Weak Solar Wind


Last
week NASA held a press conference where their solar physicists announced that
the solar wind was currently the weakest since such measurements started in the
early 1960s. The solar wind is a stream of charged particles that are ejected
from the Sun’s upper atmosphere.  It
consists mainly of electrons and protons.  


The solar wind is one of the many different
aspects of the sun earth relationship that falls under the title of space
weather.  How could this weaker solar
wind influence us on Earth?  No one knows
for sure, but it is likely that the weaker solar wind at a minimum will allow
more cosmic radiation to strike the planet. 
There has been research that has shown that cosmic radiation helps with
cloud formation.  More clouds on Earth could
mean slightly cooler global temperatures. 


Our understanding of the sun is far from perfect, so exactly what may
happen in the future is now nothing more than an educated guess. 

September Turnaround


Eight
out of the first nine days of this month were below average, many well below
average, but now most of the past ten days have been well above seasonal
averages, especially the night time lows. 
The last ten days have been so warm that it may surprise you to learn
that our average temperature for the month is currently running above
average. 


Taking a look at the rest of
the month, it currently seems quite likely that we will finish the month above
average, a rare occurrence so far in 2008. 
Although heavy rain once again struck the area earlier this week, it for
the most part missed the immediate Fargo Moorhead area, but we did get enough
that this September is currently ranked as the fifth wettest on record with
still a few more days to go. 


So far much
of eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota have received
between four and six inches of rain this month, well above the two inch
average.

Large Anniversary


It was a year ago today that many of you were
awakened very early in the morning by a thunderstorm the dropped hailstones as
large as baseballs.  The thunderstorm arrived around 2:00 AM and moved
quickly to the northeast. 

As it moved through Fargo/Moorhead, the wind
was generally light, with large hail causing the damage, but as the cell pushed
its way into Clay
County
the wind picked up
and both hail and wind damage was reported. 

The largest hailstones were
found especially in the southern part of the metro where hail the size of
tennis and baseballs did significant damage to roofs and vehicles.  Many
car windows were shattered by the large hailstones.   Total damage
from that thunderstorm was estimated to be over $60 million. 

Hail that
large is rare in any one location. 
Although almost every year,  some
part of our region experiences such an event. 

Spotless


August 2008 may have been the first full month
since 1913 that no sunspots were observed on the surface of the sun. 
There is still some disagreement if a tiny speck observed on August 21 should
count as a true sunspot or not. 

The sun is currently at solar minimum, so
fewer sunspots are to be expected. But this minimum has been especially
quiet.  The Sun has an 11 year solar cycle on average, but solar cycles
vary from around nine to nearly fourteen years.  Our current cycle has
already lasted for twelve years (it started in May of 1996) and could very well
be the longest solar cycle in over 100 years.

Historically, shorter solar
cycles tend to induce a slight warming on earth, whereas longer cycles tend to
induce a slight cooling.  So if history is any guide, the recent, ten-year
trend of slightly cooler global weather may continue.   

Columbus makes a Forecast


Hurricanes have always formed in the Atlantic
basin, but the beginning of good written records started with Christopher
Columbus’ voyage in 1492.  Columbus learned
enough in this first voyage and in his subsequent voyages, that in 1502 Columbus made a hurricane
forecast. 

In July 1502, he noticed a mix of oily swells from the
southeast, abnormal tide, heaviness in the air, aching arthritis, wispy cirrus
clouds streaming high overhead, and a magnificent crimson sunset meant only one
thing: a savage hurricane was coming from the north or east.  With these
signs he asked the Spanish governor of Hispaniola
permission to harbor his ships. 

Not only did the governor deny his
request, but ignored Columbus‘ advice and sent
an armada of 30 ships back to Spain
that very day.  Columbus
ships all survived having taken shelter in another harbor without loss of life,
but 21 of those other 30 Spanish ships sank with more than 500 lives lost

Fiery Oranges


You
may have noticed that our sunsets recently have been a bit brighter, especially
with the orange colors the past couple of weeks.  We certainly have not been alone, vibrant
sunset reports have been very common throughout the northern hemisphere.  


The cause of these spectacular sunsets is
the ash from a recent volcanic eruption in Alaska. 
Back on August 7, the Kasatochi Volcano, which is part of the Aleutian Island chain, sent an ash plume to
nearly 40,000 feet.  Upper-level wind
quickly scattered this ash throughout the northern hemisphere.  The fine ash particles are excellent
scatterers of the longer wavelengths of visible light, the oranges and reds,
which is why those colors have been so vibrant recently. 


Although large volcanic eruptions can cause
cooler weather, an example being the Mount Pinatubo eruption in the early
1990s, this eruption so far at least seems to small to bring anything but a good
sky show in the coming weeks.

No Heat

What will probably be remembered the most about the summer of 2008 will not necessarily be the average temperature, which finished just slightly below the long term average, or not even the rainfall, which although finished well above average, came in just a couple of heavier rain events. 

Instead, I think the summer of 2008 will be remembered for the lack of extreme heat.  Although we did manage to reach 90 degrees six times, four of those times the high was right at 90 degrees.  We had one day in July with the temperature of 91 which was the warmest day of the summer until Labor Day. 

On September 1 we hit 92 which will very likely go down as the warmest temperature of the year.  Although we have had other years with fewer 90 degree days as recently as 2004, you would have to go back to 1915, the year without a 90 degree day to find a year with a cooler maximum high temperature.  

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Summer 2008


The climatological summer (June, July, August)
of 2008 finished slightly below average for temperatures with an average
temperature of 67.8 degrees. Our summer average is 68.5 degrees.  This was
our first summer with below average temperatures since 2004. 

The warmest
temperature recorded was 91 degrees back on July 11 (although the warmest of
the year was the 92 degree reading recorded on Labor Day) and the coolest
reading of the summer was the 43 degree morning low on August 24.
  Precipitation wise, it was a summer noted for being both wet and
dry.  Although12.39 inches officially was recorded in Fargo Moorhead which
is well above the 8.91 inch average, much of the rain came from two heavier
rains in early June and in mid August. 

Surrounding those events, much of
the summer was extremely sunny and quite dry which once again should remind us
that we live in a highly variable climate.

Frosty Minnesota


Frequently in the winter-time some location in
North Dakota or especially Minnesota will end up
having the coldest temperature in the lower 48 states. 


But in the summer-time,
it is usually some location in the western mountain ranges that ends up being
the cold spot as the high elevations in combination with cold air draining into
the valleys at night will cause cities like Stanley, Idaho, Wisdom, Montana, or
Truckee, California to be listed as the nations cold spot that day. 


But not
always, the cities of Tower and Embarrass Minnesota also sit in small valleys which even
in the summer can bring temperatures down close to the freezing point.  In a
fact that may surprise you, the state of Minnesota has only two days in the record
books where the record low is above freezing. 


Those two days are August 8 and
July 21, so in other words, no day of the year is really safe from frost in
northern Minnesota.