IRON RIVER—It’s got to start getting warmer pretty soon, right?
Consider how much daylight are getting. This Wednesday, we will have 10 hours, 15 minutes between sunrise and sunset. That’s nearly 100 minutes more than on Dec. 21, when winter started. The sun rises higher in the sky, too, which means it packs more power each day.
Winter has always given way to spring, right? The worst of winter has to end some time. It always has.
But it hasn’t happened yet, and as Iron County endures night after night of subzero weather, the frost goes deeper and deeper into the ground, testing utility lines more and more. Many U.P. cities are waving the white flag.
Last week, Iron River did, too. The city urged its residents to run water at their homes and businesses—just a trickle of water, the diameter of a pencil, is enough to keep water lines from freezing.
The change of heart came about because the subzero cold has been so severe and lasted so long that frost is simply getting too deep into the ground to thaw frozen water lines easily.
We ought to know. The Reporter’s water lines were frozen for nearly a full week in late January. As anyone with frozen service lines will tell you, it wasn’t fun.
The city says residential water customers will not see their bills increase—they will be charged at their average consumption rate. There is no need to contact City Hall for adjustments, officials said. Meanwhile, city workers will try to purge colder water from the system so it can be replaced by warmer well water.
Iron County has had a long siege of subzero cold. Since Dec. 4, temperatures have only risen above freezing (just barely) twice. Lows have plummeted as low as minus 35 (on Jan. 9). With only a few short breaks, temperatures have fallen below zero every night.
We had 11 nights in January when lows fell in the minus 20s or colder. Three fell into the minus 30s. Five January days had highs of zero or below.
So far in February, every daily low has been minus 10 or colder. Five lows have been in the minus 20s.
How cold has it been here? Just ask Dr. John Christy, a professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.
In his monthly report on temperature trends, Christy reported that—compared to seasonal norms—the coldest place on earth this January was “the Upper Peninsula of Michigan near Iron River,” with temperatures about 6.95 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the seasonal norm.
Iron County, the report said, is part of a large area of cooler than normal temperatures covering most of the eastern U.S. and Canada in January, from Hudson Bay to the Gulf of Mexico.
However, the cold experienced here is more than offset by a warmer than normal January 2014 elsewhere. The warmest spot, Christy reported, was in northeastern Greenland, near the Arctic Circle, where January temperatures averaged 11.2 degrees Fahrenheit above seasonal norms.
The report said the entire Northern Hemisphere averaged 0.7 degrees F warmer than its 30-year average (1981-2010) in January.
As part of an ongoing joint project between UA-Huntsville, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, use data gathered by advanced microwave sounding units on NOAA and NASA satellites collect accurate temperature readings from almost all regions of the earth. This includes deserts, oceans and rain forests where reliable climate data are not otherwise available.
The satellite-based instruments measure the temperature of the atmosphere from the surface up to an altitude of about 8 kilometers (5 miles) above sea level. After it is collected and processed, the monthly temperature data is placed in a “public” computer file for immediate access by atmospheric scientists in the U.S. and abroad.
All the Earth System Science Center climate research funding comes from federal and state grants or contracts.