Tuesday, February 28, 2012

February Weather Summary for 2012

What set this past February apart from those that came before was the boredom factor. This one was so boring...How boring was it? It was so boring, even the Weather Channel lost interest! Only in hindsight, with that month now firmly in my rear view mirror, can I even bear to talk about it.

Whenever the temperature outside hovers around the fifty degree mark, I have a tendency to develop a nervous tic in one eye. You see, the half century mark is just warm enough to encourage me to venture outdoors, while still being cold enough to make me regret the decision once I do. It foments internal anxiety and thus causes my eye to twitch to and fro. (A condition that makes it all but impossible to hold a conversation with another person as they begin to focus more on that twitching than to anything I might have to say). So, when I say that February was a real 'eye-twitcher', I'm not just fooling around!

The average high for the month was 52F with a low that was around 32F This made the mean temperature 41F versus the 30 year average of 38F. (More evidence of global warming or just another anomaly)? You make the call. Of greater concern, the rainfall was really lacking at only 1.5 inches versus an average of 3. I found this worrying because of the predictions that much of the Midwest may be entering a prolonged period of drought! (Perhaps March will bail us out in that respect).

One pleasant observation, as March arrived, was the daffodils in my yard that are getting ready to bloom! This large clump in my yard come up every year on about the first week in March and thus heralds in the first color of spring! Before too long the Bartlett pear trees will be in bloom as will the Forsythia. A welcome burst of activity and color after enduring the blah months that came before.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History 1300-1850

I came across this book titled 'The Little Ice Age' by Brian Fagan more by accident than anything else one afternoon while doing some research for information concerning the effect of disease back in Medieval times. The title intrigued me and so I downloaded it from Amazon to check out and was glad I did.

Mr. Fagan, it seems, is the author or editor of over 46 books, including seven widely used as undergraduate college texts. Prof. Fagan has been an archaeological consultant for many organizations, including National Geographic Society, Time/Life, Encyclopedia Britannica, and Microsoft Encarta so he is definitely credentialed and an informed source. More importantly, he is also an engaging author that is both easy to read while not talking above the lay person at the same time.

This particular effort is divided into four parts. Part One describes the Medieval Warm Period, roughly from 900 to 1200. Parts Two and Three describe how people reacted to the cooling weather, and how devastating climatic changes are for societies whose agriculture is at subsistence level. Part Four covers the end of the Little Ice Age and the sustained warming of modern times. All four parts make for fascinating, sometimes even disturbing reading; and for the reader new to the field Fagan offers the basic explanations of the effects of oceanic currents and air pressure on the climate in Europe. Strangely, however, the story he tells is unerringly reminiscent of the time we live in today. You really cannot read this from cover to cover without looking anew at the world we live in today and how the lessons of the past may become the realities of our future.

Many of my friends have scoffed when it comes to the topic of rapidly changing weather patterns. In point of fact, current U.S. energy and environmental policies seem to be guided by the kind of optimism that "fades in the face of demographic reality.... [I]t's implausible to suggest that famines and massive dislocations of poorer populations will be unaccompanied by civil unrest and disobedience...," the professor warns in his work. "The French Revolution or the Irish potato famine pale into insignificance." The most important lessons for the era of Global Warming may be found in the chill of the middle of the last millennium, if only we know how to read them.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Weather in the first half of February 2012 why I find it troubling!

In many respects, the winter of 2012 has been very unusual and maybe even a bit disturbing to me. With all the talk about climate change, it gets easy to read all kinds of nasty stuff into what may be normal variability.

The first half of February is a good case in point, especially when you also look at what happened a year ago. The graph below comprises data that I recorded at my location here in Forsyth, Missouri using a Davis Weather Monitor II. The blue line represents the average combined temperature of 38F recorded over the last 30 years. As you can see, there was a very big swing or departure from normal in the temperatures recorded in 2011 and a somewhat more moderate range recorded by me so far this year. 

Click to enlarge
Seeing extremes in the average for a day or even a group of days is not all that unusual. Seeing such large fluctuations (deviation from the norm) almost daily certainly raises some questions. And then, when you compare data from 2002 (graph below) for the same location and look at the ‘trends’ you can easily see that while back in 2002 the temperature was on average still cooling down, in 2012 it’s already on a fixed and definite warming trend! (The overall shift seems to be about 2 degrees Fahrenheit upwards).

