Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

February 13, 2014

Winter cold, but not worst on record

TAHLEQUAH — Cold temperatures and dangerous accumulations of snow and ice are drawing comparisons to previous winters in Cherokee County.

A few weeks remain in the season, and the last month of 2013 was a cold December, but the winter of 2013-’14 will have to cause a bit more damage to rank among Oklahoma’s calamitous winters.

“This winter has been more of an ordeal than normal,” said Gary Dotson, Tahlequah-Cherokee County emergency management director. “People have been using more fuel and the price has gone up, which is hurting people – especially senior citizens. It is also tough on livestock. The problem is, the cold weather has been prolonged.”

Though accompanying one of the coldest Decembers on record and causing headaches for travel, the precipitation was less troublesome for local emergency management crews than the blizzard of 2011 or the ice storm of 2009.

“Those caused a lot more problems,” Dotson said. “We have handled far less problems in this office than during those storms, and no federal disasters have been declared in Oklahoma this winter.”

As part of their planning, emergency management personnel consider long-term forecasts, and Dotson said this winter’s persistence was anticipated last summer.

“The good news is that the next two or three weeks are expected to be close to normal,” he said. “I’m glad about that. I’m ready to start mowing the lawn.”

A year of normal rainfall and snowmelt will help agriculture in the county, and the cold weather is expected to have a minimal effect on wildlife.

“I don’t anticipate the colder temperatures affecting birds or mammals,” said Dr. Jonathan Fisher, chair of the fish and wildlife program at Northeastern State University. “It might help kill some of their external parasites.”

Fisher said local lakes and rivers may take longer to warm in the spring, but anticipated no problems for within their ecosystems.

“I am more of a fish specialist, and water is a pretty stable environment during winter,” he said. “Actually, this weather is amazing for trout fishing. This is a great time to fish below the Lake Tenkiller dam. Rainbow trout thrive in these conditions.”

December 2013 – the most recent month for which the Oklahoma Climatological Survey has interpreted data – was the state’s 17th-coldest December recorded since 1895, with a statewide average temperature of 35.2 degrees. The average for December 2012 was 42.1 degrees.

The coldest December was in 1983, with an average temperature of 25.8 degrees.

There were two major winter weather events during the month on Dec. 5-6 and Dec. 20-22. Snow totals of up 6 six inches were recorded during both storms, though the second event was more of an ice storm for much of the state.

Despite the snow and ice, Oklahoma was 1.18 inches below its normal precipitation figure of 2.82 inches. The state did finish 2013 with an average of 37.01 inches of precipitation for the year – 0.32 inches above normal.

Many parts of the state received little precipitation. The U.S. Drought Monitor listed 38 percent of Oklahoma - the western third - as drought-stricken at the end of 2013. However, the entire state was classified as suffering from drought at the start of the year, with almost all areas deemed in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought.

Cherokee County is considered free of drought by the USDM, and on Feb. 12, streamflow was normal on the Illinois River and below normal on the Barren Fork.

Tahlequah’s average temperature for December matched the state’s: 35.2 degrees.  However, the city received more rainfall than the state average, totaling 3.89 inches for the month.

Cherokee County averages about 50 inches of precipitation per year, well above the national average of 37 inches. As an example, Seattle averages 38 inches per year. Tahlequah received 50.36 inches of precipitation in 2013.

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