It was a Warm July

Based on what the projected temperatures are today, it seems likely that this month will end up as the 2nd warmest July on record.  Currently, 1916, 1989 and 1988, 1935 and 1957 are all virtually tied for that position, but they do technically rank in the order listed.

If you are surprised that this month ended up warmer than 1988 and 1989, the years many readers will remember, it was the low temperatures this month that made the difference, not the high temperatures.  July 1988 and 1989 had a noticeable higher average for daily maximums, but those months also had much cooler nights than this year.

Although this July will rank as the 2nd warmest on record, it still comes far short of the record warmest July set back in 1936. In fact, this month will likely end up around 3 degrees cooler than what was recorded that year, which averaged over a full 31 days is very significant.

But that should not take away from this month as it was certainly a July many of us will not be forgetting anytime soon.

Cloud Names

Recently, my son asked me what type of cloud was floating over our backyard.  When I mentioned it was a Cumulus congestus cloud.  He immediately came back with a response as to why does everything in science tend to have such difficult names.

Cloud names, like many things in science, are Latin based.  Latin, not being in wide use anymore, will not then, have words that will change meaning over time, making it perfect for any exacting naming convention.  The three principal cloud types are all based on Latin terms.  Cumulus means, heap or pile; stratus means spread out and finally cirrus means curl, or curl of hair (wispy).

When clouds have two characteristics the names are often combined, for example, cirrostratus or stratocumulus. The term alto, meaning high, is also used to describe these cloud characteristics at higher levels, as in altostratus or altocumulus.

If you want to learn more, I highly recommend checking out the Cloud Appreciation Society on the web.

Across the Street

On May 27 a thunderstorm dropped over 2 inches of rain in much of Moorhead.  Fargo and West Fargo on the other hand, especially areas near and west of I-29 picked up less than one inch.  By bad coincidence, the sensor at Hector Int’l was not reporting during that timeframe.  Therefore, the National Weather Service used the data from the cooperative observer in Moorhead who recorded 2.33 inches.

Eventually, the data was recovered from the automatic gauge at the airport and the official total was dropped to 0.81 inches for that event. This past Wednesday, the airport sensor recorded 2.39 inches from some overnight thunderstorms.  The cooperative observer who picked up so much more from the previous event, this time recorded just 0.74 inches.  In the end, the summer totals from those two sites now almost match; yet, my house is still running nearly 2 inches shy of both.

These are yet more examples of how a mile or two can make a huge difference in rain totals and how the official reading frequently does not represent other totals nearby.

A Sticky Problem

On July 19, 2011, the sensor at the Moorhead Municipal airport was reporting a dew point of 88 degrees.  Many of us in the weather community did not give much credence to the reading as that sensor gives calculated dew point temperatures three to five degrees higher than Hector Int’l no matter the time of year (and it still does, no matter what the vegetation type if any, time of day, month or season).

That day out of curiosity, I drove to the Moorhead airport, took a reading using an old fashioned sling psychrometer, which was used for years to measure relative humidity and dew point based on the cooling of a thermometer by evaporative cooling.  I came up with an 83 degree reading on two tests, which was what the Fargo airport was reporting.  Yet, in the end that 88 degree reading, which surprised many of us, was used as a new state record for Minnesota.

I put that record in this context; although Roger Maris’ record of 61 homers in a season has technically been broken, it was done so by questionable means.  I think Roger Maris holds the true record and a humidity sensor that reads high consistently, in all seasons, perhaps should have as asterisk next to its record

The Not so Low Lows

Yesterday in this space, I wrote about how frequently the high temperature has been above 80 degrees this summer.  This consistency of above average temperatures has likely been very noticeable on your electric bill if you cool your house with an air conditioner.  Yet, the daytime high temperatures have only been part of the reason why your electric bill has been so high this summer as the low temperatures have also played a role.

