La Crosse city government reporter

Jourdan Vian is a reporter and columnist covering local government and city issues for the La Crosse Tribune. You can contact her at 608-791-8218.

Here in Wisconsin, we pride ourselves on our ability to handle the cold.

I mean, I don’t — I’m a huge wuss when it comes to winter — but I’m sure other people do.

According to 24/7 Wall St., a lifestyle website, we have good reason to brag. It declared La Crosse the 15th coldest city in the U.S. earlier this month in a listicle that breaks down what its writers consider the 50 most freezing places to live.

The site, which you may remember from when it declared La Crosse the sixth drunkest city in America, built its list using data gathered by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Weather Service and the 2015 NOAA Comparative Climatic Data report. According to the author, the coldest city in the U.S. is Fairbanks, Alaska, followed by Grand Forks, N.D., Williston, N.D., Fargo, N.D., and Duluth, Minn. On a side note, I’m never living in North Dakota.

Before you get too carried away with celebrating our distinction, La Crosse National Weather Service meteorologist Jeff Boyne warns us to take the determination with a grain of salt.

“OK, I disagree with their first sentence. That’s not good,” Boyne said with a chuckle.

The biggest problem, he said, is that the website takes out of consideration cities with a population listed at less than 10,000 people.

“You’re eliminating a lot of the places that are some of the coldest,” he said.

To use this area as an example, Holmen, Sparta and Black River Falls tend to run colder than La Crosse as cold, dense air drains into low valleys and causes temperatures to drop. None of them make the list. A lot of Alaskan cities have fewer than 10,000 people and International Falls, Minn., famous as “The Icebox of the Nation,” doesn’t even make the list due to its population of 6,068.

“If you’re representing it to the bigger city areas, then it’s not too bad,” Boyne said.

When it comes to La Crosse, the numbers are a little off.

“The 1981 to 2010 normals is where they are grabbing some of this data, but it looks like it’s a little different from what their actual data should be,” Boyne said.

Their normal January low — 8.9 degrees — and average wind speed — 8.6 miles per hour — are correct, he said, but he was a little confused as to where they got an annual average snowfall of 42.4 inches.

“Forty-three point three should be their average at the airport,” he said.

The biggest discrepancy between what 24/7 Wall St. reports and what the NWS comes when you look at the lowest temperature on record. The site lists it as -37 degrees Fahrenheit, when our actual record is -43, which was measured Jan. 18, 1873.

“It’s the first winter that we ever would have took observations here in the La Crosse area,” Boyne said.

He theorized that the author must have only used solely data from La Crosse Regional Airport, rather than data from both the airport and the downtown La Crosse site.

“We’ve combined sites between the downtown site and what was the airport,” he said, and the airport only goes back to 1938, compared to downtown, which goes back to 1873.

For those who want a better idea of what our climate is doing and how this winter compares to previous ones, both in Wisconsin and across the nation, Boyne suggested checking out the Midwestern Regional Climate Center’s Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index.

“It does a comparison as far as how does this winter compare with other winters,” Boyne said.

The easy-to-use map color codes winter severity for a variety of cities, including La Crosse, based on temperature and snowfall. It doesn’t include windchill, which Boyne said can be a little subjective, but it gives a good idea of where we are and where we were earlier this season.

Right now, La Crosse’s winter is “sort of middle-of-the-pack,” he said. “We’re eight inches below normal as far as snow goes for the season,” Boyne said.

This winter started off mild, something I think we all knew, but is quickly catching up to norms for snowfalls. While it started off colder and drier than normal, it wasn’t exceptionally so, particularly compared to the Great Lakes areas and the East Coast, which are seeing some extremely severe winter weather, far from typical for those climates.

La Crosse’s temperature sits at about 40 as I write this Friday, and Boyne says our weather coming up shouldn’t be too bad.

The NWS is predicting partly cloudy skies with highs of 40 on Saturday and 38 on Sunday, and a low of 25 Saturday night.

“Much of the weekend should be OK. The concern starts coming Sunday night,” Boyne said.

There’s a 90 percent chance of rain that could turn into snow Sunday night and Monday morning.

“The track of that system is still up in the air, as far as what it’s going to do,” Boyne said.

It could turn to the northwest of La Crosse before it gets here, or it could dump some significant snow, of the heavy, wet variety on our heads.

“This stuff is going to be one where you actually have to shovel it and move it,” Boyne said.

He suggests keeping an eye on the weather before you go back to work Monday.


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