Elkhart area's brutal winter might set records

If Elkhart's seasonal snowfall is anything like Fort Wayne's, this winter could be historic.

Posted on Jan. 26, 2014 at 11:09 a.m.

ELKHART — Weather experts are confirming what many in northern Indiana have suggested — that this winter really is one of the more brutal in recent memory — and in some ways, a record breaker.

Consider the following:

While the National Weather Service doesn’t track snow accumulations for the season for Elkhart, officials say Elkhart’s seasonal accumulations are more closely aligned with Fort Wayne rather than South Bend, which gets socked much harder by lake effect snow.

With that in mind, Fort Wayne — and possibly Elkhart County as well — are in the midst of a very snowy winter season.

In Fort Wayne, it’s historic.

“Through this point in the season, it’s definitely record breaking,” said Evan Bentley, meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“Normal snowfall in Fort Wayne is 26.2 and we’re already 8 inches above the normal we would see in an entire winter and we’re only a little more than halfway through,” Bentley said.

This month is the fourth snowiest January in Fort Wayne history, with 24.3 inches as of Thursday afternoon. With more snow in the forecast, Bentley predicted that record could fall this weekend.

South Bend is seeing more snow than normal, but is far from a record of 172 inches set in the 1970s, according Mike Hoffman, meteorologist for WNDU.

For the season, South Bend has 62.2 inches — just 4 inches short of the entire seasonal average, Hoffman said.

On Thursday, South Bend received 6.8 inches of snow, including 4.4 inches from an early evening snow band, while Elkhart got just an inch or so.

In his preseason forecast, Hoffman predicted South Bend would receive 86 inches, but now he thinks the total accumulation will surpass that.

Beyond the snow, it’s also one of the coldest winters in recent years for northern and central Indiana.

In fact, Fort Wayne and South Bend had not seen a subzero temperature in more than 1,000 days, according to the National Weather Service.

South Bend has already recorded seven days with temps below zero for the season, Bentley said.

Hoffman said the winter so far is reminiscent of conditions four decades ago.

“I think most people think the cold and the winds have been pretty brutal this year, and they have,” Hoffman said. “We’re averaging 4 degrees colder than normal. In the ’70s, the coldest winters averaged 7 degrees colder than normal. So we’re in that neighborhood.”

The region is expected to see more frigid temps beginning Monday, when another blast of cold air — the third of the season — arrives.

Hoffman predicts the arctic air that arrives Monday could match the recent wicked conditions that saw temps in South Bend fall to 14 below on Jan. 6.

Hoffman describes the upcoming cold spell as “a direct shot of Siberian air coming right across the North Pole and right into this country.”

Low temps are expected to fall to 10 below, but could dip further if night skies are clear, he said.

Next week’s cold spell could represent the coldest of the season.

But as is sometimes the case, one thing leads to another.

“Unfortunately, when you start to warm things up a little bit you can add a lot more moisture to the air, and if a snowstorm takes the right path we could get some snowstorms in here,” Hoffman said.

Areas near Lake Michigan will likely see more lake effect snow, but with less frequency as parts of Lake Michigan begin to “ice over,” he said.

“All in all, as we warm things up, I’m kind of worried that as we become a little more tolerable with temperatures later in February, we have better chances for snowstorms,” Hoffman said.

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