What is a “Weather Event” Anyway?

There is a wonderful essay in the online “Chronical of Higher Education” from February 3 written by William Germano on the topic of the terms, “rain event” and “snow event.”  I laughed aloud as I read the article because these words have always bothered me.  Why do some reporters and meteorologists feel the need to call weather a “weather event?” Is a rain not just a rain?  Why do we need to call it a rain event? When the sun comes up and then goes down we call that a day and not a “day event.”  When I feed my dogs it is suppertime and not a dog food event.  Broadcast journalists strive to be efficient with words so as not to waste time.  My point is that describing a snowstorm as a snow event is really a wasted time event, which in this case would be about half a second.      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

Will Snow-Free Stay Snow-Free?

Is a winter that is largely snow-free more likely or less likely to have a big snow at some point near its end?   Interestingly enough, two of our region’s biggest storms in history were largely stand-alone storms.  Arguable the strongest winter storm to hit anywhere in the United States hit our region in early March of 1966.  For four days the storm hammered us with 35-70 mph winds and 1-3 feet of snow.  The winter, up to that point, had been very cold but with just enough snow to have kept the ground white.  The great “Super Bowl” blizzard of 1975, another four-day whiteout famous for causing a huge power outage when the Minnesota Vikings were playing in the Super Bowl, happened in January of a largely snow-less winter.  Although there was more snow than this winter, the snow cover was scant enough to allow the four-day storm to scour down to the topsoil which caused more of a brown-out than the traditional blizzard whiteout.      Meteorologist John Wheeler

2014 Was a Warm Year, But Not Here

NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration both reported last week that 2014 is the warmest year in Earth’s temperature record since at least 1880.  These studies are separate analyses of the instrument record from around the world.  The two studies used slightly different techniques to estimate temperatures in the many locations not represented by actual thermometers.  A separate analysis of satellite-derived temperature data suggests that 2014 may be just the third warmest year.  The differences are slight and in either case, Earth is going through a very warm period relative to anything observed or estimated over the past several hundred years.  The average temperature in Fargo Moorhead for 2014 was 39.9 degrees, which is quite a bit lower than the average of 42.4 degrees.  Globally, the most significant warming continues to occur in the higher latitudes, particularly the Arctic.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Mayan Mega Drought


A new report featured in Livescience.com reconfirms other research suggesting that the great Mayan Civilization in Central America collapsed due to a mega drought.  Researchers examined core sediments taken from Belize’s famous Blue Hole lagoon and found strong evidence of a sharp decline in tropical storms over two separate century-long periods.  The first, from around 700-800 A.D., coincides with a time in which the great Mayan Empire which had flourished for hundreds of years, to fracture and move north.  The second, from around 1000-1100 A.D., coincides with a further decline of the great early American society.  It is theorized there was a shift in the primary belt of tropical storms which would have caused the droughts, making life in early American large cities virtually impossible.   Meteorologist John Wheeler


Staying Above Minus 40

Thursday, January 8, is the anniversary of the coldest temperature ever officially recorded by the National Weather Service for Fargo Moorhead.  On this morning in 1887, a temperature of 48 below was recorded by what was then called the U.S. Weather Bureau which was located at the Moorhead Post Office and Federal Building at 521 Main Avenue at what is now the Rourke Art Museum.  This number does not reflect wind chill.  It was a mercury-in-glass thermometer reading.  A similar temperature of 47 below was recorded February 9 of 1888.  There are just over a handful of readings in the minus 40s in the entire Fargo Moorhead record book; all of them in a six year period between 1883 and 1888 (Temperature records began in 1881.).  Although 39 below has been reached on two occasions since, most recently on February 1, 1996, it has not been 40 below in Fargo Moorhead since the 1880s.  At least, not officially.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

Ice Heaves and Ocean Rises

Many area lakes have recently developed ice heaves.  Ice can pile up to a depth of several feet and can damage shoreline in some areas.  Ice heaves because it expands.  But what many people don’t know, or have forgotten since they learned it in school, is that the chemical substance we call water (or water vapor or ice depending on its state) is at its most dense at 38 degrees.  As water gets colder (below 38 degrees) it actually expands.  This is what caused the ice to heave.  This is also what causes containers of leftover soup to overflow in your freezer if you fill them too full.  Note that water also expands as it warms (at temperatures above 38 degrees) so you have to be careful about any containers of soup packed at 38 degrees and left out on the cabinet.  On a related note, the sea level rose an average of six inches during the Twentieth Century mostly due to the same thermal expansion process.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

A good Year for Few Tornadoes

The average annual number of tornadoes reported in the United States is about 1,260.  Fairly good records go back to 1953.  The average has been on the rise in recent years, mostly due to a much more active storm spotting network.  The most number of tornadoes in a year was 1,870 in 2004.  Other very active tornado years were 2008 and 2011 with more than 1,600 each of those years.  But for the last three years, there has been a dearth of tornadoes with fewer than 900 observed tornadoes in 2012, 2013, and so far this year.  In fact, barring an unusual Christmas tornado outbreak, 2014 will go down as having the fewest number of tornadoes on record in the modern era (since 1953).  So far, there have been just 814 tornadoes this year.   Meteorologist John Wheeler