By MATT MILNER
Courier staff writer
---- — OTTUMWA — While this weekend brought the first significant snowfall of the year, it has felt like winter for quite some time in southeast Iowa.
Since mid-November, Ottumwa’s daily high has averaged 8.6 degrees below normal, and the daily low has averaged exactly seven degrees below normal. Saturday marked the first time this season that temperatures have dipped below zero, with an overnight low of -2.
How long a streak has it been? Only seven of the past 22 days have been warmer than average, and no such days are forecast for the next week.
State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said the weather turned cooler in mid-October. Iowa had been on a run of nine consecutive Novembers where the average temperature was above normal, but this year snapped the streak. This year ran 2 degrees below normal.
“Certainly not to record territory,” Hillaker said. “But compared to recent years, it’s been quite a change.”
Snow has fallen several times in Ottumwa so far this season. When Courier asked Facebook followers whether they would prefer subzero lows without snow or warmer weather with snow, they voted to keep the snow coming.
The preference was strong, though some said they would prefer to avoid the sloppy streets a snowstorm inevitably causes. Most people chose to stay a bit warmer, even if it meant some accumulations. Several wanted more than just a little bit, too. Jennifer Williams set a target of three feet of snow, while Ashley Probst said she wants “lots of snow and [I] don’t care what the temp is.”
This winter hasn’t set records for snow yet, but it is the earliest people have seen subzero temperatures in this area for the past dozen years or so. You have to go back to 1991 to find the last time that happened in November in Ottumwa, but about two-thirds of the years show Ottumwa temperatures falling below zero in December.
The average date of the first subzero low in Ottumwa? Hillaker put it at around Dec. 7, making this year a rare case of a weather-related event arriving right on time. But even there, recent years have run a bit late. It has been eight years since subzero weather arrived earlier in December.
Still, this year is nothing compared to the coldest years. December 2000 was far colder. With 16 days when temperatures hit zero or below, all of which came from Dec. 11 or later, the month holds the modern record for the most in December.