Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Calm Down, Minneapolis.

Whenever a major winter weather event in a different part of the country gets media attention, Minnesota's inner snob comes out. We like to pretend we own winter. We've made our winters legendary through storytelling, and nobody ever comes here to find out if we're lying. Some of it is legitimate. I said some.

Minnesota is a big state, and in the far north, it can get really cold. This kind of thing is not all that unusual. In the winter of 2013-14, some lucky towns saw daily low temperatures fall to zero (F) or colder more than 100 times.    

Now, the the Minneapolis-St. Paul or "Twin Cities" metropolitan area has over 3 million inhabitants who do not live anywhere near the far northern part of state but like to pretend that they endure the most brutal winters on the planet. Sure, no metropolitan region in North America is both larger and colder than the Twin Cities in the winter, and the few in the world that qualify are in China (some of this depends on how one defines a metropolitan region). So that's cool. We should stick to those facts.

But the winters we endure in the Twin Cities are nothing like what our northern Minnesota brethren experience. In 2013-14, Minneapolis had 53 daily lows of zero or colder. Not 100. 53. The coldest temperatures were not deep into the -40s, as they were up north, but instead in the low-mid -20s, which, yawn. Minneapolis has not even cracked -30 since 1996.

But pretending you're colder than you are and co-opting the outstate identity is not even what I came here to discuss. I want to discuss an even greater offense: pretending you're snowy.

As a major snowstorm in the northeastern US set the internet on fire and began dominating news coverage, Twin Citiesfolk took note, rather snootily.

Cities in the Northeast and New England were expecting 20-30 inches of snow, maybe more, and the winds were expected to be raging, with gusts over 60 mph.

Meanwhile, it was 45 degrees in Minneapolis. But do you think that stopped the eye-rolling and head-shaking? Nope. Here are some select quotes from out and about, in the elevator etc.

  • "Oh, if they think that's bad, they should try coming here. We get that kind of stuff all the time."
  • "Usually we get the big ones, so it's good to see someone else get it for a change."
  • "Whiners. Welcome to Minnesota. Ha!"  

What?!? No.

We do cold. We do subzero high temperatures. We do long winters during which the snow never goes away.

But we don't do 20-30 inch snowstorms with 60+ mph wind gusts. Well, the area near Lake Superior does, but that's not what people in Minneapolis are talking about.

Minneapolis has never recorded a seasonal snowfall total in excess of 100 inches. No calendar day on record has received more than 20 inches, and that amount has been observed only once during any 24-hour period. Daily snowfalls of a foot are somewhat rare, occurring only about once per decade.

Boston and New York City, despite having less average annual snowfall than Minneapolis, both tend to get more frequent heavy snows, and their largest snowstorms are bigger than ours. They both have had daily snow in excess of 20 inches, and Boston has received a foot of snow in a calendar day with more than twice the frequency of Minneapolis; NYC's frequency is about 2/3 greater than that of Minneapolis.

Now, have a look at this chart, comparing the 10 largest calendar day snowfalls at Minneapolis, Boston, NYC, and for good measure, Duluth, which is in that part of Minnesota that gets New England-style heavy snowstorms.


See who trails the pack 70% of the time? Yup, Minneapolis. Its largest snowstorms cannot compete with Boston's, New York's, and Duluth's.

So calm down, Minneapolis. Our winters are not as severe as we pretend they are, and we certainly do not own snowstorms.

Note 1: To the obvious question about why not use full snow events rather than calendar days, the quick answer is that this is much easier. It becomes difficult to tease out where a given event began and ended, without additional information. 

Note 2: Obviously, Boston, NYC and Duluth are just examples of cities with more frequent and larger snowstorms than Minneapolis. None of them are close to being the snowiest locations in their respective states.  

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