Cold weather not going anywhere

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Nick Crow
Thursday, February 27, 2014

JANESVILLE — Feeling hopeless yet?

It's not just in your head. This winter ranks as one of the worst on record for many cities in the Midwest.

Barbara Mayes Boustead, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Omaha, Neb., created a "weather extremity index" that measures cold and snowfall to determine the severity of each winter.

She looks at the daily high and low temperatures and accumulated snowfall to come up with a gauge called the Accumulated Winter Season Severity Index.

Boustead gives winter seasons points, labeling them:

—W-1: Mild (up to 20th percentile)
—W-2: Moderate (21st to 40th percentile)
—W-3: Average (41st to 60th percentile)
—W-4: Severe (61st to 80th percentile)
—W-5: Extreme (81st percentile and above)

"Chicago is having the hardest winter," Boustead said. "They've had their third most- severe winter to date since 1950-51, which is a Category 5 or 'extreme' winter, on our winter severity scale.  Milwaukee is having its fourth-worst winter to date since 1950-51, also a Category 5 or 'extreme' winter."

Janesville's weather has mirrored conditions in those nearby cities, and a warm-up doesn't look to be on the horizon, at least in the near future.

"Right now, some longer range models have us below average through the early part of March," said Sarah Marquardt, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Sullivan. "I can't say exactly how cold but below average for at least the first two weeks of March.”

Marquardt said temperatures will remain on the low side for the immediate future, with highs over the weekend in the 20s and then in the teens late Sunday and Monday.

"This is still below average," Marquardt said. "The average temperature for this time of year is 36 degrees."

Lows during the next week will hover around zero to the single digits, she said.

"We could do a little better in the middle of next week, with 22 degrees Wednesday and even 30 on Thursday," Marquardt said.

At the Janesville Water Utility, crews are bracing for the spring thaw and the water main breaks that could accompany it.

Craig Thiesenhusen, Janesville's water superintendent, is pleased the number of frozen laterals -- the pipes that connect the mains to homes and businesses -- has flattened out, but he cautioned that the city isn't out of the woods.

"I guess we could chalk it up to people running water," Thiesenhusen said. "We've had no new ones this week, and that's good news."

The number of broken mains has stayed consistent, however, and is expected to rise as the ground shifts and thaws.

"January is when it really hits hard, and it's continuing to now," Thiesenhusen said. "We see them continue to break because of the cold. Broken mains have been up this year and will go up more."

Water crews fixed 23 mains in December, 46 in January and 38 in February through the 23rd.

"It's just an annual thing," Thiesenhusen said. "Last year, there was a spike around April or May. The frost getting in so deep this winter, that really hurt us."

The city likely won't discover some breaks that have already occurred until the ground thaws and water starts surfacing, he said.

“As far as right now, we're holding our own," Thiesenhusen said. "There's only so much you can do."

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