Weathercatch: Two regions, same latitude, different climates

By Nic Loyd, WSU meteorologist, and Linda Weiford, WSU News

Weathercatch Photo LogoWho needs a box of chocolates on Valentine’s Day when Mother Nature gave us a gift of mild winter?  Until this week’s temperature dip and predicted snowfall beginning tonight, we enjoyed a long stretch of unseasonably warm days.

With January and early February shedding their cold-weather tradition, little white flowers known as snowdrops — usually a harbinger to early spring — burst into bloom around Groundhog Day.

Snowdrop flowers in full bloom Feb. 5 in Pullman. (Photo by Linda Weiford)
Snowdrop flowers in full bloom Feb. 5 in Pullman. (Photo by Linda Weiford)

However, that’s not the case in the tiny township of Embarrass, Minn., which proudly proclaims itself “The Cold Spot” on its website. Located three hours north of Minneapolis, the community sits at roughly the same latitude as the Spokane-Pullman area. Its elevation is also similar to ours.

Its climate, however, is the polar opposite.

On Valentine’s Day, the average low temperature for Embarrass is a bone-chilling minus 7 degrees — compared to our relatively balmy low of 24 degrees.

This past New Year’s Eve, Embarrass made national news when it hit a low of minus 45 degrees, in contrast to Spokane’s low of 14 degrees and Pullman’s 24. Yet, 45 below zero in Embarrass was practically t-shirt weather compared to the lowest temperature ever recorded there — a staggering minus 57 degrees set on Jan. 20, 1996. Incredibly, it would have been even lower if the extreme cold hadn’t broken the thermometer, according to a Minneapolis Public Radio story: “For Embarrass, Minn., record lows bring bragging rights.”

So naturally, flowers don’t bloom outdoors in Embarrass during February.  Nor do its residents shuck their mittens or walk the dog in sneakers.

What our two regions share in latitude and elevation isn’t enough to produce similar climates. How come?
While latitude plays a major role in determining climate, other factors play a part as well.

Embarrass is located directly in the path of arctic air that commonly streams south through Canada. But Washington state sits a little prettier when it comes to atmospheric circulation patterns. Though cold air from Alaska and Siberia occasionally funnels into the Pacific Northwest, it typically loses a lot of its punch by the time it arrives because of the long distance it travels.

In addition, Embarrass, like much of the Midwest, gets thumped by stronger winter winds than we do. A wind blowing up to 15 mph produces a wind chill factor that can make the air feel like minus 31 degrees.

Whether in Embarrass or Spokane, weather is fickle. That said, a blast of cold arctic air is predicted to hit Washington state next week.  It won’t be anything like winter weather in Embarrass, but compared to the recent mild temperatures that prodded flowers to bloom, it will feel quite cold.

Weathercatch is a bimonthly column that appears in The Spokesman-Review. Nic Loyd is a meteorologist with Washington State University’s AgWeatherNet. Linda Weiford is a WSU news writer and weather geek. Contact:




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