OTTUMWA — Snow didn't arrive in southeast Iowa Wednesday morning, like some had expected, but October snowfalls shouldn't be surprising.
Highs for the next couple days are just going to reach into the mid-40s, well off the average for this time of year. It's supposed to warm up beginning Friday, but daytime highs are still only expected to reach into the 50s for the weekend and beginning of next week.
What happened? Southeast Iowa started the month 15 degrees above normal and stayed well above average until the middle of last week.
State climatologist Harry Hillaker said it's not uncommon for Iowa to see October snow. In fact, virtually every year sees a trace of snow somewhere in the state before the month is out. Bigger snowfalls of 1 inch or more are rarer.
“It's not super unusual, but obviously it's not an every year occurrence, either,” Hillaker said.
Southeast Iowa sees October snow every two or three years, on average. But the vast majority of those events are just a trace — little more than a stray flake or two on your windshield. The most recent of those was in 2009, with other minor snowfalls in 2006 and 2005.
You have to go back to 1997 for the last big October snowfall in Ottumwa. That storm hit on Oct. 26 and dumped 5.8 inches of snow on the area.
Major snowstorms this time of year can cause more problems than storms that bring exactly the same amount of snow later in the season. Snow at the beginning and end of the winter is more likely to be heavy, wet snow.
Hillaker said the 1997 snowstorm caused major damage to trees throughout the area. Heavy snow can be a major problem when trees aren't finished shedding their leaves. It accumulates in branches, weighing them down and potentially breaking them. Break the wrong branch in the wrong place, and you've got a major power outage to deal with.
Nothing like that is expected in Ottumwa, at least in the foreseeable future. Ottumwa isn't even likely to match the inch reported Tuesday in Dakota City and Latimer. But a few flakes in the air?
That shouldn't be a surprise at all.