2014 Was a Warm Year, But Not Here

NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both reported last week that 2014 is the warmest year in Earth’s temperature record since at least 1880.  These studies are separate analyses of the instrument record from around the world.  The two studies used slightly different techniques to estimate temperatures in the many locations not represented by actual thermometers.  A separate analysis of satellite-derived temperature data suggests that 2014 may be just the third warmest year.  The differences are slight and in either case, Earth is going through a very warm period relative to anything observed or estimated over the past several hundred years.  The average temperature in Fargo Moorhead for 2014 was 39.9 degrees, which is quite a bit lower than the average of 42.4 degrees.  Globally, the most significant warming continues to occur in the higher latitudes, particularly the Arctic.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Mayan Mega Drought


A new report featured in Livescience.com reconfirms other research suggesting that the great Mayan Civilization in Central America collapsed due to a mega drought.  Researchers examined core sediments taken from Belize’s famous Blue Hole lagoon and found strong evidence of a sharp decline in tropical storms over two separate century-long periods.  The first, from around 700-800 A.D., coincides with a time in which the great Mayan Empire which had flourished for hundreds of years, to fracture and move north.  The second, from around 1000-1100 A.D., coincides with a further decline of the great early American society.  It is theorized there was a shift in the primary belt of tropical storms which would have caused the droughts, making life in early American large cities virtually impossible.   Meteorologist John Wheeler


Staying Above Minus 40

Thursday, January 8, is the anniversary of the coldest temperature ever officially recorded by the National Weather Service for Fargo Moorhead.  On this morning in 1887, a temperature of 48 below was recorded by what was then called the U.S. Weather Bureau which was located at the Moorhead Post Office and Federal Building at 521 Main Avenue at what is now the Rourke Art Museum.  This number does not reflect wind chill.  It was a mercury-in-glass thermometer reading.  A similar temperature of 47 below was recorded February 9 of 1888.  There are just over a handful of readings in the minus 40s in the entire Fargo Moorhead record book; all of them in a six year period between 1883 and 1888 (Temperature records began in 1881.).  Although 39 below has been reached on two occasions since, most recently on February 1, 1996, it has not been 40 below in Fargo Moorhead since the 1880s.  At least, not officially.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

Ice Heaves and Ocean Rises

Many area lakes have recently developed ice heaves.  Ice can pile up to a depth of several feet and can damage shoreline in some areas.  Ice heaves because it expands.  But what many people don’t know, or have forgotten since they learned it in school, is that the chemical substance we call water (or water vapor or ice depending on its state) is at its most dense at 38 degrees.  As water gets colder (below 38 degrees) it actually expands.  This is what caused the ice to heave.  This is also what causes containers of leftover soup to overflow in your freezer if you fill them too full.  Note that water also expands as it warms (at temperatures above 38 degrees) so you have to be careful about any containers of soup packed at 38 degrees and left out on the cabinet.  On a related note, the sea level rose an average of six inches during the Twentieth Century mostly due to the same thermal expansion process.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

A good Year for Few Tornadoes

The average annual number of tornadoes reported in the United States is about 1,260.  Fairly good records go back to 1953.  The average has been on the rise in recent years, mostly due to a much more active storm spotting network.  The most number of tornadoes in a year was 1,870 in 2004.  Other very active tornado years were 2008 and 2011 with more than 1,600 each of those years.  But for the last three years, there has been a dearth of tornadoes with fewer than 900 observed tornadoes in 2012, 2013, and so far this year.  In fact, barring an unusual Christmas tornado outbreak, 2014 will go down as having the fewest number of tornadoes on record in the modern era (since 1953).  So far, there have been just 814 tornadoes this year.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

When Breath Turns to Fog


It is so cold I can see my breath.” How many times have you ever heard someone say this?  But is it really the cold that causes you to “see your breath?”  And what is it that happens to air when you breathe it in that causes it to become visible?  To begin with, it is actually the relative humidity of the air you exhale which matters.  Conditions in the lungs are warm and extremely humid.  When you breathe in air, conditions in your lungs add heat and moisture very suddenly.  Exhaled air is about 95 degrees with about 95 per cent humidity.  As the air leaves your nose and mouth, it quickly cools and disperses.  But if the outside air is either very humid or very cold, some of that humidity will briefly condense into a cloud of visible water droplets.  If it is very cold, then the humidity of the outside air matters less.  But if the outside air is very humid, exhaled breath becomes visible even in mild air.     Meteorologist John Wheeler


Winters Can Change

In early December two winters ago, the Fargo Moorhead area had a measly inch of snow on the ground and we would still have just three inches six weeks later on January 27.  Then it started snowing.  We got five inches in January 28.  Then another ten inches fell February 10.  Four more inches fell in a series of little storms in February followed by 15 inches in March and another 17 inches in April.  Snow cover reached a maximum average depth in mid-March and we would not see the ground again until April 27.  It is impossible to predict if the remainder of this winter will be snowy or not.  But the winter of 2012-13 taught us that because winters are long in this region, they can change.  November was cold and dry.  So far, December is looking mild and dry.  But things can change.  There is a long way to go before spring.  Meteorologist John Wheeler

Cold November

November here in the Fargo Moorhead area was cold.  The month, as a whole, was six degrees below average. The first wave of cold air moved in November 9, starting an early winter run of 22 out of 24 days below freezing.  While impressive, the cold has set no records here.  We live in a region where early cold snaps must be expected from time to time.  However, as the cold air built into the Mid-South and Southern U.S., it did began setting records.  The most impressive was about a week after the initial front passed through Fargo Moorhead.  According to Dr. Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL, November 19, 2014, was the coldest November day across the Lower 40 since November 30, 1976.  A full 85 per cent of the Lower 48 was below freezing, with many locations setting both record lows and record highs for the day.  The pattern has since relaxed and now most of the U.S. is enjoying above average temperatures.  Meteorologist  John Wheeler


Winter Break

The milder weather coming our way is going to be a pleasant surprise for many who were shocked and depressed by the very cold and early start to winter last month.  But now the pattern is softening quite a lot, and temperatures into the 40s appear likely by late next week.  Most of us associate winter with very cold weather.  It is what we remember.  But weather in the 40s and even 50s in December is not that rare.  Last winter it was 40 degrees on December 27.  Early in December of 2012 there were three days above 40 including two at 50.  December of 2011 featured five days in the 40s including 45 Christmas Day.  Decembers in 2009 and 2010 had no days warmer than the 30s, so it doesn’t happen every year.  But any winter month has at least one day above 39 degrees more often than not.  Meteorologist  John Wheeler

Cold November, Warm November

November was a cold one here in the Red River Valley region.  In Fargo Moorhead, the average temperature for the month was six degrees colder than the average of the past three decades.  Twenty-two of the 30 days in the month were colder than average.  However, according to satellite-based measurements of the entire Earth’s surface, November was the second warmest of the 36-year satellite record.  The Upper Midwest and Northern Plains regions had the coldest temperature anomaly on Earth.  A region over the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska had the warmest temperature anomaly.  The warmest November in the satellite record happened in 2009, but that was also a mild November around here. So the opposite correlation between our region and the rest of the world may just be another tidbit of random weather.  We were just lucky (or unlucky) to have been so cold last month.   Meteorologist John Wheeler