Nancy's Almanac, Dec. 12, 2013: How did Omaha dodge record cold? -
Published Thursday, December 12, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:11 pm
Nancy's Almanac, Dec. 12, 2013: How did Omaha dodge record cold?

Nationwide, nearly 1,900 cold weather records were set or matched during the Arctic outbreak at the start of December. In Nebraska and Iowa, about 40 records were set or matched.

None was in the Omaha-Council Bluffs-Lincoln area.

So what gives?

Scott Dergan, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Valley, took a swing at explaining what could have been at play.

One reason may have been the lack of snow cover at the time that the worst of the cold was in the area, he said.

The coldest days and nights in Omaha were Friday, Dec. 6, and Saturday, Dec. 7. Nighttime temperatures bottomed out at minus 1 and minus 4 degrees, respectively, and daytime highs at 12 and 13 degrees.

During those two coldest days, Omaha's ground was bare, and temperatures were about 3 to 10 degrees too warm to set or match records.

That happens to be the sweet spot that snow can affect.

Snow cover can shave 5 to 10 degrees off the temperature, said Tom Kines, meteorologist for AccuWeather, The World-Herald's weather consultant.

So how does snow affect temperature?

During the day, a blanket of fresh white snow reflects the sun's energy back into space, so the air stays colder.

At night, cloud cover related to the snow can hold in heat.

Also, bare ground warms Arctic air as it rolls south. Snow-covered ground keeps a cold front colder and longer as it sinks further into the United States.

The map of snow cover (pictured with this blog) on Saturday, Dec. 7, shows how the Omaha area dodged snow, but that areas to the north and south of Omaha were snow covered.

Omaha did have near-record cold overall. According to the National Weather Service, the string of days from Thursday through Monday were the sixth coldest on record for Omaha.

Other factors could have been at play, too.

• Wind. Breezes mix together warm and cool air, contributing to warmer conditions than if the day/night was windless.

• Proximity to snow-covered terrain. Once snow blankets the Dakotas and northern Nebraska, it's easier for the Omaha area to see colder weather.

Source: National Weather Service/Valley; AccuWeather Inc.

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