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Posted: 02/05/14

Brutal winter freezes its
place into record books

Observer Staff Writer
      If you think this winter seems like no other in recent history, you'd be right.
       The amount of snowfall and bitterly cold days has broken records that date back as far as 1908, making it one of the most significant winters to date.
       The National Weather Service reports the total snowfall for the Detroit area in January was 39.1 inches, making it the snowiest month of all time. This buries the record set in February 1908 of 38.4 inches. As a comparison, the average amount of snow for January is 12.5 inches.
       Steve Freitag, meteorologist with the Detroit/Pontiac offices of the National Weather Service, said the snowfall was the result of how snowstorms moved through the area, noting that Saginaw only saw 15.6 inches of snow.
       "It's definitely different from what we've been accustomed to in the past," he said. "Records are meant to be broken I guess."
       Overall, the National Weather Service said a total of 55.4 inches of snow has fallen onto the Detroit area since winter began, making it the snowiest on record. This doesn't include the four to six inches that hit the area on Feb. 1.
       This winter ranks both fourth and fifth in the top five snowiest 30-day timespans for the Detroit area. The record was set in 1900 with 45.7 inches ending on March 5, 1900.
       In terms of cold weather, last month became one of the top 10 coldest. As of Jan. 31, the average temperature was 15.9 degrees, making it the sixth coldest since 1874. The average temperature for January is 25.6 degrees in the Detroit area, while the coldest January was in 1977, with a chilly 12.8 degree average.
       January 2014 became the eighth coldest month of all time for the local area. The coldest on record was February 1875 with an average of 12.2 degrees.
       Contributing to the records is the amount of days that dropped below zero. In the Detroit area, temperatures reached sub-zero levels 10 times this winter. The most days on record for the area are 12 in 1993-94, while the all-time record was 21 days in 1884-85.
       Wind chills made the temperatures feel even worse, dropping them to the -20s. Wind chills are strong winds and cold air combining to create frigid temperatures, and exposure can cause frostbite in as little as 10 minutes. Prolonged exposure leads to hypothermia or even death, so wearing gear like hats, gloves and coats is highly recommended.
       Freitag said long-term forecasts show the rest of the winter shouldn't be as devastating, at least in terms of cold weather.
       "It's doubtful we'll have the amount of cold we did in January, it would be pretty unprecedented," he said.
       Snow days
       Students may enjoy days off caused by the winter weather, but school districts around the state are anticipating the need to make up for lost time.
       Michigan schools are required to be open for 180 days, or 1,098 hours. They are allotted six days to be forgiven for severe weather or other issues like building problems. After that, schools must make up for that time.
       Romeo Community Schools, like many others, closed Jan. 27-29. Superintendent Nancy Campbell said every Romeo school except for the two middle schools have missed too much time, mainly due to cold weather and snowy road conditions.
       "Wind chill is the newest thing I think we're dealing with," she said. "It's those sub-zero wind chill factors and knowing students will be waiting at bus stops."
       She said districts are awaiting word from state officials to determine if additional days will be required, or if additional minutes will be tacked onto school days.
       "Unless the governor or state superintendent says it's been an unusual season, we'll look to add days or minutes," Campbell said.
       Both options present problems. Campbell said adding days would mess with vacations or other plans that families schedule, while adding minutes throws a wrench into athletic and bus schedules.
       "We have three distinct bus runs that would have to be re-done," she said.

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