but by Nov. 13, most of the country was under its sway.

The extent of the cold was clearly illustrated by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s High Resolution Rapid Refresh model. An image from the model showing the expected minimum temperature from Nov. 13 through midnight on Nov. 14 is appropriately a frosty looking blue for most of the country, with the exceptions of the Southwest and Florida.

This image from NOAA's High Resolution Rapid Refresh model shows minimum surface air temperature expected from Nov. 13 to midnight on Nov. 14, 2014. Areas shaded blue are below freezing.
Click image to enlarge. Credit: NOAA


Even Jackson, Miss., was decidedly frigid, registering a record low of 21°F on Nov. 14, beating the record of 25°F set just last year (and tied with 1975).

On the morning of Nov. 13, meteorologist James Spann tweeted another chilly image, showing that temperatures got so cold in the heart of the outbreak in the Northern Plains that the computer model map ran out of colors to portray it. Ouch.

Coldest spot in the U.S. this morning was Lucerne, Wyoming with -34F

— James Spann (@spann) November 13, 2014

Poor Casper, Wyo., broke it’s all-time November cold record, measuring minus-25°F on the morning of Nov. 12.

Another meteorologist, Greg Carbin of NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center, tweeted a 48-hour satellite loop showing the steady southward march of the Arctic air. Brrr.

A 48-hour loop showing the advance of the November Cold Wave.

— Greg Carbin (@GCarbin) November 13, 2014

Baking Alaska

Of course, if it’s cold somewhere, it’s probably warm somewhere else. Part of the reason for the enormous Arctic outbreak over the U.S. was a high pressure ridge that built up over Alaska — that meant that while most of the country was shivering, Alaska was baking.

This map showing temperature departures from the average for this time of year illustrates that the warm temperatures in Alaska were as anomalously warm as the cold temperatures over the Lower 48:

And one equally strong warm anomaly over the Arctic!

— Simon Donner (@simondonner) November 13, 2014

And while it may not seem that Alaska being warmer than Montana isn't much of a big deal, how about it being warmer than parts of Florida:

It's warmer in parts of #Alaska than it is in north #Florida this morning…

— Max Tsaparis (@MaxTsaparis) November 14, 2014

When It Snows in Michigan, It Snows

For much of the country, the cold was just that, but in a few places, snow accompanied. For example, northern Wisconsin and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula were buried in the stuff:

WOW! MT @bsteffen Check out the snow in Negaunee, MI (Felicia Wagner) this morning.

— Brad Panovich (@wxbrad) November 12, 2014

In Gile, Wis., more than 48 inches had fallen between Monday and Thursday. That’s a lot of shoveling . . . 

Stay warm out there everyone!