Our average low temperature is currently 60 degrees, yet most summer the low is in the 50s just as frequently as it is in the 60s.  Overnight temperatures in the 50s generally allow you to open up the windows and let the cool overnight breezes naturally cool your house.  This month there has only been three such nights with a low in the 50s and more importantly we have recorded five days with a low in the 70s.  We only average three 70 degrees lows in an entire summer.  So although this summer has been far from unprecedented, it certainly has been a change from recent years.

Where did the 70s go?

What has been the most notable weather feature of this summer?  The lack of rain?  The high heat?  Too me, it may be the lack of 70s for daily highs.  Since June 1, the beginning of climatological summer, there has only been 11 days with a high temperature below 80 degrees.

At the moment, with the likely exception of today, it appears the rest of the month will see a high above 80 degrees which would mean that the first two months of this summer will end up with the 2nd fewest such days since 1881 (a total of 2).  It will probably not surprise many of you who lived through it, but the record for June and July is just 6 such days set back in 1988.

In addition, this month has recorded only 1 day with a high below 80 degrees and if we can hit 80 today (unlikely), that would tie 1916, 1935 and 1989 for the fewest sub 80 degrees highs in July.  This summer will very likely not be the warmest on record; yet, the consistency of the heat without a break has been remarkable to this point.

Rainfall Totals

Rain Totals from overnight:

KFAR (Hector Int’l)           2.39”

NDSU:                                  0.75”

WDAY:                                 0.73”

North Moorhead                 0.74”

South Fargo                        0.87”

Grand Forks Airport            1.96”

Grand Forks NWS              2.07”

Grand Forks South               2.31”

Pelican Rapids                      3.62”

West Fargo (South)               0.80”

Devils Lake                           2.71”

Detroit Lakes                        0.62”

Fergus Falls                           1.56”

Bemidji                                    0.56″

Grafton                                    0.00″

Moorhead Airport                  1.15″

Kindred                                    4.50″

Valley City                                0.01″

Not so Warm

As the eastern two-thirds of the United States continue with this prolong period of above average temperatures, other locations in the northern hemisphere have been experiencing a long stretch of the other extreme, colder than average temperatures.  One of these locations is London that will soon be attracting international attention as the Olympics will begin in a few days.

If you caught any of the Open Championship coverage this past weekend, you would likely have noticed the lush green fairways and bunkers with puddles of water.  Much of Great Britain has been experiencing a very cool and wet summer, although, most of the locals would not call the past two months much of a summer.  The weather has been so chilly, that some athletes left for warmer climates to continue their training before the start of the Olympic Games claiming it was too cold.

Considering the forecast for this weekend, those athletes that left may regret not sticking around to get use to the cool and damp conditions that appear to be hanging around for the opening ceremonies.

Historical Heat?

The heat in many parts of the country this summer has been impressive for sure.  One of the recent heat waves there were approximately 3000 record highs broken.  That is certainly a large number, but that is just a small percentage of the nearly 400,000 records in the database for cities in the United States and many events in the past recorded even more and with fewer recording sites.

Plus, many of those records were from locations whose database only goes back to post World War II, meaning, the extreme heat waves from the 1930s and others ones from the 1910s and 1920s were not included.  In Fargo Moorhead, for example, only one record (and the tie from last Friday), has been set in July since the drought and hot summers of the 1980s.  In addition, almost all the records for this month were set in the 1930s or earlier.

Take away the data before 1950 and many local records may have been broken recently as well, yet, similar to this summer in other areas, that should not be taken then to mean it was the “hottest ever”.

The End of Wet?

This summer has many parallels to what occurred in 2006.  You may recall that 2006 was also a warm dry summer in the region.  That summer there were many comments about how the wet cycle must have finally ended and that drier years were ahead.

That year I was asked frequently if I thought our string of wet years was over and my response was to ask me in five years.  My reasoning was it would take at least that long before there would be any conclusive evidence that a different precipitation pattern had developed.  Certainly, the wet pattern would end eventually, and it may end quickly, but one dry spell does not necessarily mean the end of a long term pattern.  2006 turned out to be just an aberration as the following years were very wet once again, with devastating flooding in 2009, 2010, and 2011.

Six years later, it is dry again with the same question being asked and my answer is still the same, ask me in five years.