Winter weather severe but not record breaking, says state climatologist

By Claire Hettinger

The arctic winds that blew through campus, and much of the country, earlier this month gained much attention from both mainstream media and social media sites, but the storm was not as strange as its coverage would suggest.

According to Jim Angel, state climatologist, the storm “was severe but not record breaking.” He said this type of weather is normal for the area, but it seems rare because the past few winters have been mild with few days of below-zero temperatures.

Eric Snodgrass, director of undergraduate studies for the department of atmospheric sciences, said it was no surprise that the temperature reached so low because it happens every two to three years.

He said the amount of snowfall during this storm, about 6.5 inches, did not come close to breaking the record.

“The outstanding feature was the cold air and the cold windy conditions that came in behind (the snowfall),” he said. “The air that we experienced here, that air mass formed literally over the North Pole.”

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The cold temperatures make it difficult to clear roads because salting the roads to remove snow is ineffective if the temperature descends below 15 degrees, Snodgrass said. Thus, road travel was dangerous until it warmed enough to melt the roads, he said.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise sent a campus-wide email on Jan. 5 explaining that the campus would be closed Jan. 6 and that all people who do not work essential jobs should stay home.

Snodgrass said it was a very smart and timely decision to shut down the campus on Sunday, ensuring employees would not try to drive in the dangerous conditions on Monday morning, Snodgrass said.

Angel said the cold temperatures made it very dangerous to be outside especially on Monday, when the wind chill felt as cold as 40 degrees below zero.

“You could start to get cold in a matter of minutes, especially if you are underdressed, you can very easily get in a situation where you get hypothermia and your body temperature drops. You can get into serious trouble pretty quickly,” Angel said.

Exposed skin at such cold temperatures can freeze in five minutes, possibly leading to frostbite and hypothermia, Snodgrass said.

The City of Champaign opened two warming centers on Mattis Avenue and Country Fair Drive to help people stay warm during this time.

Claire can be reached at [email protected].