2014 starts with brutal cold, a foot of snow in West Lafayette

01-14-2014

Cold sign

17 degrees felt like Miami after a low temperature of -15 on Jan. 6.


By now, most reading this survived the dreaded polar vortex of 2014.

The negative temperatures, dangerous wind chills and significant snowfall amounts created canceled school and work for most Midwesterners and those dwelling in the northern parts of the U.S. Most didn’t leave the warmth of their homes for most of the span of Jan. 5 to 7.

In West Lafayette, it got as cold as -15 degrees on the morning of Jan. 6, right after about a foot of snow was dumped from the sky on Jan. 5. The combination and duration of this extreme weather made the polar vortex a memorable event for meteorology graduate students within the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences.

Derrick Snyder and Joe Woznicki agreed that the snow and cold by themselves would not have been too out of the ordinary for West Lafayette in January. The combination gave the graduate students’ winter break an interesting ending.

“It was the type of weather the Northern Plains and Canada would experience,” said Snyder, who rode out most of the cold weather at his parents’ house in Frankfort, Ind. “We didn’t set any record lows but the duration was notable.”

Only a meteorologist would dub a 24-hour span of cold that did not get above -10 degrees as “notable.” To most, it was unbearable. Those -40 wind chills were cold enough to cause frostbite. Snyder tempted fate by attempting to snap some pictures outside on Jan. 6.

“I had my gloves off trying to steady the camera to take a picture,” he said, “and my hands start shaking. It was really surreal because the wind was howling and it was really hazy because the snow was blowing. It looked like an alien landscape.

“After a minute of trying to get a photo, I got one and my hands started hurting really badly. It hurt so bad I put my hands in my pockets and trekked inside to warm up because I knew that was an early warning sign of frostbite.”

The pain was worth it as Snyder captured surreal shots around his parents’ property.

“It looked like a tundra,” Snyder recalled. “It was completely barren. It was a weird landscape.”

With his iPhone camera, Snyder was able to capture a rare Indiana sun dog, an atmospheric phenomenon that creates bright spots of light in the sky, often on a luminous ring or halo on either side of the sun. The phenomenon is common in the Arctic, not so much in Clinton County, Ind. The snow – or diamond dust – floating in the air acts like prisms reflecting the sun and creating false suns. Most sun dogs look like three suns, with the real, brighter sun in the middle.

Sun dog

EAPS grad student Derrick Snyder snapped this picture of a sun dog, a phenomenon caused by floating snow reflecting the sun so much that false suns appear in the horizon, near Frankfort, Ind. Sun dogs rarely occur in Indiana.


Woznicki braved Lafayette terrain during the brutally cold snap, which broke official state thermometers at the Purdue Airport as well as in Muncie and Gary, Ind.

“The roads were horrible,” Woznicki said. “What if you lost power for a while and they still didn’t plow you out? You could get in a dangerous situation where you can’t even leave your house.”

The polar vortex, a semi-permanent area of low pressure located in the Arctic which was partly pulled down to the United States by the jet stream, was a big weather event in a winter and late fall that has seen quite a bit of extreme weather.

“It’s something you see once every several years,” Snyder said. “The last six or seven weeks have been pretty extreme around here. That takes us back to November where you have the tornado outbreak and then we had another storm in early December, heavy rain and flooding when the snow all melted, and then this storm: It’s been a pretty wild couple of month for Indiana, especially when you compare to the spring in summer months, which were pretty quiet, in my opinion.”

barren Clinton County

Clinton County, Ind., looked like a barren tundra on Jan. 6. Photo by Derrick Snyder.

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