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

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

Winter Forecast (NOT!)

If you want to be both amused and annoyed, do an internet search of “winter forecast” and see what comes up.  You will read about El Nino and what it means this winter.  You will later stumble across other ideas about what it means which will severely contradict the earlier meanings.  You will read personal rants in various comments sections from people who know little about long-range forecasting but know a lot about how to shout when writing.  You will read about how last winter’s forecasts were right in some places and wrong in others.  You will stumble across the Old Farmer’s Almanac and recall how their forecast is almost never correct despite its claim that it is right 80 per cent of the time.  You will read their forecast and tell yourself you do not believe it but you will believe it a little.  After a while, you will get bored and find something else to look at.  In the end, you will have no idea how the upcoming winter will be.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

First Hard Freeze

The first hard freeze of fall is one of those truly great moments of the year.  So many things change that one morning.  So much of what had been growing and green turns dead, brown, and black and there is no way back from the first freeze in the fall.  Most years, the first hard freeze happens in October although occasionally it comes early, in September.  There are, of course, places on Earth that do not freeze in our present climate. In Key West, the vines and the palms just keep growing and people have to work to keep the jungle out of their yard. Southern California will get a killing freeze now and again.  But a northern killing freeze is a dependable, once-a-year, life-changing event.  It is a milestone and a harbinger and in that sense, some hate what it stands for.  But it always comes and it will come one morning soon and I will find comfort in not having to worry about my garden any more.    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

Earliest Snow, Earliest Cold

On September 25, 1912, it snowed in Fargo Moorhead.  The summer of 1912 had been hot and very dry and the heat wave had continued into the early part of September.  Three of the first eight days in September were in the 90s.  But it began to rain September 12.  It rained on 12 of the next 14 days.  During this time, the weather turned remarkably cooler.  Daily high temperatures dropped into the 50s starting September 14.  There was a light frost on September 16.  On September 24 and 25, a steady rain accumulated to more than one inch with the temperature hovering around 40 degrees.  And late on September 25, the cold rain turned to snow, accumulating two inches on the ground during the night.  It remains the earliest measurable snow in Fargo Moorhead recorded history.

On September 26, 1965, it was 19 degrees in Fargo Moorhead.  The month of September, 1965, had been cool from the start.  It had been that cloudy, cool, dank weather that sometimes settles in during the fall for long periods.  Most days were in the 50s.  Frost had not happened due to the perpetually cloudy weather.  But on September 24, the sky cleared but it only warmed to 62 degrees.  That night, it turned unusually cold.  By midnight, the temperature had reached 29 degrees, and by morning it was 22.  The following day, September 25, it remained sunny but the high was just 55 degrees.  The following morning, the temperature bottomed out at 19 degrees.  This remains the earliest temperature in the teens in Fargo Moorhead weather history. The next three days, the clouds returned and highs were only in the 40s, but there was no more frost until early October.  The winter of 1965-66 was bitterly cold but is most famous for the terrible blizzard of March, 1966, considered by most climatologists to have been the strongest blizzard of the 20th Century on the Great Plains.

Meteorologist John Wheeler


Tornadoes #14 and #15

Friday evening, September 19, a supercell thunderstorm produced a sequence of two tornadoes in northwestern Minnesota.  The first tornado touched down near Northcote and on U.S. 75 and travelled east, crossing U.S. 59 south of Lancaster before lifting and travelling a bit further as a funnel cloud.  There was quite a bit of damage to a number of farm buildings in central Kittson County.  The tornado earned an EF2 rating, indicating peak winds between 111 and 135 mph.  the storm then produced a second tornado which traveled several miles across western Roseau County west of Greenbush.  This storm was earned an EF1 rating, suggesting winds between 86 mph and 110 mph.  Though neither tornado would have been considered a “monster” storm, it was an impressive feat for so late in the storm season.  Despite the late-season tornadoes, 2014 continues to be a relatively benign year for tornadoes in our region.  Those two tornadoes Friday were only the fourteenth and fifteenth tornadoes this year over eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota, and the first since July.    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