There is one unstoppable force that has shaped our nation’s history since the beginning of time. It can either help bring food and water or bring famine and drought. This force is weather. From the snowcapped Rocky Mountains to the balmy beaches of southern Florida, the effects are felt wherever you go.
The ancient Greeks used to study the skies, wind and rain to better understand how weather was interconnected. Farmers lived and died by the weather and sailors fought against it to navigate the high seas. Although meteorology has come a long way using modern technology, it is still not an exact science. There are still unpredictable factors that elude even the top weather forecasters. But do some cities have more unpredictable weather than others? We decided to take a look.
Cities with the Most Unpredictable Weather
1. Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Although by population it is one of the smallest cities in the study, Sioux Falls is the largest city in South Dakota. Extreme variation in temperature put this city in first place as having the most unpredictable weather. While it typically fluctuates between lows of 6 degrees and highs of 85 degrees, on occasion it can drop below -13 degrees and rise above 95 degrees. It also had variable winds and precipitation which edged it almost a full tenth of a point over second place.
2. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Minneapolis, first of the “Twin Cities”, took second place, with temperatures ranging from 7 degrees in January to a balmy 83 degrees in the summers. The winter also brings deadly wind chills, sometimes getting down to a frigid -40 degrees or even -63 degrees back in 1936.
3. St. Paul, Minnesota
The other Twin City has about 100,000 fewer residents than Minneapolis, but the temperatures are just as extreme. St. Paul natives also see a higher rainfall variation, some years such as 2011 saw total annual rainfall of 20.63 inches while 2016 measured 37.47 inches of rain.
4. Omaha, Nebraska
Omaha and its 409,000 residents saw temperature deviations of around 20 degrees, but also mixed in variations in snowfall and higher winds. For example, Omaha saw gusts of wind exceed 96 mph, which is equivalent to the wind of a Category 2 hurricane. Omaha also came in second to Des Moines for variation in precipitation. The average rainfall is 30.63 inches, yet in 2012 the total annual rainfall was 22.61 inches and in 2015 the total rainfall was 44.56 inches -- almost double the amount of rain.
5. Des Moines, Iowa
The capital city of Iowa is ranked highest in the top 10 for precipitation variation, and has comparable annual rainfall with cities more commonly associated with rain. Its annual rainfall was 50.96 inches in 2010, but dropped in 2012 to 24.74 inches. Compare Des Moines’ 2010 cumulative rainfall of 50.96 inches to Seattle’s rainfall of 44.56 inches for the same year -- a city more commonly known for its rain.
6. Madison, Wisconsin
Amongst the top 10, Madison ranked lowest in temperature volatility, but its variable snowfall came in second boosting it to sixth place. The 2007-2008 season set the record for snowfall in Madison, at 101.4 inches, while the average annual snowfall is 50.9 inches. On December 3rd, 1990, the record was set for one day snowfall with 17.3 inches.
7. Lincoln, Nebraska
Lincoln saw almost a 20 degree average deviation in temperature. In 2016, for instance, its coldest day was -12 degrees and the warmest day was 101 degrees. Compare this temperature swing to Hawaii’s standard deviation of 3 degrees. Lincoln’s coldest January on record is 1940 where the average temperature was 6.4 degrees, and compare that to the warmest January of 36.7 degrees in 2006.
8. Cedar Rapids, Iowa
Far exceeding the other top 10 competitors in wind deviation, Cedar Rapids has seen wind speeds up to 58 mph (2013) and clocked the top gust at 72 mph (2012). In 2011 the snow depth measured up to a foot at one time. On the other end of the spectrum, Cedar Rapids had no snow in 2016, yet yielded total precipitation of 41.45 inches.
9. Rockford, Illinois
Although less than 90 miles from Chicago, Rockford has drastically higher temperature volatility. Rockford also has a substantially higher variation in wind patterns, although wind is less frequent due to its distance from Lake Michigan. It scored the lowest in the top 10 on precipitation averages which could be a result of its driest season on record being only 1.28 inches for the period between Dec. 2002 and Feb. 2003. During the wet season (Nov. 29 - Mar. 1) however, there is a 58% chance of rain on any given day.
10. Chicago, Illinois
Chicago has the highest deviation in snowfall of the entire study, beating cities like Buffalo, New York, and Madison, Wisconsin. The average annual snowfall is 36.7 inches, but in the 2013-2014 season the snowfall totaled 82 inches. Despite ranking lowest on the top 10 for temperature deviation, Chicago actually hit record highs for February of 58 degrees in 2011. With even more record breaking temperatures in 2017, this may continue to be the trend.
Cities with the Most Predictable Weather
1. Honolulu, Hawaii
By far the most populated city in Hawaii, Honolulu also has the most predictable weather. The variation in temperature is probably the most impressive factor of this Hawaiian paradise, with the average temperature 78 degrees. Sunny days are a common occurrence with the sun shining 69 percent of the time and although it precipitates 154 days a year on average, the total rainfall is 17 inches on average.
