News Columns & Blogs

Perspectives shape our view of the weather

The Fiesta Bowl parade was about to start in Scottsdale, Arizona. I was there for the Eagle as part of our coverage of Kansas State playing in its first major bowl.

It was easy to tell who the locals were at the parade. They were the folks bundled up in blankets, coats and stocking caps, shivering on a late December morning.

It was also easy to tell which parade watchers were from upstate New York, in town to root on Syracuse. They were the ones in shorts and T-shirts, reveling in the Arizona heat after shoveling out of a snowstorm just days before.

Was it warm that morning? Was it frigid? That depends on what you’re used to.

I thought of that as the latest of the Tuesday specials pounded Wichita with 8 inches of snow last week and then arctic air dropped temperatures to -17 a few days later. I had just written a story in which I mentioned Wichita’s temperatures were 3 degrees below normal for the winter. People challenged that stat. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been that cold,” I was told.

I wondered what those same people said to themselves last week.

At various times this season, I’ve heard it’s been a warm winter, a cold winter, a snowy winter and a dry winter in Wichita. Simply put, it’s been all of those components at one time or another. But as the middle of February arrives, about 17 inches of snow have been recorded in Wichita so far this winter – slightly above what the city averages each winter.

If another 10 inches or so falls before spring arrives once and for all, then I think we can call this a snowy winter for Wichita. But it’s all relative.

Last month, I interviewed Tony Zaleski, a meteorologist in the National Weather Service office that provides forecasts for the Twin Cities, about the abnormally snowy winter the area has endured so far. Minneapolis had reached its annual snowfall average with several weeks of winter remaining, and has topped 60 inches of snow so far this winter.

He mentioned how warm the winter has been there.

“With La Nina, it’s usually a lot colder,” Zaleski said. “We haven’t gotten the real vicious arctic blast, where you’re getting to -25 or -30, or multiple days of well below zero with sub-zero highs. We haven’t seen that this winter.”

Mind you, the temperature has fallen below zero several times in Minneapolis this winter – yet it’s considered a warm winter.

This week of unusually warm temperatures in the Wichita area will almost certainly have people talking about how mild this winter has been – forgetting the deep freeze that dominated the first half of February.

Clearly, it’s all a matter of perspective.