Get the Whole Story, Please

There is an old saying, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected.”  Some sources attribute the quote to the poet, Robert Frost.  Others claim it is much older and is possibly translated from any of a number of Asian languages.  Either way, it is a good quote which has lessons for those unwise in the ways of weather.  Today’s “Information Now!” society demands that weather be presented in simplistic form, preferably with a single picture depicting the weather of the day and a single temperature from which the user can determine expected comfort.  Too often, weather is not that simple.  Now, particularly, as winter evolves into the Purgatory that is late winter/early spring, we should expect many days in which the weather changes during the day. Public demands create the dumbed down picture of today’s weather.  But the weather-wise consumer will always dig deeper and get the whole forecast.


Meteorologist John Wheeler

The Boston Avalanche

Through Monday, the official snow total for Boston stood at 90.5 inches since January 24.  That’s seven and a half feet of snow in 23 days.  It works out to about four inches a day or a foot every three days.  A quick examination of the Fargo Moorhead snow records reveal a maximum 23 day total of 43.3 inches from December 20, 1988 through January 11, 1989.   Boston averages about 44 inches a winter compared to our 50 inches.  However, Boston is on the Atlantic Ocean and so has a readily available moisture source.  But that same ocean also supplies milder air, often turning Boston’s snow into rain.  The perfect snow setup in Boston lately is a storm track stuck in the same place and a colder than average temperature pattern.   Fargo Moorhead has plenty of cold air and gets very little wintertime rain, but the moisture source is much further away, so such a thing here would be less likely to happen.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

From No Snow to Buried

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The weather station at Logan International Airport in Boston, Massachusetts, has recorded a total of 70.8 inches of snow in the past 17 days.  The barrage of blizzards began with an innocent enough five inch snowfall back on January 24.  Two days later, a monster snowfall of just over two feet broke the record for a single snowfall at Logan.  There was a 16 inch snowfall on Groundhog Day, followed by a few nuisance snows.  The crown was delivered this past Sunday and Monday as another 22 inches was measured.  The residents of Boston are somewhat used to getting big snows.  Their location so far north on the Atlantic Ocean ensures a snowy winter combination of freezing weather and ample moisture for snow.  But the past two and a half weeks have been extraordinary.  Prior to this recent 17 day snow sequence, there had only been about six inches of snowfall this winter.  Less, even, than what we had received here in Fargo Moorhead.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

False Spring This Year?

The light snow this winter could be setting us up for a false spring.  Typically, our deepest snow cover of the winter happens in February and March.  The average deepest depth for Fargo Moorhead is around a foot around March 1.  As early spring warms the air, our warm up is held back by all that snow which has to melt before truly mild weather can happen. But when there is little or no snow cover, the black topsoil in our region is ready to warm up as soon as the spring south winds start blowing across the Great Plains.  However, the wind can change direction easily.  Arctic air and much deeper snow cover lie across southern Canada.  So if our snow cover remains scant, it will be easy for unusually warm weather to develop very early in spring.  However, there is nothing to stop a spring snowstorm or even a severe spring cold snap.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

No Apologies

The talk continues regarding last weekend’s “big miss” regarding the forecast of a near record snowfall for the New York City area.  As a forecaster, I feel a need to support the New York National Weather Service on this one.  Sure, they forecast too much snow.  But the two feet they forecast did fall about 70 miles up the coast.  And the city did get around 5-8 inches of snow so it is not like there was no snow at all.  Some media did a better job.  I know Ginger Zee on ABC’s Good Morning America program was indicating the heaviest snow would miss New York.  But forecasting weather is not like predicting the next lunar eclipse.  We can do that down to the second.  But the dynamics of an eclipse is fairly simple.  Weather is extremely complex.  And the biggest storms are usually the hardest to forecast because the dynamics are so much more, well, dynamic.  A weather forecaster who misses a forecast after working hard to do the best job possible has nothing to apologize for.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

Winters Can Change

In early December two winters ago, the Fargo Moorhead area had a measly inch of snow on the ground and we would still have just three inches six weeks later on January 27.  Then it started snowing.  We got five inches in January 28.  Then another ten inches fell February 10.  Four more inches fell in a series of little storms in February followed by 15 inches in March and another 17 inches in April.  Snow cover reached a maximum average depth in mid-March and we would not see the ground again until April 27.  It is impossible to predict if the remainder of this winter will be snowy or not.  But the winter of 2012-13 taught us that because winters are long in this region, they can change.  November was cold and dry.  So far, December is looking mild and dry.  But things can change.  There is a long way to go before spring.  Meteorologist John Wheeler

Cold November

November here in the Fargo Moorhead area was cold.  The month, as a whole, was six degrees below average. The first wave of cold air moved in November 9, starting an early winter run of 22 out of 24 days below freezing.  While impressive, the cold has set no records here.  We live in a region where early cold snaps must be expected from time to time.  However, as the cold air built into the Mid-South and Southern U.S., it did began setting records.  The most impressive was about a week after the initial front passed through Fargo Moorhead.  According to Dr. Ryan Maue of WeatherBELL, November 19, 2014, was the coldest November day across the Lower 40 since November 30, 1976.  A full 85 per cent of the Lower 48 was below freezing, with many locations setting both record lows and record highs for the day.  The pattern has since relaxed and now most of the U.S. is enjoying above average temperatures.  Meteorologist  John Wheeler


Winter Break

The milder weather coming our way is going to be a pleasant surprise for many who were shocked and depressed by the very cold and early start to winter last month.  But now the pattern is softening quite a lot, and temperatures into the 40s appear likely by late next week.  Most of us associate winter with very cold weather.  It is what we remember.  But weather in the 40s and even 50s in December is not that rare.  Last winter it was 40 degrees on December 27.  Early in December of 2012 there were three days above 40 including two at 50.  December of 2011 featured five days in the 40s including 45 Christmas Day.  Decembers in 2009 and 2010 had no days warmer than the 30s, so it doesn’t happen every year.  But any winter month has at least one day above 39 degrees more often than not.  Meteorologist  John Wheeler

Warm December Pattern

There are a number of large-scale weather features which can impact our long term weather and one of them is called the Pacific-North America Oscillation (PNA).  When the PNA is positive, there is strong low pressure in the Gulf of Alaska which causes the Polar Jet Stream to drop well south of Alaska across the Pacific, where it enters western North America and bring wet weather to the West Coast.  The Jet then curves northeast into Canada, allowing mild air from the south and southwest into the Northern Plains. This is almost opposite of the pattern in November, when the PNA was strongly negative.  There are other large-scale weather features which sometimes have a greater influence than the PNA.  But the PNA is looking very strongly positive for the time being, causing me to think our weather will be mild through Christmas.  Expect lots of afternoons in the 20s and 30s with a few in the 40s.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

November Was Cold and Dry

The month of November was cold and dry.  The average high temperature was 30.9 degrees and the average low was 14.9 degrees, for an overall average of 14.8 degrees which is 6.0 degrees below the long term average.  The warmest day was 57 degrees November 2.  The coldest morning was 13 below on November 27.  There were four days in the 50s, all early in the month.  There were five days in the 40s, scattered throughout.  There were just three days in the 30s. Fourteen days were in the 20s. There were three days in the teens and just one with a high in the single digits.  Precipitation was 0.71 inches with much of that falling in a 0.44 inch rain shower November 4.  Snowfall was 3.6 inches. Average precipitation is 1.00 inches and average snowfall is 7.9 inches.  With scant snow on the ground and the Jet Stream shifting to a weaker, more westerly flow, it is likely that December will be warmer and drier than average.    Meteorologist John Wheeler