Click to enlarge
What does this mean? Perhaps nothing, yet when you combine other data along with the realizations of what common sense dictates; something seems to be happening and seems to be happening relatively fast!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Winter Invasion – Feb 13 – Day 4!

AKA – ‘The Mother of all Storms’! Hopefully, this will be the final installment of the mini blog series that absolutely no one is truthfully destined to read! Today is Monday, February the 13th and the much advertized winter storm is… here? Or is it? After all the hype, I’m not sure what to call this endpoint of a story! Let me start back earlier in the pre-dawn hours when my inability to sleep allowed me to catch the first change of guard.
[12:00 Midnight] - Unable to sleep in all the excitement, I got up briefly at midnight to check my Davis weather station. Same-o same-o for the last few hours in terms of readings; temperature at 35F, winds 1-2 mph from the southeast and a very dry atmosphere with a relative humidity of 30%! Surprisingly, the weather service in Springfield has decided to perform maintenance on their radar at this juncture. Sure! Why not! Nothing important going on here boys!

The latest weather guidance (guesswork) from the NWS, as far as the forecast went, was to say that the appearance of any snow down here in the Branson Missouri area may not show until sometime after 6AM! Seems that old atmosphere is really very dry and like an old alcoholic, it will take some time to get it properly saturated. So, even at this early hour of the 13th, perhaps the seeds of forecasting failure have been sown! Boy! What a surprise to see this group strike out yet again.... well, back to sleep.
[3:15 AM] - The outside temperature has begun to move downwards once again with a reading of 33.9F at 3:25 AM. Winds that had been out of the southeast were also not out of the south now, but south southwest and picking up a little at 4-5 mph. The humidity was also on the rise now at 53%. As the radar indicated moisture overhead, I think things were beginning to happen. By 3:30 AM the temperature was now at 33.6F with the RH at 56%. Rapidly now, it was apparent the outside was getting colder! By 3:36 AM it now read 32.8F. Hmmm, lying there in bed, I began to suspect something was up! I got up – looked outside - and sure enough a light snow was now falling. (You weather people are all summarily forgiven)!

As I watched the flakes fall into the dark night, I theorized that the snow was also melting as it neared the surface and entered warmer air. This process (heat of fusion) then causes a rapid cooling of the air just above the surface of the ground which results in any additional snow now making it all the way down. That would account for the rapid transition from relatively warm air to below freezing air in such short order (35F to 32F in twenty minutes). Note: The actual freezing point (32F) was achieved, by the way, at 3:47 AM at least according to my instruments.
[7:00 AM] - Time to rise and shine! OK, maybe I'll settle for just getting up. Man o man, its day four! I thought to myself. And, after witnessing the snow begin to fall during the overnight period; I knew that I was really in for it now! Need I remind you, it has been an ARCTIC INVASION, and today I would be chronicling the MOTHER OF ALL STORMS. Heady stuff that.

After falling out of bed, I wandered over to the window and shot a picture which was made into this ‘before and after’ photo. Pretty hairy scene, no? Just look at how all that snow has almost covered the road surfaces! What ya think? We got maybe an inch out there? Some one go find my sled! Glad I won't have to get out in it... or will I? Being the adventurous sort of man I am, perhaps I felt I owed it to my (one) readership to crank up the old Jeep and go brave those elements! Sighing and with that thought in mind, I reached around to scratch my behind while heading for the kitchen. Ah, another day, another bowl of cereal, I thought while mentally gearing up for the challenges ahead.
As it turned out, just writing this post turned out to be the hardest challenge. As the morning wore on, the mercury stayed pretty much stuck at 29F while outside a very ‘pretty snowfall’ took place. It was the kind of day you would wish occurred on say December the 24th! You know, sleigh bells and snow to help get everyone in the mood to open gifts and drink too much eggnog. But, seeing as it was the middle of February (which has absolutely nothing going for it) I found those swirling flakes a bit flakey. And, for those of my friends who actually work for a living, this crap may have held off just long enough to possibly get them stuck at work. ‘Uh, Frank, since you’re stuck here for a bit, would you mind getting that TPS report done and on my desk?’ See? Depressing and flakey, all at the same time!


