Total Eclipse, 2017

The solar eclipse last Thursday was just a partial eclipse.  Without some sort of safe device for looking at it, you probably didn’t notice anything.  This is because the sun is so bright that it even half-covered it effectively lights our world.  The next solar eclipse visible in North America is August 21, 2017, and it will be a total eclipse in a coast-to-coast, hundred mile wide swath from Oregon to Nebraska to South Carolina.  A total solar eclipse is really something to behold. As the moon blocks the sun, the sky goes black.  If there are no clouds, the stars appear.  Birds stop singing. Wherever crowds are gathered, people break into spontaneous applause.  Some are moved to tears. A couple of truly awe-inspiring minutes pass. Then as the light returns, birds begin to mark their territory again as if it is a new day. People again applaud this rare performance of the spheres.

If you miss the total eclipse in 2017, there will be another over eastern North America in April of 2024, and another across the southern United States in August of 2045.  Solar eclipses are actually more frequent over the Earth than lunar eclipses.  However, lunar eclipses are visible all over the Earth whereas solar eclipses cover very narrow paths.

A lunar eclipse is when Earth gets between the Sun and the Moon.  A solar eclipse is when the Moon gets between Earth and the Sun.      Meteorologist John Wheeler

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     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


Coriolis Explained

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

While it is true that air rotates around large low-pressure systems in the opposite direction south of the equator, it is a myth that the water in a toilet swirls in the opposite direction down there.  The Coriolis Force is an apparent force caused by the rotation of the Earth. The rotating Earth causes apparent deflection of moving objects to the right in the Northern Hemisphere; to the left in the Southern Hemisphere. What’s actually happening is that air is moving straight and it is the Earth turning that makes it look look like it is curving.  This is what causes large scale storm systems (including hurricanes, low-pressure systems, and most tornadoes) to rotate counterclockwise in the North but clockwise Down Under.  However, the effect is virtually negligible on any movements the scale of modern plumbing.  Motions caused by the plumbing design or a person swirling the water has a much greater effect.  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

New MNDOT Winter Driving Terms

As you may have heard by now, the Minnesota Department of Transportation has come out with new terminology to better clarify winter road conditions.  The old terms; good, fair, poor, travel not advised, and closed are out.  The new terms; normal, partially covered, completely covered, travel not advised, and closed are in.  However, this might not be enough.  I often get inquiries from people who, apparently, have either vehicles or superpowers which make them impervious to weather.  These people, after hearing the road report, want me to tell them how bad it really is.  Some people, apparently, require a few more terms for those conditions when roads are worse than just closed. Might I suggest, “completely closed,” “closed beyond belief,” and finally, from the Book of Amos, “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion.”     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

Memorable Early October Snow

On October 7, 1985, the Fargo Moorhead area just missed out on a major early season snowstorm.  Grand Forks got six inches from the storm, Roseau received eight inches, and Langdon got ten inches.  The heaviest snow fell in north-central North Dakota where Minot got a foot of snow and Velva received 17 inches.  The autumn of 1985 was much colder than average and, although most of that early snowfall melted within a few days, several major November snowstorms blanketed our entire region to a depth of one to three feet by Thanksgiving.  Here in Fargo Moorhead, the last five days in November were all below zero day and night.  Such a cold snap before December is unusual.  And though the weather remained cold until just before Christmas, most of January, February, and March brought above-average temperatures.  That was my first winter at WDAY and I remember it well.  The early snow and cold was exciting professionally, but a bit of a shock personally.   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

Wind Energy Grows, Remains Small

Wind power and solar power are the two fastest growing means of generating electricity according to Worldwatch Institute.  However, this still accounts for just a small percentage of electricity generated in the United States.  According to the U.S. Department of Energy, Electricity used in America is 30 per cent from coal and 27 per cent from natural gas.  Nuclear reactors generate 19 per cent.  Hydropower accounts for 7 per cent.  Wind energy, although growing, produces around 4 per cent of our electricity and solar power creates less than a half of a per cent.  Most of the remaining percentages come from a variety of renewable resources such as biomass and geothermal.     Meteorologist John Wheeler