Arctic Storm of 2012

The first three weeks of August the average temperature in Fargo was nearly 4 degrees below average.  One of the principle reasons for that change in the weather pattern was the development of a massive Arctic cyclone during the first week of August.  That storm at peak intensity had a lower atmospheric pressure reading than Hurricane Isaac did.

It pushed the cooler Arctic air south into North America and in turn, warmer air from the Atlantic Ocean into the Arctic.  The combination of the very strong wind and warmer air from this system caused a massive break up of Arctic ice.  During a three day stretch nearly 250,000 square miles of ice was ripped off the ice pack and in turn melted.  Of course, additional ice was also broken up by the storm that lasted nearly a week.

That storm in combination with another above normal ice melt pushed the Arctic ice pack to its lowest level since 1979 according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Summers to Remember

When I was a kid, my dad would tell me great stories of the summer of 1936.  The details of the extreme heat, dust storms, and true or not, his story about being able to throw a rock across a nearby lake (which is usually about 200 yards wide).  Perhaps what fascinated me the most was that he slept outdoors as it was too hot to sleep inside because as a kid, sleeping outside without a tent sounded like a dream come true.

As I was finishing up graduate school, I was to some degree able to live through my own 1936, the summer of 1988.  Granted, the heat was not quite as extreme, but the number of 90 degree days was about the same.  Plus, although I did not have an air conditioned room, two fans placed in the window allowed me to spend those summer nights inside, not outside, yet, I felt like I at least could understand to a small degree what my dad lived through a bit better than I did previously.

Another generation was born and never really experienced a hot summer, until perhaps this year.  My dad had 1936, my summer was 1988 and perhaps my kids will tell stories about the summer of 2012.

Pumping Water

I posted this to my twitter account (@darylritchison), but I thought I would post it here quickly as well.  But New Orleans, LA has the ability to pump nearly 50,000 cfs of water out of the city.  Last I heard they were near 70% capacity today.  How much water is that?  In Fargo Moorhead during the 2009 flood, that was a close call for the city, the Red River peaked at 29,500 cfs locally.  So in other words, the pumps in New Orleans could have literally pumped the Red River dry with capacity left over.  Technology is a remarkable thing… when it works.


The I’s Have it

In the past decade Apple has able to name things with the letter “i” that resonated into the common vernacular of our culture.    In the weather world, the past decade has also brought about a plethora of “i” named hurricanes that have become equally well-known.  Hurricanes names are cycled over a period of 6 years, which means the same list of names used in 2012, will be used again in 2018, unless a hurricane name becomes retired.

Hurricane names are retired when the storm produces devastating damage, or has high impacts in many areas.  The letter of the alphabet with the most retired names is the letter “i”.  In fact, 7 of the last 11 hurricanes that started with the letter “i” have been retired.

Since the advent of using satellites to detect hurricanes, it is often during the peak of the hurricane season that we reach the 9th named storm which is one reason, besides just coincidence,  that so many “i” storms have been retired in recent years.

Thoughts of Winter

With most North Dakota schools starting this week and Labor Day weekend just a week away, many of you are perhaps thinking about autumn and winter more than the last remnants of summer that we have been experiencing lately.  This has been evident in numerous short conversations I have had in recent days as nearly every place I go, the same question comes up.  “What will our winter be like?”

With an El Nino developing in the Pacific Ocean you will likely hear that the upcoming winter will be another mild one in this area.  Yet, the winter of 2009-2010 was an El Nino winter that ended up very cold and snowy because one single parameter does not guarantee certain weather conditions as many forecasters learned that year.

Therefore, it is too early for a prediction, but one thing I can almost guarantee is this area will probably not experience another record breaking warm winter, meaning, that even if temperatures are near normal this cold season, it is going to feel brutal in comparison to last year.

Early Frost

It was on this date in 2004 that the low temperature in Fargo Moorhead dropped to 34 degrees.  Although the official low at the airport managed to stay just above freezing, frost was seen on many rooftops, car windshields and low spots throughout the city. Worse yet, the temperatures to our north were even colder.

Frost was very common along and north of Highway 200 in both North Dakota and in Minnesota with some areas even reporting a hard freeze (temperature at 28 degrees or lower).  The temperatures were so cold that morning that it effectively ended the growing season for much of northern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota.  Plus, it was not a one night event, as record temperatures were set on August 19 and on the 21 in many locations as well.

The summer of 2004 ended up being the 7th coldest on record and besides the earlier frost, it was also the year when high temperatures were only in the upper 50s on the 4th of July in west central Minnesota.

Cool Alaska

In July, when much of the eastern two-thirds of the lower 48 states were recording above average temperatures, the residents of our 49th state were shivering.  Alaska has been experiencing a cool 2012 and last month was no exception.

Anchorage for example, was on track to set a record for the coldest July on record, but a few days in the low 70s toward the end of the month was just enough to allow the largest city in Alaska to end up with the 4th coldest July since 1918.  That cold air was not confined to just Anchorage, as nearly the entire state finished with well below normal temperatures for the month and overall it was the 18th coldest July on record for the state.

The same persistent pattern that has kept our area with consistently warm conditions has in turn, also kept Alaska colder than average for much of the past year.  The recent pattern shift has at least temporarily allowed most of Alaska to finally experience a touch of summer in recent days.

The Start of Something New

Last week there was a noticeable change in our weather.  After recording only three days in the 70s over the previous 48 days, since last Thursday our high temperatures have been frequently in the 70s. Plus, on this upcoming Thursday and Friday, one (or both) of those two days may be only the second time this summer with a high in the 60s.

Is this a permanent change?  My strong suspicion is yes.  A major strong in the Arctic last week along with some subtle other changes in the flow pattern over the Northern Hemisphere has probably, at least in our region, put an end to the persistent heat of the past two months.

Back in 2006, our last warm summer, after recording 15 days with a high in the 90s (including two above 100) through July, the rest of that summer the temperature remained below 90 degrees.  This month has the potential to be the first below average month in over a year and it would not surprise me if our autumn started cooler than average as well.

It does not mean there will not be anymore warm days, just that normal or slightly below normal temperatures look to be the dominate temperatures for a while.