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Iowa records second most snowy December

By Staff | Jan 8, 2010

Most Iowans probably wish to forget what was a very cold last month of 2009. Deep snow received during the second week of December kept a few corn fields from being harvested. However, Iowa farmers harvested a larger percentage of their corn crop than many other Midwestern state.

The below-average temperatures also delayed post-harvest field work which will most likely be completed in the spring. Livestock producers continue the winter struggles of keeping feed and water available for cattle in snow-covered pastures.

The average depth of snow cover for the month of December was 20 inches, well above last year’s average of 10 inches.

Frost penetration averaged 11 inches compared to last year’s 10 inches. Soil moisture availability rated 0 percent very short, 2 percent short, 77 percent adequate and 21 percent surplus.

Grain movement for the state was 37 percent none, 44 percent light, 17 percent moderate, and 2 percent heavy.

Availability of hay and roughage supplies was 12 percent short, 80 percent adequate and 8 percent surplus. Quality of hay and roughage supplies was 9 percent poor, 56 percent fair, and 35 percent good. Utilization of stubble fields for grazing rated 52 percent none, 35 percent light, 12 percent moderate and 1 percent heavy.

Hog and pig losses in December were 4 percent below average, 92 percent average and 4 percent above average. Cattle and calf losses were 7 percent below average, 87 percent average, and 6 percent above average.


General: Iowa December temperatures averaged 19.8 degrees, or 2.8 degrees below normal, while precipitation totaled 2.7 inches, or 1.47 inches above normal. This ranks as the 31st coolest and 2nd wettest December among 137 years of records. Only 1982 brought more December precipitation with 3.43 inches.

Temperatures: The very mild weather pattern of November continued briefly into December. Daytime highs on Dec. 1 reached into the 50s and 60s statewide with Ankeny, Des Moines, Red Oak and Shenandoah the warmest at 62 degrees.

However, only two of the next 16 days managed to reach normal. The first single digit minimum temperatures of the season were recorded on the morning of Dec. 4 with readings down to 2 degrees at Estherville and Swea City.

This was followed by the first subzero readings on the morning of Dec. 9 with -1 degree at Sibley. However, much colder weather was not far behind with Little Sioux falling to -19 degrees on the morning of Dec. 10, when all but the far southeast corner of the state saw subzero readings. Temperatures finally edged above normal from the 17th through the 25th with Burlington reaching 49 degrees early Christmas morning just prior to the arrival of another Arctic blast.

Late month temperatures fell as low as -18 degrees at Spencer on the morning of Dec. 29.

Heating Degree Day totals: Home heating requirements, as estimated by heating degree day totals, averaged 5 percent less than last December and 6 percent more than normal. Thus far this season, since July 1, heating requirements are running 3 percent less than last year at this time and 2 percent less than normal.

Precipitation: December was an exceptionally wet and snowy month thanks to two very strong storm systems. The first event, coming mostly in the form of snow, began late on Dec. 7, peaked on Dec. 8 and continued into the afternoon of Dec. 9.

A statewide average of 0.8 inches of precipitation and 10.2 inches of snow fell in this storm. This was the largest snow event since the blizzard of Jan. 2 to Jan. 4, 1971 – the third largest statewide storm total since 1950.

The heaviest snow fell from southwest, through central, and into northeast Iowa where amounts of 12 to 16 inches were common. Highest official totals were 16.2 inch totals at Corning and Osceola.

Wind gusts of 50 mph or greater were common over the northern two-thirds of Iowa on the 9th with a peak gust of 61 mph at Estherville.

A second major storm slowly moved into Iowa on the morning of Dec. 23 and finally exited the state on Dec. 27. This storm brought snow to all of Iowa, but also an unseasonably large amount of rain to eastern sections.

Statewide, the second storm brought an average of 1.55 inches of precipitation and 8.2 inches of snow (eighth largest statewide storm total since 1950).

The heaviest snow fell over northwestern Iowa where Spencer recorded 24 inches of snow, new single-storm record for Spencer. The old record of 19 inches was set Feb. 17-18, 1962.

Portions of west central and central Iowa also endured a period of freezing rain on Dec. 23-24 with glazing of up to one-half inch. Winds speeds with this second blizzard were not as high as with the first storm with the higher winds being confined to far western Iowa where Sioux City recorded gusts to 51 mph.

Thanks in large part to these two major events, Spencer set a state record for maximum December snowfall with a total of 40 inches (old record 39.6 inches at Britt in December 2000).

Overall the December 2009 statewide average snowfall was 23.3 inches. Normal for December is only 7.3 inches. This is the second highest statewide average for any calendar month, behind only December 2000’s 25.5-inch average.

Despite the second lowest snowfall record in November the season-to-date statewide average snowfall through the end of December is also the second highest of record at 23.9 inches.

Normal snowfall through the end of December is 11.2 inches, while the record total for this period is 28 inches set in 2000.

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