Groundhog lied: Winter will be sticking around at least until early April
By Mike Danahey email@example.com March 19, 2013 8:50AM
Rogelio Villageliu is bundled up with a rabbit-fur hat as he waits for a train downtown at the Naperville Metra station on the first day of spring. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times
Wait till last year
Date high high
March 15 81 39
March 16 82 39
March 17 82 37
March 18 81 33
March 19 78 32
March 20 85 24*
March 21 87 31*
March 22 83 37*
Source: National Weather
Updated: April 21, 2013 6:26AM
The groundhog apparently fudged his long-range forecast back in February for an early spring.
March went in like a lion and apparently will be a beast at the end of the month, too, as the current wintry weather is expected to linger for at least another two weeks.
As for why it’s been so unseasonably frigid, Northern Illinois University staff meteorologist Gilbert Sebenste said, “The main reason is that the Arctic jet stream, which stayed north of Illinois last March and allowed very warm air to move in, is coming straight from northern Canada, and dropping into the Midwest.”
Sebenste noted that over the course of the next few days, that jet stream “will actually pull in Arctic air down into northern Illinois and the Chicago area. That pattern will not break down until the end of the month at the earliest.”
The deep freeze will have daytime highs only in the 20s and 30s until Friday, with nighttime lows in the teens. According to Sebenste, by Wednesday morning — the vernal equinox and the first day of spring — the temperature might drop to single digits in the far western areas.
With wind gusts up to 30 mph through Wednesday, wind chills will be between zero and 10 below Tuesday and Wednesday night.
“On the first day of spring last year, the temperature reached 86 degrees, with a ‘wind chill’ — or heat index, more accurately — near 90 degrees,” Sebenste said.
“This year, it will barely make it to 23 degrees, with a wind chill of zero to 10 below. Thus, the wind chill at times will be nearly 100 degrees colder this year as it was the same time last year,.and all because of how the jet stream pattern was shaped this month,”
For the first half of March across Illinois, temperatures are 5.4 degrees below normal, according to Illinois State Climatologist Jim Angel. Last year, temperatures were 7.3 degrees above average.
Heating bills up
If that weren’t depressing enough, Citizens Utility Board communications director Jim Chilsen pointed to Energy Information Administration research showing that Midwest consumers who heat with electric or natural gas can expect to pay 8-10 percent more this winter compared with last.
All in all, though, Elgin public works superintendent Colby Basham said the city is in really good shape for another busy construction season.
“For the most part, our capital projects are starting off on schedule,” he said.
“Although it has been cold, it is not the sub-zero cold weather that would delay those types of projects. The riverfront promenade project has been slightly delayed due to some work related to concrete framing that needs to be completed without a gloved hand. On some days it has been too cold to work without gloves for an extended period. But for the most part things are right on schedule.”
On the maintenance side, Basham noted there is some equipment that is very temperature sensitive.
“The Vactors that we use to clean out (vacuum) catch basins (storm drains) cannot operate below 32 degrees, so the cold weather delays the beginning of our spring cleaning of the catch basins,” he said.
“The street sweepers are also very sensitive to cold weather. Both of these pieces of equipment rely on water as part of the operation, and obviously cold weather will freeze the water in the machines rendering them useless. And there can be no permanent pavement repairs until the asphalt plants open up for business, which is dependent on the weather.”
Corn and soybean farmer Alan Volpp in Hampshire said people shouldn’t worry — at least for another few weeks, as he typically doesn’t plant until mid-April.
Volpp has been farming for 40 years or so and said he needs the temperature to climb into the 55- to 65-degree range for a bit, with a day or two into the 70s for good measure, to warm up the soil enough to make it ideal for planting.
He also noted that despite recent snow, the area still needs more moisture — moisture that can soak into the soil.
Volpp did get to plant early last year, with the 2012 March weather the opposite of now.
“But those crops didn’t do so well. What we planted later did much better,” Volpp said.
That’s in part because of a cold snap in April that followed last March’s summery daytime highs.
Those snowflakes and sleet we’ve been having are giving some Fox Valley residents a case of spring fever, according to area nurseries.
“Our phone is ringing off the hook and folks are ready to go,” said Heather Prince, assistant marketing manager and horticulturist at The Growing Place in Aurora and Naperville. “People are so ready to see some color.”
So, to take T.S. Eliot out of context, while March arrives and exits like some sort of animal, “April is the cruellest month.”
Or, as Robert Frost put it, “When the sun is out and the wind is still,/You’re one month on in the middle of May./But if you so much as dare to speak,/A cloud comes over the sunlit arch,/A wind comes off a frozen peak,/And you’re two months back in the middle of March.”