2. Oxnard, California
Oxnard is also notably predictable for temperature stability. Second to Honolulu, the temperature rarely deviates from the average of 60.8 degrees. One area where Oxnard has shown variation from the norm is wind, which on average was blowing at 6 mph but reached sustained wind speeds of 48 mph in 2011.
3. Chula Vista, California
Despite a relatively high precipitation deviation within the top 10 contenders, Chula Vista has the lowest wind variance. The deviation in precipitation is the second highest amongst the top 10, second only to San Francisco.
4. Salinas, California
Although the deviation in precipitation was relatively high, the steady numbers across temperature and wind helped keep Salinas ranking fourth. The proximity to the Monterey Bay could explain the uncertainty in rainfall.
5. San Diego, California
Only eight miles from Chula Vista, San Diego saw half as much variation in precipitation. San Diego also had a notably higher deviation of temperature from Chula Vista, which could be explained by the distance between San Diego’s weather equipment and the ocean, about 4 miles. Chula Vista’s weather data is measured at the Imperial Beach Naval landing field, only a mile to the ocean.
6. Thousand Oaks, California
Despite being more than 160 miles from San Diego, Thousand Oaks saw very similar deviations in temperature and wind. Thousand Oaks did however see substantially more variation in rainfall compared with San Diego.
7. San Francisco, California
You may be surprised to see San Francisco on the same weather related list as Hawaii and Southern California. What may not be surprising is San Francisco ranks highest within the top 10 for wind and rain deviation, but its moderate temperature variations kept San Francisco in top 10 contention.
8. Irvine, California
Coming in a close second to Honolulu for deviation in rainfall, Irvine recorded only 8.37 inches of rain for the 2016 calendar year. Alongside the other top 10 cities for predictable weather, Irvine is tied with Huntington Beach for temperature deviation at 5.52 degrees.
9. Torrance, California
This Los Angeles suburb saw slightly more wind deviation from Irvine and Huntington Beach, its close neighbors. Torrance’s location on a map might offer some explanation as it’s exposed to wind while its neighbors to the south may have protection from Santa Catalina Island.
10. Huntington Beach, California
Being only 15 miles from Irvine, you might not be surprised to see the variations in weather patterns the same for both cities. Interestingly enough however, Huntington Beach has considerably more variation in rainfall.
The cities in the study were the most heavily populated cities in America using data from the Census Bureau.*
Using Wunderground, we looked at four different weather factors: temperature, precipitation, wind and snowfall. We repeated this process for both 2016 and 2011 to account for any anomalies in any one particular year. These two years were then averaged and the standard deviations of those averages were scored using the following point system:
Temperature (Fahrenheit): 50 points - Temperature is one of the key indicators of weather changes across the globe, so it is ranked highest.
Rain: 30 points - Since rain can occur in cities with either warm or cold climates, we ranked this as indicator higher than snow or wind.
Snow: 10 points - Snow does not occur in every state. However, when it does occur in warmer climates, it can be a strong signal of “unpredictable” weather. There were also several cities on Wunderground for which there was no snow data available. Therefore, we ranked this lower.
Wind: 10 points - Wind can have powerful effects on people, property and the environment, but is not as obvious when we think of weather.
*Cities that were removed due to lack of data from Wunderground: Baltimore, Maryland; Kansas City, Missouri; Mesa, Arizona; New Orleans, Louisiana; Jersey City, New Jersey; St. Petersburg, Florida; Garland, Texas; Glendale, Arizona; Santa Clarita, California; Overland Park, Kansas; Pomona, California; Kansas City, Kansas; Pasadena, California; Clarksville, Tennessee; West Valley City, Utah
All Cities Included in the Study
|Rank||Cities||State||Score||Temp. Avg Deviation||Precip. Avg Deviation||Snow Avg Deviation||Wind Avg Deviation|
|19||Salt Lake City||UT||9.35||18.27||0.05||0.56||1.42|
|52||North Las Vegas||NV||8.32||16.34||0.02||-||1.41|
|157||Port St. Lucie||FL||3.9||7.41||0.04||-||1.84|
In 1849, the United States recruited the first 150 volunteers to record weather data across the country. Over the course of 168 years we have gained valuable insight into what weather patterns to expect, but even more valuable is the humbling reminder that weather is a variable that we can not predict with guaranteed accuracy.
We were not altogether surprised to see some of these cities rank within the top 10 for both predictable and unpredictable weather. We were however, surprised by how a single region can have a much higher uncertainty in weather. Sometimes we associate a city with its weather, such as Seattle for rain, but we rarely consider a city for the uncertainty of its weather. Weather damage typically occurs when the infrastructure is not built with this severe variation in weather considered. SaveOnEnergy can help you keep in touch with your utility if you lose service during a storm.
It will be interesting to review this study in the future and compare the variability in weather patterns across various regions. Could the variability of the midwest region simply be a bigger environmental shift that might transition to another region or is there an underlying factor we have failed to consider?