This year's winter ranks among worst in U.S. history, and it's not over yet

Braving the cold, Ken Loos of Quincy finishes up sweeping the area near the intersection of 36th and Broadway on Wednesday. (H-W Photo/Steve Bohnstedt)
Posted: Feb. 27, 2014 9:57 am Updated: Mar. 13, 2014 10:14 am
Herald-Whig Staff Writer


Just great.

About the time we thought Old Man Winter was about to raise the white flag — hey, it was more than 50 degrees a few days ago, right? — comes word of more snow and arctic air on the way this weekend.

To make matters worse, organizations like the National Weather Service are now letting us know we are officially in for a “slow spring.”

Translation: It’s going to be colder than normal through the end of April.

Travis Oshner drives a wrecker for Peters Body Shop and Towing. Before that, he worked construction. Oshner, 29, can appreciate how bad a winter is from the perspective of someone who has spent most of his adult work life going one-on-one with the elements.

“This winter’s been worse overall than 2011,” Oshner said, in reference to that year’s record 22-inch snowfall in early February.

The steady barrage of sub-freezing temperatures, one snowfall after another and enough unmelted ice to keep each trip down the sidewalk interesting have combined to make us want to drop-kick the nearest polar vortex into next year.

Oshner said his job is never boring, but that does not make dealing with the winter weather any more pleasant.

“I like what I do now better than working construction,” Oshner said. “I can at least hop in the (tow) truck to get warm.”

As much as 10 inches of snow could be arriving during the course of the weekend and it is supposed to remain bitterly cold for much of the ensuing week. Oshner sounds a warning for those who may need his services.

“People have to remember it may take awhile to get to them,” Oshner said. “We can only take it one vehicle at a time.”

The National Weather Service’s annual Misery Index ranks this winter as one of the worst in U.S. history. The Misery index, a formula that uses cold temperatures and snowfall to assign a number to each winter season, shows the winter of 2013-14 will rank among the worst ever in the Midwest.

February has been especially nasty across the Midwest. In Quincy, the average temperature has been 19 degrees, with eight days registering minus numbers. That average temperature ranks as the fifth-coldest February in Quincy history. The coldest February occurred in 1978 when the average temperature was 16.4 degrees.

Molly Greer of Quincy has been especially protective of her son Vincent, 4, during this month’s extreme cold.

“There has been a lot of layering of clothes,” she said. “It’s been hard for him to play outside very much, so we’ve been going a lot to places like the Kroc Center, Scotties Fun Spot and Bonkers.”

Greer said another worry for her and her son has been all of the ice, often hidden underneath snow.

“It’s been slick out there,” she said.

The Weather Channel’s Chris Dolce offers an explanation about the latest blast winter about to take hold of West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri.

“Once again the polar jet stream has plunged southward, tapping bitter cold air directly from the Arctic Ocean,” Dolce wrote on the Weather Channel website. “This latest frigid plunge will engulf the nation’s northern tier through the weekend.”

The National Weather Service said the arctic air mass will keep temperatures 15 to 30 degrees below normal. Snow is expected to fall from the Quincy area to as far east as Boston.

The harshness of the current winter has seen shelters like the one run by the Quincy Salvation Army overflowing.

“There have only been a few days this winter when not every bed has been filled,” Maj. Andy Miller of the Salvation Army said. “We try to make it work. We’ll even use some of the couches if we have to.”

Miller said the Salvation Army is equipped to house single women, single moms, single men and families.

“We try and avoid the dormitory style (sleeping arrangements), but if we have to double up sometimes, we will,” Miller said. “We’ll make it work.”

Coldest average February temperatures

1978: 16.4
1905: 16.9
1979: 17.8
1936: 18.3
2014: 19.0
Source: The National Weather Service