Elephant Doppler


Elephants, apparently, can sense thunderstorms up to 150 miles away.  That’s not quite as good as Doppler radar, but it is close.  It is the elephant’s acute sense of hearing, at low frequencies in particular, that allows then to hear thunderstorms at such a distance.   Researchers at Texas A&M University used GPS collars on nine elephants to track their movements in Namibia, an exceptionally dry region with a short rainy season.  They found that the elephants would move toward the sound of thunder in order to get to the water sooner.  Elephants are able to travel great distances very quickly, and so are able to take advantage of ponds swollen by thunderstorms.  I came across this information browsing on www.popsci.com.     Meteorologist John Wheeler



Worst Drought in 100 Years


The drought year in 1934 may have been the worst across the United States in the past thousand years.  This bold statement comes from a study released last week in Geophysical Research Letters.  The scientists compiled tree ring data from 1000 to 2005, comparing to modern-day instrument data where possible, and concluded that more than 70 per cent of the United States was in a drought the summer of 1934.  This compares to about 59 per cent in 1580, the second worst drought year found in the study.  Interestingly, here in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, the summer of 1936 was probably a little worse than 1934 due to hotter temperatures in July of that year.  In Fargo Moorhead, there were ten days at 100 degrees or hotter in 1936 compared to just two in 1934.   Meteorologist John Wheeler


Forecast For Winter

The Climate Prediction Center (CPC) issued its winter prediction this week and, based largely on the forecast of a weak El Nino developing, have given our area an increased likelihood of above normal temperatures for averaged from December through February.  This means they think it is more likely to be warmer than normal than near-normal or below-normal.   When it comes to long range winter forecasting, there is hardly a better indicator than the presence of El Nino or La Nina.  Unfortunately, even these are not as reliable as we would like them to be.  Conditions in the Pacific Ocean are neutral at the moment, but there are signs of a weak El Nino forming early in this winter.  The CPC has had more trouble than usual with winter forecasts lately because factors other than El Nino/La Nina have been trumping the winter weather regime.  The past few weeks, widespread, substantial snow cover has spread across most of Siberia, often a sign of a colder winter in our region.  In other words, we really do not know what the winter will bring.  Long range forecasting is not quite the same as guessing wildly, but it isn’t much better.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

October Severe

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The high number of severe weather reports (damaging wind, hail, tornado) from the Southern Plains across the Southeastern U.S. Sunday this week is a lot for the middle of October.  When a weather system develops which is out of character for the time of year, many people’s reaction is to ask what has gone wrong to allow for this.  In fact, however, the weather does not always know what season it is.  While the low pressure system this week was stronger than is typical for October, the main reason for all the strong thunderstorms was twofold:  Very humid air brought up from the tropical part of the Gulf of Mexico and wind blowing at different velocities at different levels of the atmosphere.  In other words, so many thunderstorms became severe because conditions were right for severe storms, in spite of the calendar.  The outbreak of storms this week is no more unusual than an early frost or a mid-winter mild spell. It’s just another case of the weather being the weather.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

Another Summer of Thin Ice

Although the Arctic summer of 2014 was cooler and less stormy than average, Arctic sea ice reached its sixth lowest extent since 1978 according to The National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.  On September 17, ice covered 1.94 million square miles, compared to the 1981-2010 average of 2.40 million square miles.  Ice cover on the Arctic Ocean always retreats in summer, usually reaching a minimum in September before cold weather causes the ice to rebuild.  Warming in recent years has contributed to a general decline in the amount of the Arctic Ocean covered in ice at the end of summer.  The ice will continue to increase through the fall and winter, before reaching a maximum coverage sometime next spring.  Arctic temperatures have been on the rise since the 1800s.  However, satellite measurement of Arctic ice has only been possible since the late 1970s.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

An Up and Down, Average September

The month of September finished with relative average statistics despite a lot of ups and downs.  The month began warm and rainy.  The first eight days of September brought highs in the 70s and 80s.  A rainfall of 1.99 inches occurred on September 4, which was about 80 per cent of the total for the entire month.  The middle of the month brought a cool spell before the warmest weather in September happened near the month’s end.  The warmest temperature was 87 degrees on September 27.  The coolest was 39 degrees on September 13. The average high for the months was 72.2 degrees and the average low was 49.5 degrees.  The 2.45 inches of rain is 0.12 inches below average.  The mean daily temperature average of 60.8 degrees is 1.7 degrees above average.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

The Year Without a Summer

It is well-known that large volcanic eruptions can have a significant effect on world weather due to the introduction of sun-blocking sulfate aerosols into the stratosphere.  The Krakatoa eruption of 1883 likely contributed to a string of very cold years in the middle and late 1880s. The Pinatubo eruption of 1991 preceded Fargo Moorhead’s coldest summer in 75 years in 1992. The 1815 Tambora eruption has, for decades, been associated with the infamous 1816 “Year Without a Summer,” in which summertime snow and frost caused crop failures across New England as well as many parts of Europe.  Newly rediscovered writings from a South American scientist produced evidence of a strong eruption in Columbia in 1808 which likely added to the Tambora cooling.  According to other geological data as well as limited record keeping of crops, the first two decades of the 1800s produced some of the coldest years of the past several hundred years and this new evidence helps explain why.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

First Frosts Coming Later

With our weather expected to remain generally mild for a while longer, it is likely the Fargo Moorhead area will again make it into October without frost. We had a miserably cold spring this year, so it is nice that the weather is extending the growing season a bit on this other end.  Interestingly, this is becoming the new normal.  Back in the 1880s when weather record keeping began in Fargo Moorhead, the first frost of fall was usually in early September and sometimes in late August.  Over the past three decades, the average first frost date has shifted to September 30.  Over the past ten years, only two have had a frost in September.  The rest were all in October.  Although in 2004, it did get to 34 degrees August 20 and some light frost was observed on rooftops.  And while our fall frosts are happening later and later, there has been little movement of the average last frost of spring.  It remains about May 8.       Meteorologist John Wheeler

Late-Season Hot Temperatures

On September 22, 1936, it was 101 degrees in Fargo Moorhead.  This is the latest 100 degree day ever recorded here.  The record highs for each day are mostly in the 90s through October 6, after which the record highs are in the 80s until one rogue 90 degree day shows up from October 17, 1910.  The latest 80 degree day in the books was set on October 25, 1989, at 83 degrees.  The latest 70 degree day was the 73 degree day set November 1953.  The latest day in the 60s was the 65 degree afternoon on December 6, 1939.  The coldest record high for any day is 40 degrees, for several different days in January.    Meteorologist John Wheeler



Fake Weather

The number of fake articles about weather being passed around through social media on the internet is growing.  This is concerning because misleading information about weather can be expensive or even dangerous if people make decisions based on it.  This is also concerning because the growing trend suggests that people are becoming increasingly gullible to such things.  If people increasingly believe in whatever blips onto their smartphone screens then we have a problem.  From fake forecasts to ridiculous seasonal outlooks to junk science on either side of climate change, there is a lot of misinformation out there.  My advice is this; do not believe everything you read.  If something is complicated and an explanation comes along that makes it simple, it is probably wrong. Be cautious with information.  Question your own knowledge before you become guilty of passing this garbage along to others.   Meteorologist John Wheeler