OTTUMWA — After a week that raised hopes of spring, this week is going to be a return to form for this winter.
The National Weather Service’s forecast high for the week? Try 19 degrees. The normal is about 39 for this time of year.
Tuesday night should dip below zero. If it does, it will mark the 28th time it has done so since Dec. 1. That’s a lot for one winter.
True, winter doesn’t officially start until Dec. 21, but there are two ways of looking at the seasons. One is the astronomical version, which divides the year into seasons based on the earth’s rotation around the sun. It’s what shows up on your calendar.
But you’ll sometimes hear forecasters talk about the meteorological season, which refers to the months in which that season’s weather can be expected. So meteorological winter runs from December through February and includes the earlier days below zero.
Either way, there’s no question it’s going to be cold. If there’s good news, it’s that there’s only one real chance of snow coming up. The NWS has snow in the forecast Saturday night and Sunday, but it’s too early to tell how much.
The Iowa Storm Chasing Network’s Zach Sharpe said there is “no hope” for a quick warmup.
“It looks like we will have to pull out the wind chill advisories again, as soon as Wednesday morning. These below-freezing temperatures look to stick around all the way through the first week in March,” he said.
How long will the low temperatures last? That’s hard to say, but the current estimates are at least two more weeks. State Climatologist Harry Hillaker said Iowa temperatures can drop below zero surprisingly late in the season.
“The state record is April 6 of 1982,” Hillaker said. Temperatures in Manchester dropped to -9 on that date.
The record for Ottumwa is earlier: March 19, 1923. Temperatures that day fell to -6.
The all-time records for March were set in 1962. The state’s lowest was a mind-numbing -35. Ottumwa saw a low of -20. But those kind of temperatures “virtually always occur when you’ve got snow on the ground,” said Hillaker.
“That’s almost a requirement to get late subzero readings,” he continued.
There are signs of spring if you look closely enough. The Des Moines River at Otumwa is largely ice free after officials raised the river level and broke up the winter ice over the weekend. After hovering around a foot deep for months, the river hit a high of 8.95 feet Saturday evening.
The first storm spotter class in the area arrives next week, as forecasters start gearing up for severe weather season. Bloomfield will have a session at 6 p.m. March 5 at the fire department. Ottumwa’s turn comes up March 11.