This week, temperatures in Lincoln are forecasted to remain below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, with dreary clouds, heavy rain and bone-chilling wind, marking what seems like an official turn to autumn in Nebraska more than a month after the autumn equinox at the start of fall.
This chill is something many Midwestern students are used to every year. Thirteen inches of snow in one day, occasional temperatures as cold as -31 degrees Fahrenheit and snow piles on street corners for months on end are just an average Midwestern winter. Many students who come from outside of the Midwest, however, may not know what a Nebraskan winter will be like, let alone how to prepare for it.
“Record high temperatures in all three months are in the low to mid-70s (°F) and record low temperatures can fall below -20°F and, on at least one occasion, below -30 (°F),” Clinton Rowe, chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, said in an email.
In order to properly prepare — both mentally and physically — for cold weather, a good first start is to know why Nebraska gets so much colder than the western and southern states. Rowe said some of the most important factors to the region’s chilliness and general winter climate are latitude, distance from the oceans, atmospheric circulation and the region’s topography.
Rowe provided an example to better understand the climate difference. Take a look at New York City, Lincoln and Eureka, California. These three cities are around the same latitude, or distance from the equator, but as New York City and Eureka are significantly closer to their respective oceans, these cities have a lower elevation, keeping them slightly warmer than Lincoln. More important, however, is the distance from Lincoln to the oceans.
“Ocean temperatures change more slowly than land temperature, so locations near the coasts generally don’t experience as large seasonal changes as those far inland, like Lincoln,” Rowe said.
An additional factor in the drastic season change is the lack of mountains to the north and south. Rowe said that without these mountains, cold arctic air masses can enter from the north, while warmer air masses from the south can also reach up, creating drastic weather changes.
So what kind of a winter does Nebraska have in store this year? Rowe says there is not a strong prediction for temperature or precipitation.
“The current outlook is for continued La Niña conditions in the tropical Pacific, as was the case last winter,” Rowe said. “Unfortunately for us, there is not a strong correlation between La Niña and winter weather in Nebraska.”
While all of this cold weather talk might be daunting to newcomers, there are ways to be prepared for whatever type of winter weather Nebraska has in store. Rowe advises students to start preparing for the winter months now, since Nebraska has had significant snowfall in October and November in recent years.
“I would say students need to be prepared by wearing a coat and wearing their mask this winter,” Jayven Brandt, a junior social sciences major from Omaha, said. “One thing I learned last year with COVID is that wearing your mask will actually keep your face warm when it gets super super cold out and it helps prevent any winter sickness.”
India Enter, a senior cello performance major originally from Minnesota, said she did not expect Nebraska to get as cold or snowy as it does in her home state. Enter advises keeping a scraper with a student’s vehicle and turning the vehicle on before it is time to leave.
“Start your car about 10 minutes before you leave when it’s a little colder, I’d say if it’s under 25 degrees, because it’s a little rough,” Enter said.
Brandt, Enter and Rowe all pointed to drastic weather changes in short periods of time, cautioning to keep boots handy and coats ready to go.
“Be prepared for anything in Nebraska winters,” Rowe said.