By John Lawrence
Snow, sleet, freezing rain and extreme cold left millions of people without power in the US, Canada and western Europe. December 2013 was packed full of bitter cold, snowy and icy extremes which resulted in pile-ups on the highways, canceled flights and people trying to survive bitter cold with no heat in their homes.
Winter Storm Cleon produced a significant bout of freezing rain and sleet across the Dallas-Ft. Worth area Dec. 5-6. Freezing rain and sleet accumulations of up to 1.5 inches led to nasty travel conditions. Hundreds of flights were canceled by the icy weather. In addition, more than a quarter million customers were without power in northern Texas.
The first phase of Winter Storm Cleon hammered parts of northeast Minnesota with heavy snow Dec. 2-4. Two Harbors, Michigan took the title as the location that had the most snow from Cleon with a total of 35.6 inches. Just down the road in Duluth, Minnesota, Cleon dumped 23.3 inches of snow. This was the sixth largest three day snowfall total on record in the city.
Winter Storm Dion moved into the cold air mass already in place across Oregon and California on Dec. 6, resulting in snow at very low elevations. In fact, up to three inches of snow was reported all the way to sea level along the coast of Oregon in the town of Newport. Snowfall each season in Newport is usually about one inch.
Along the I-5 corridor, six inches of snow was recorded in Eugene, Oregon in one day, making it the second snowiest December day on record in the city. Snow was also reported in the northwest California town of Ukiah (elevation 620 feet). In records dating back to 1893, accumulating snow has never occurred in the town during the month of December.
On the morning of Dec. 7, Jordan, Montana recorded a low temperature of -42 degrees. Not far behind was Havre, Montana with a low of -39 degrees. Several cities either broke or tied daily record low temperatures on at least three separate days during the first week of December.
On December 23 Winter Storm Gemini left hundreds of thousands without power in Michigan, Vermont and Maine. In Michigan alone 666,000 were blacked out by the storm. Also more than 475,000 people were left without electricity in eastern Canada. More than 8 days later there were still a lot of people in Lansing, Michigan in the dark and cold. Without power for heating, residents were left to survive temperatures in the 30s with dwindling fuel supplies, blankets and extra clothing.
A severe winter storm caused major travel problems in parts of western Europe, stranding passengers travelling for Christmas at Paris and London airports and leaving hundreds of thousands of homes without power.
In Britain, thousands of people trying to get away for the holidays were affected by reduced or cancelled train services due to landslides and fallen trees and flooded roads. Power outages at London Gatwick Airport’s North Terminal caused 26 cancellations and many more delays.
The storm unleashed powerful winds. London’s Heathrow airport recorded a 60 mph gust overnight, while winds gusted to 54 mph at Gatwick; Southampton saw a 69 mph gust.
Across the English Channel, nearly all long-haul flights out of Paris’ Charles de Gaulle Airport were delayed because of the storm. Nearly 200,000 homes in western France were without electricity.
The storm system brought freezing rain across much of Eastern Canada, cutting power to hundreds of thousands of people and wreaking havoc on holiday plans at one of the busiest travel times of the year.
As much as one inch of ice collected on surfaces in Ontario. And that led to a slew of power outages. Nationwide, utility companies said power outages hit more than 400,000 customers in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick as crews struggled to restore service. Roads and sidewalks turned into skating rinks.
Toronto Mayor Rob Ford called it one of the worst storms in the city’s history. The storm stranded passengers at airports from Toronto to St. John’s, Newfoundland, just days before Christmas.
The storm drew comparisons to the deadly ice storm that hit Eastern Canada in January 1998 when more than two dozen people died and about 3 million people were without power.
Redirection of arctic air, much precipitation in all forms – snow, freezing rain, hail, sleet – extreme winds, ice and even winter tornadoes: these are all signs of climate change. Power outages, flight cancellations, hazardous highway conditions and homes without heat are the results. Power crews futilely try to restore power just as another winter storm waits in the wings to take it out again. Eventually power lines will have to be undergrounded or many people will die of the bitter cold. But that would require millions of dollars to be invested in infrastructure, and without a public bank capable of spending money into the economy for such purposes without borrowing it, improving infrastructure will probably never happen.
However, in sunny southern California in December 2013 we experienced sunny days with temperatures in the 70s. Lucky us!