More Aurora

There have been a few nights recently in which the Northern Lights have been visible across our area.  Auroras are common near Earth’s magnetic poles where the magnetic field concentrates the effect.  To get them this far south, it requires an explosion on the sun’s surface (coronal mass ejection) which sends a huge wave of highly charged particles toward Earth.  Aurora have been noticeably absent from our region for the last ten years or so because the sun has been quiet and there have been fewer solar storms.  But the solar “weather” is becoming active again so we will likely have many more opportunities to see the Northern Lights this fall.  Coronal mass ejections are reported so auroras can be forecast. Watch for notices on WDAY.  They are best viewed on a clear night without a bright moon, away from city lights.  Look to the north-northeast.  Although rare, sometimes they can become exceptionally brilliant and cover the sky.    Meteorologist John Wheeler

 

Weather, Climate Keep Changing

Weather swings naturally from wet to dry and back to wet again.  Since 1993, local precipitation has been 15-20 per cent higher than the previous 100 years. There was a twelve year drought here from 1929-1940 when precipitation was 15-20 per cent lower than the long-term average.  But there are climate swings that cannot be observed even in a human lifetime.  For example, salinity measurements of the sediments of Moon Lake near Cleveland, North Dakota, reveal a climate shift approximately 750 years ago.  For at least 1000 years prior to that, long-term megadroughts were much more common in North Dakota and the climate was generally much drier than it is now.  It was likely even drier than the climate today across western North Dakota and eastern Montana.  What we perceive to be “normal” weather today has not always been that way and we should not assume it will remain.           Meteorologist John Wheeler

 

 

Early-Season Cold Coming Later

Of all the months of the year, September may be the most skewed in terms of record low temperatures in Fargo Moorhead.  All the September record lows are old.  The most recent was 41 years ago on September 16, 1973. Of the 30 days in September, twelve date back to the 1880s with an amazing six set in 1885 alone during a remarkable seven-day stretch of early season cold September 1-7.  Five of the remaining record lows were set in the 1890s for a total of 17 out of the 30 record lows of the month still dating to the 1800s.  The remaining 13 record lows are scattered randomly, one or two most decades, until 1973.  And then there have been no September record lows since then.  Not surprisingly, this 41-year ongoing void of September record lows accompanies a trend of the average first frost date moving about two weeks later from its average a few decades ago.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Fairly Average Temperatures

The month of August has the interesting characteristic of having had an average temperature precisely equal to the 30 year average.  Considering that June was exactly one degree above the average and July was 1.6 degrees below the average, it can be said that we had an average summer.  The daily high temperatures were a tad below average while the daily low temperatures were a tad above average.  This continues a trend of recent years of cooler days and warmer nights which is a factor of increased humidity. Rainfall was 1.79 inches above average in June, 1.15 inches below average in July, and 0.45 inches below average in August.  The wet start and dry finish equals out to a mere 0.19 inches above average for the summer.  Summer rain amounts were typically variable and so specific locations may be significantly wetter or drier than Hector Airport.      Meteorologist John Wheeler

Early Frost Forecasts Often Fail

Should a frost occur in the cool weather pattern expected later this week, it would be earlier than average, but not unusually so. Our region usually gets a few mornings close to freezing in September before the actual first frost.  In 2012, it got to 36 degrees September 9.  In 2011, it got to 34 on the 14th and actually got to 30 on the 15th.  In 2010, there were three nights in the mid 30s on the 8th, 16th, and 18th.  Back in 2009, it was 37 on August 30.  But the only year among the last five with even a moderately early frost was on the 15th in 2011.  Last year, it never even got below 40 until October 12 but it ended up being a cold winter.  So it is more likely to be close to freezing later this week than actually 32.  And even if there is a light frost late this week, it will have no bearing on the upcoming winter season.      Meteorologist John Wheeler

