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UR Here: Climate Control


Wow. We don’t want to go through that again. Starting with the heavy snowfalls of November 2007—which then went on and on and on—through the devastating tornadoes of this past spring and on to the historic Flood of 2008, we’ve had more than our share of weather-related disasters here in Iowa this past year. Let me look into my crystal ball and see if I can find gentler winds and calmer waters for the coming year.

It’s late September. The evening of the University of Iowa Homecoming parade is comfortably warm, with just a nip in the air. The day has been in the low 70s, but as the Hawkeye marching band blares by, we wonder if the low 50s we feel right now just might dip into the upper 40s. We’ve had a bit of rain this month, close to four inches, but nothing that would cause the Iowa River to overflow its banks.

Halloween rolls around. It was about 60 degrees today, but the kids are putting on jackets underneath their costumes because it’s supposed to get down to 41 tonight. First frost has already happened during the second week of this October. The leaves hit their peak color about a week or ten days ago. There’s a slight drizzle throughout this Halloween day, but we’ve had less than three inches of rain all month, and only about five rainy days.

It’s Thanksgiving 2008. Today’s high of 42 was just about Halloween’s low. Tonight’s low of 28 ensures that the furnace will be on. We’ve shivered over the nether-side of freezing about 20 nights already this month. Iowa City saw its first measurable snow two days ago, but we’ll have to wait until next week to see our first full inch of the year.

We wake up to a cold but bearable Christmas morning in the teens, and we’ll not quite make 30 before the holiday festivities are done. There’s an inch or two of fresh snow on the ground, bringing our total up to six for the month, but December has only seen one straight week of snow cover at any point. Thankfully, we haven’t seen any blizzards yet.

It’s 2009, and the depths of January are upon us. It’s the 26th, we’ve reached 29 degrees, and we woke up to a chilling 10. January has piled up seven inches of snow, and we’ve had eight days of below-zero weather. We’re all looking forward to spring.

When spring arrives on March 20, we crack our first 50-degree day of the year. We’re glad the four or five inches of March snow are behind us, but we’ve got a couple of more “surprise” inches to look forward to in April before we close the books on about 28 inches total for the season. The roads departments did not run out of sand and salt this year, thank heaven! And, finally, around April 24, a week or two after Easter, we see the last of the freezing mark until next fall.

It’s Memorial Day! The temperature is a perfect, balmy 67, and last night was a comfortable 55. It’s the “unofficial” first day of summer, but we’ll take the temperateness and ease into the hot season. We’ve seen plenty of spring showers, but May’s four inches won’t quite match the four and a half we’ll see in June. Regardless, the Army Corps of Engineers has not had to panic at the Coralville Dam, and City Park only saw a little extra dampness on its banks. No sandbagging this year!

The summer’s been great–okay, it’s rained about a quarter of the time, and we’ve racked up a bit over a foot of rain from June through August. But the farmers have loved it, and so have our backyard gardens. We’ve had about 35 tornadoes across the state, but luckily no fatalities. And we’ve had our share of heat—15 days since June when the mercury pushed over 90 degrees. But for the most part we’ve floated along in the mid-80s. Perfect Rez weather.

So what do you think? You like my prognostications? Why, yes!, you say. Tom, what you’re describing is exactly what our weather should be, and it’s the Iowa weather we know and love most years. Well, if that’s what you’re saying, you’re partially right. It is indeed exactly what our weather “should” be—because all of the numbers and descriptors I’ve used are our average statistics. But “average” never happens long-term. So therefore what I’ve described will, I can guarantee you, not happen next year—and it has never happened, not once, ever. My little weather narrative is not the Iowa weather you’ve known and loved most years, but a fantasy wrought of means and historical patterns. What I’ve described is actually climate, not weather. And we never experience an entire year of climate.

So maybe this coming year we’ll have almost no snow. Or maybe another 60 inches (please no!). Maybe next spring will be cold and clammy, or hot and dry. Who knows? But one thing’s for sure. We will have plenty of “weird” weather—as happens every single year (and with climate change, it is happening with more frequency.)

Don’t throw out or pack away the snow shovels, the umbrellas, the sunscreen, the sidewalk sand, the Arctic-level parkas, the swimsuits, the number of your insurance company for when the hailstorm hits your roof—we’ll need it all. Or maybe none of it. We’ll just have to wait and see—as we do every single year of our lives here in Iowa.

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