Commonwealth Journal

Local News

February 13, 2014

Warm weather is on the way

Somerset — Partly cloudy with a 20 percent (very slight) chance of rain. Warmer. Highs in the lower 60s.

The above forecast IS NOT a weather outlook for sunny Florida or a South Seas island. This, believe it or not, is the Pulaski County forecast for next Wednesday issued by the National Weather Service. Next Thursday is supposed to be even warmer.

Sure, there will be cold temperatures, rain and snow between now and then, but where there’s life there’s hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Springlike weather is less than a week away!

“I don’t believe winter is over yet, but this (next week) looks like a warming trend that could last awhile,” said Dustin Harbage, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Jackson.

The last time the thermometer topped 60 degrees in Somerset was less than two weeks ago when it was 61 on February 2. But this was a mere blip in a brutal winter that has wiped out memories of what it’s like not to shiver.

The recent 61-degree temperature occurred on Groundhog Day. Harbage, a scientifically trained meteorologist, obviously doesn’t put much stock in weather predictions made by groundhogs. However, he laughingly agreed that warmer weather in sight might validate Pulaski Phil’s (this county’s official groundhog) prediction of an early spring.

Despite what Punxsutawney Phil said on television, around here it rained most of Groundhog Day and Pulaski Phil didn’t see his shadow. Our beloved groundhog stayed up and around, meaning spring is just around the corner in these parts.

The mere mention of a groundhog to a trained weather forecaster caused Harbage to repeat his caveat: “I don’t think winter is over yet.”

Pulaski countians and the Lake Cumberland Area have been lucky in a sense. The most snow on the ground at any one time was about 4 inches while areas just to our north have been hammered with each passing snowstorm.

January 2014 is labeled as one of the coldest Januarys on record. Arctic cold waves, including a Polar Vortex arriving January 7, kept cold almost constant. The Polar Vortex sent the thermometer to 4 below zero on both the 7th and 8th. One cold front after another resulted in readings of 1 above zero on the 22nd; 2 above on the 23rd; 1 above on the 24th; 2 above on the 25 and 2 below on the 29th.

The warmest readings in January were 57 on both the 11th and 12th, but the average high for the month was 36.6 degrees and the average low was 13.4 degrees. The coldest maximum reading during the month was 9 on January 7.

It’s been a long, cold winter by any measuring stick. December’s average daily high was 46.4 degrees and the average low was 30.7.

Despite its persistence, cold in January just passed doesn’t compare with January 1977, the coldest month in weather history. On 13 of the 31 mornings that month it was zero or below. The warmest reading in January 1977 was 41 degrees at midmorning late in the month. The warmer temperatures were ahead of a cold blast that dropped the thermometer to 9 degrees by dark that day. January 1977 averaged 7 to 10 degrees colder than the just-passed month.

The ground during that historic month froze nearly three feet deep in places. Lake Cumberland was totally covered in ice 8 to 10 inches deep. Trucks and cars drove on the lake at a time when the water was 90 feet deep. The lake, lower now because of dam repairs, doesn’t have much ice on it, testimony to the fact it hasn’t been as cold.

Tom Hale, operations manager for the lake, said during really cold spells in January, ice formed in some of the coves, but nothing in the main channel. He said a skim of ice could still be on the water in some of the coves, but not much.

Lake Cumberland has been frozen solid only twice during its 63-year existence; in 1977 and again in 1978 when it was more snowy but not quite as cold.

From the 1950s to the mid-90s Arctic blasts were more frequent and more severe. On January 24, 1963 the temperature dropped to 28 below zero.

The record Arctic blast in Kentucky was 31 years later. The deep freeze produced an all-time low reading of 32 below zero on January 18, 1994.

The cold in January 1994 wasn’t as persistent as January 1977, but the dip to 32 below was an historical event, almost catastrophic. The Commonwealth Journal marked the record low with 32 zeros atop its masthead.

 At 32 below, everything is eerily quiet. The cold is oppressing. You can hear a pin drop. Cars won’t start. Nothing moves in 10-12 inches of snow. Streets are empty. The sky has a haunting haze and hints of moisture in the air freezes, floating as weightless snowflakes.

The thermometer the night before fell like a rock. The temperature sunk to 2 below at sundown; 10 below by 7 p.m.; 12 below by 8 p.m.; 15 below by 10 p.m.; and 23 below at midnight. It was scary.

The official National Weather Service thermometer at Radio Station  WSFC north of town froze at 32 below. That’s correct. The thermometer froze. It could have been colder. Kentucky’s all-time record low of 37 degrees below zero was set that morning in Shelbyville.

A  proliferation of mimosa trees in Pulaski County were practically wiped out. Privet hedges were killed above ground. The frigid cold left shade trees with dead limbs. Never before and, hopefully, never again will the Arctic Circle embrace the South.

For one day, the National Weather Service said the coldest day in Kentucky’s history was during the 1980s. The exact date is lost but well remembered is a 6-below zero reading at noon with winds gusting 25-30 miles an hour.

Wind-chill readings were not given in those days but the feel-like temperature at lunch time must have been dangerous. Temperatures that night only dropped into the mid-teens.

Warmer winters have been rule of thumb since the mid 1990s. Like protecting Duskytail Darters in Lake Cumberland, persistently warm weather during the past two decades has given environmentalist a cause. They warn the oceans will be raised by melting Arctic ice with devastating results.

  This winter has chilled climate-change enthusiasts. There are those who believe the weather is cyclical and a trend to colder winters is in our immediate future.

 But for now, remember the more pleasant forecast for next week. It warms the cockles of one’s heart.

 Somerset’s temperatures supplied by Clear Channel Radio, official keeper of weather records for the National Weather Service.

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