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Published April 09 2013

F-M weathermen getting heat for cold stretch

FARGO - Blame it all on Rob.

Winter was a breeze until Rob Kupec took over for longtime Fox News weatherman Kip Hines as chief meteorologist at KVRR-TV in Fargo on Jan. 31.

Since then, spring has hardly sprung, and it’s all Kupec’s fault – or so they tease him at the studio and in the grocery store.

Of course, Kupec’s viewers know he doesn’t control the weather. But when winter stretches this far into spring, meteorologists often become a target for vented frustrations.

“They know I’m just the messenger, but there’s always that kind of running joke, like, ‘You’re the guy that’s doing this to us,’ ” Kupec said.

No one accuses WDAY-TV chief meteorologist John Wheeler of conjuring up the current run of unseasonably cold weather.

“But I have received some complaints – probably at least half deserved – from a small number of people who have, uh, not enjoyed, um, levity, where I’ve made some casual comment that has rubbed some people the wrong way,” he said. “And I think that’s just because people are getting a little testy about it.”

For farmers growing impatient to start fieldwork, the late spring could hurt their bottom line in the long run, Wheeler noted.

“Sometimes I think we weather people are just trying to be funny, but it just isn’t funny to some people anymore,” he said.

Indeed, the numbers aren’t exactly knee-slappers. Consider:

• If Fargo doesn’t hit 50 degrees by April 17, it will tie the record set in 1881 for the latest first 50-degree day of spring, according to the National Weather Service. The second-latest 50-degree day was on April 16, 1979, and the third was on April 15, 1950 – both late spring flood years.

• Fargo’s highest temperature so far this year was 43 degrees on April 3. The weather service’s seven-day forecast calls for high temperatures in the mid to upper 30s and low 40s, with the highest being 42 degrees on Saturday.

“We’re obviously very cold,” said Pete Rogers, a weather service meteorologist in Grand Forks. “It’s not unprecedented, but it is on the outskirts of unusual.”

• On the bright side, low temperatures are expected to remain below the freezing mark through at least the middle of next week, which should slow the spring melt and keep rivers from rising too quickly. However, that also raises the risk of a rapid warm-up compounded by spring rains later on, Rogers said.

Fargo’s latest Red River crest during a snowmelt flood was 34.93 feet on April 19, 1979.

“I’d say there’s a very good chance we’ll break that record this year,” Wheeler said.

An update on the spring melt issued by the weather service Tuesday stated that with temperatures running 5 to 10 degrees below seasonal norms, the likely period for spring runoff “looks like it will extend well into middle and late April.”

• On Tuesday morning, the mercury climbed only halfway to its normal low of 30 degrees for the date, stalling at 15 degrees between 5 and 6 a.m. and accompanied by a wind chill of 3 below zero. By 4 p.m., the temperature had reached only 27 degrees, well below the norm of 52 degrees for the date.

• Last month was Fargo’s 14th-coldest March on record dating back to 1881, and this April also has started very cold, Wheeler said. Locals should prepare themselves for the possibility of a lot of below-normal highs in the 30s and 40s this month, he said.

Wheeler noted that the coldest April on record, in 1893, had only three days with highs above the 40s. The first 60-degree day didn’t arrive until May 6 that year.

Wheeler said he’s not only sympathetic to the frustration, he shares it.

“I’m getting really tired of this cold weather myself,” he said. “I needed to go running today, and I just wimped out. I couldn’t bring myself to do it.”

For Kupec, looking at long-range computer models every day is “just depressing.”

“You go, ‘Oh, come on, there’s not even a glimmer of hope in there?’ ” he said.

Some models showed a mass of warm air moving into the area around April 23 or 24, he said.

“But it’s been doing that for weeks and then it fades away, so I’m not going to believe it until I see it now,” he said.

In the meantime, Kupec half-joked that he hopes next week brings the record for latest 50-degree day.

“I feel like we should have something to mark our misery with,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528