Late Season Storms

The late season severe storms early Thursday illustrate the point that weather is defined by the atmospheric conditions of the time and not by the calendar.  Baseball size hail, 70 mph wind gusts, and up to four inches of rain would be a bad storm in June or July.  But this is September.  The solar angle is lower this time of year which makes it harder for supercell thunderstorms to form.  But Wednesday night, other parameters made up the difference.  Upper level winds brought spin and shear.  Mid-level humidity and temperature was increasing during the night.  The storms formed and moved along the nose of a low-level jet stream which added plenty of energy to the system.  Had this setup occurred in June or July, the additional solar energy would have made tornadoes more likely.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

Light Summer, Tornado-Wise

It has not been a very stormy summer.  Across the whole of the United States, there were just 27 tornadoes during August.  This is the lowest tally since 1963.  This statistic becomes even more impressive when you consider that in the 1960s there was no radar and almost no storm spotting or storm chasing networks to observe tornadoes in rural areas.  Several areas of the United States did experience storms with heavy rainfall during August, but the atmospheric mechanics were just not there for tornadoes.  Year to date, this calendar year has produced the fewest tornadoes nation-wide since 2002.  Over the area of eastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota covered by the Grand Forks National Weather Service, there were no tornadoes in August and just 13 so far this year.     Meteorologist John Wheeler

WE Fest Weather

It can and does rain at WE Fest.  But the annual Lakes Area gathering does not have a reputation for stormy weather like Rib Fest and the Red River Valley Fair do.  This has a lot to do with the calendar.  WE Fest happens in August when our weather is more likely to be dry than in June and July.  Of course, weather is inherently unpredictable and can challenge the concept of “typical” and “normal.” That being said, June is typically our stormiest month and our rainiest month of the year.  July is typically the second rainiest month in terms of total rainfall but the number of rainy days in July is fewer than in June.  August is actually just the fifth rainiest month of the year (behind June, July, May, and September) with less rainfall and the fewest rainy days of any of the fair weather months.  Se WE Fest has situated itself well in a time of year when the weather is likely to be favorable.  Of course, rain and thunderstorms are certainly possible in August.  Severe storms and even tornadoes are possible in August.  It is just that these things are less likely in August than in any other time of the summer.   Meteorologist John Wheeler

Tornado Lawsuit

The monster EF-5 tornado which struck Joplin, MO, in May of 2011 killed 161 people.  Eight of those killed lost their lives in a Home Depot store.  Store employees were directing customers to a training room for safety when winds estimated at 165 mph ripped the roof off the store, causing most of the unsupported 100,000 pound concrete walls to fall down.  After the storm, engineers criticized the tilt-up wall method used to construct the store, saying such buildings are prone to collapse in high winds if the roof fails.  Now a Joplin, MO, woman whose husband and two children were killed in the store is suing Home Depot for negligence.  Whether or not the lawsuit has any merit, this does bring up an interesting question about responsible building construction.  Just how much weather should building codes prepare for?  If someone is killed when weather causes a public or semi-public building to fail, how much of the responsibility is on the owner?  What about the builder?  What about the person who was killed?  Meteorologist John Wheeler

Cool Day in Death Valley

On Sunday, August 3, the Furnace Creek weather station in Death Valley, CA, recorded a high temperature of 89 degrees.  This was the first August day with a high temperature below 90 degrees since 1984 and broke the daily record low maximum temperature by 15 degrees. Early Sunday morning, the weather was typically hot with temperatures in the upper 80s.  But it was cloudy, which is very rare.  Thick clouds from decayed thunderstorms were blowing in from the southeast, the only direction without a mountain range to block the weather.  The clouds persisted and eventually rain showers developed.  The rain-cooled air kept the temperature from rising all day.  On social media, many people have been taking advantage of this unusual record to suggest that this weather either proves or disproves their political opinions regarding climate change.  Both political sides were equally involved.  But it actually proves nothing.  It was just a rare weather situation.  After all, the same thing happened in 1984.   Meteorologist John Wheeler