Is This a Drought?

Drought is not a disease of the weather.  It is not contagious.  Drought is just a lack of precipitation.  Causes of drought are complex.  There is nothing in our atmosphere; no known circulation or recognized anomaly; which is certain to cause a drought.  Also, it is impossible to know when a drought has begun.  We cannot know if a short-term dry spell will become a full drought until it has been dry a long time. So is our area in a drought?  Yes it is, because outcomes are beginning to appear.  Prairie fires this spring are much worse than usual.  As soon as growers in the region start to plant, there will be a problem because there is not enough moisture in the top soil to sustain the crops for long.  All of this could change with one or two good rains.  But until that happens, our region is undoubtedly in the beginning stages of a drought.  Meteorologist John Wheeler

Just 16 Inches


It has been more than a month (March 6) since snow was on the ground for more than a few hours. And while a late season snow is still a possibility, it looks less likely every day.  Total snowfall for this winter for Fargo Moorhead stands at 16.0 inches, the least since 13.1 inches fell in the winter of 1980-81, and the eighth least snowy going back to 1885.  The heaviest snowfall of the season was 3.5 inches on February 10.  The deepest average snow depth was 5 inches from February 15-18. As there is historical precedent for a winter with so little snow, it would be wrong to call this a freak winter or an abnormality.  For cross-country skiers, snowmobilers, and business owners who depend on snow all there is to say is, “Better luck next time.”    Meteorologist John Wheeler

Will Dry Get Drier?


It has been dry.  There was very little winter snow and, so far, only a few light showers this spring.  Any windy day causes blowing dust in the fields.  Each warm day causes more and more evaporation which leaves the ground drier and drier.  Many farmers in the area are concerned that the lack of rain will soon impact the growing season.  And while all of these concerns are real, it is important to realize that our region is one good storm away from being quite wet.  One two-inch rain is all it would take to saturate the soil and start greening the grass.  Even a one-inch rain would be more than helpful.  At present, there is no sign of that first good rain of summer.  The pattern will likely keep most of the good rains away from our region for a while.  And if the sky remains dry, the ground will only get drier.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

Dressing For Easter

Easter is, of course, a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus.  It is also a celebration of spring celebrating the rebirth in nature.  The symbolism of the rabbit distributing eggs makes this obvious.  Standard dress for Easter Sunday includes such spring-appropriate clothing as a pretty spring dress and bonnet or a new suit.  These outfits may or may not be comfortable, depending on the weather. And while Easter does occur in spring, the actual date varies.   In the year 325, at the Council of Nicaea, it was established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.  This means Easter in any year can fall between March 22 and April 25.  High temperatures in Fargo Moorhead during this period have ranged from one below zero (March 24, 1974) to 100 degrees (April 21, 1980).  It is difficult to dress for such a range.      Meteorologist John Wheeler

Are You Tornado Prone?

After last week’s first tornado outbreak of the season produced yet another tornado in the city of Moore, Oklahoma, there has been much speculation as to why Moore seems to have become be a tornado target in recent years.  Some have speculated it could be a subtle feature of geography; a combination of the slope of the land and proximity to urban areas causing natural enhancements to thunderstorm inflow.  However, actual results seem to defy such explanations.  Tornadoes are so isolated and uncommon in any one place that it is very hard to find empirical evidence for such conclusions.  Likely as not, when a particular location seems to be tornado prone, it is just random luck.  The forces within a supercell thunderstorm are strong enough to dwarf any local geographical effects.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Sunny or Cloudy? Does It Matter?

A recently published psychological study has demonstrated that for a lot of people, weather has little or no real effect on mood.  For a minority of people, however, weather has a much larger effect.  The study found that most people, despite claiming that their mood is lifted by a sunny day, are largely unaffected by weather at all in terms of mood.  For most of us, apparently, our mood is affected much more by other things in our life.  Most interestingly, the study shows that our sense that a bright, sunny day is good for our mood is not necessarily a truth.  Of course, there are people who suffer with Seasonal Affective Disorder, who can experience difficult mood problems, particularly during our long, dark winters.  But for most of us, we may like the sight of a sunny day, but it likely creates no great benefit to our mood.   You can find more about this study at    Meteorologist   John Wheeler

Record High, of Sorts


There are places on Earth with long periods of weather records and other places that have only been measured for s short time.  This can make comparisons difficult.  It makes some record highs more or less impressive than others.  So in that light, a new record high may have been recently set for the continent of Antarctica.  Although most of Antarctic’s interior has been growing colder in recent decades, temperatures along the Antarctic Peninsula have been getting warmer.  On March 24, an Argentinian research station reached a temperature of 63 degrees Fahrenheit, which, if accepted, would be an Antarctic record high. The present record high for the continent at the bottom of the world is 59 degrees.  At the Amundson-Scott scientific station at the actual South Pole, the record high, summer and winter, is seven degrees. However, the complete temperature record for Antarctica only dates back a few decades.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Continental vs Maritime

The temperature this month in Fargo Moorhead has ranged from eleven below zero to 75 degrees for a range of 86 degrees in a month.  It’s hard to dress for that.  Fargo Moorhead is a perfect example of a continental climate in which the temperature can vary as air is blown around the region by various random weather patterns.  The greatest one-day range was 44 degrees on March 14 when it was 24 in the morning and 68 in the afternoon.  In contrast to this, the temperature this month in Key West, Florida, has ranged from 69 degrees to 84 degrees for a range of 15 degrees.  The greatest one-day range was 13 degrees from a low of 69 to a high of 82.  Key West weather is maritime.  The temperature of the surrounding ocean dominates the weather, keeping daily as well as day-to-day changes minimal.  Meteorologist John Wheeler

Drought and Heat

The official thermometer for downtown Los Angeles has already recorded four days in the 90s this month.  This is a record for so early in the season.  As California starts its fourth summer of drought conditions, the expectation is there will be a lot of hot days which, in Los Angeles, will mean many summer days in the 100s.  There is a very close relationship between drought and record heat.  Here in Fargo Moorhead, 29 of the 92 summer daily record highs (June 1 through August 31) were set in the 1930s which is by far the driest decade on record here. The connection is simple.  When the soil is dry, it is heated up more efficiently by sunlight, which makes the air hotter.  Summer droughts create dry soil and usually have lots of sunny days. Since 1993, the Red River Valley has been quite rainier than the long-term average, and so summer record highs have been rare in recent years.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Late Season Snow Likely

After an early spring, threats of snow have rematerialized in our forecasts on a routine basis.  Late-season snows are typical enough that even April carries a monthly snowfall average of three inches.  Last year, Fargo Moorhead got a 2.3 inch snow on March 31 and a 1.5 inch snowfall on April 16.  Two years ago, we got buried by 9.1 inches on April 15-16 followed by another 3.2 inches on April 17-18.  Late season snows usually melt quickly but often provide more shock value than the snowstorms that happen in the middle of winter.  My own interest in meteorology as a lifetime profession was probably triggered by a now famous spring snowstorm that covered southern Wisconsin (and me) in 12-18 inches of snow April 7-8 or 1973.  My family had just moved to the Midwest from Alabama the previous summer and that April snowstorm was my first blizzard.     Meteorologist John Wheeler