I always wanted to do a story that had an epilog. So, I guess this is my chance. First off, I never actually set foot outside. The snow keep falling to the point where there was close to two inches on the ground. I felt this extreme amount to be UNSAFE for me to travel in (even though I have a four wheel drive vehicle).

As the day wore on into night, the snow finally let up and I went to bed. The end!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

An Arctic Invasion – Feb 12 – Day 3

This 'un-retouched' graphic put out by the NWS caused some concern!
 As I arose this morning, feeling stiff and sore, I found myself somewhat pensive. Not for the first time, I felt I had had my fill of winter and was now prepared to tackle the bugs and heat of summer. I walked slowly over to my desk and sat down. A glance towards the display of my Davis Weather Monitor II confirmed the 'degree' to which my world had been assaulted over the nighttime hours. Only eleven degrees Fahrenheit at 7 AM! I groaned and contemplated crawling back into the comfort of my heated bed. No, there were things to do, places to go and people to see! And, at any rate, I was hungry! A thought that finally motivated me to move. I got up (the chair groaned with relief), and headed down the hallway in search of some sustenance.

See that big 'H' - it stands for Hell!
Cereal bowl now in hand, I returned from the kitchen to enjoy my breakfast at my desk. A quick twitch of the mouse and the large flat screen came to life. The first order of business was to bring up a weather map to see if the area of high pressure had move. Yup, there it was. And, yes the center seems to have drifted from west to east. According to the weather service, the area of high pressure is expected to exit stage right as the day progressed. As it did so, a new storm system is then supposed to meander in from the west. So, for the morning hours at least, things looked to be fairly tranquil. Cold, yes! But also tranquil! Ah, the calm before the storm, I thought as I spooned the generic equivalent of Corn Flakes into my mouth. My chair emitted a squeak in apparent agreement.

Later on in the morning, with breakfast now done, the bed made and the day stretching out before me. I briefly thought about going out for a walk, but then nixed the idea. It was too cold and the thought of wrestling around with a heavy winter coat was not very appealing. I elected, instead, to sit at my desk and jump around some of the weather related sites like the Weather Underground to see what the latest news on the storm situation was. Shortly, I came across this:

OK, which is it? One or two inches?
Hmm, I thought. This could get interesting! A whole inch huh! Of course I had to remind myself that, as of late, most of the forecasts for snow or ice never amounted to very much. In point of fact, the weather service had been right only once all winter so far as I was concerned! That was when they (correctly) called for a light dusting of snow way back in early December! And, like some dates I had in High School, it was pretty much over before it started. Still, I began to think....about my pantry...

The great food stampede begins!

And, the more I thought about it, the more I felt the urge to run to the store to 'stock up'. Mental images of a desolate and icy landscape formed in my mind and suddenly I felt the lemming like urge to 'shop til I dropped'! No matter that I had plenty of food and that I'd be shut in for perhaps just one day! I NEEDED TO GET OUT AND SPEND! And yes, I needed to be out among my own kind packed like a sardine in some crowded venue! Ahem. Two thoughts came to my mind as I hurried to my car; 1) people are easily panicked for no good reason, 2) shop owners must love bad weather and 3) microbes that cause flu and head colds, can really get a leg up when area stores suddenly become filled to capacity with stressed out guys and girls towing germy little kids in their wake!

Did thoughts like those deter me in the least? No. I ended up joining a great throng of humanity at that store. Everyone there stocking up for an imagined Armageddon on an otherwise sunny Sunday afternoon. Eighty dollars poorer and now sporting a runny nose, I returned home with a veritable cornucopia of food. At least, I reflected, I won't starve to death. (In retrospect, a rather funny thought if you were to take in the whole of my generous appearance).

By 3PM, I was once again firmly ensconced in my modest adobe and feeling rather poorly. A partly crumpled checklist lay on the table in front of me:

Go to grocery store – check
Fill the car with gas - check
Buy more crap than I could possibly use – check
Test run the generator (just in case) – check
Run back to town for gas for the generator – check
Spread anti-icing compound on the front porch – check
Take an antihistamine for my nose – double check

Outside things had warmed up very nicely. The temperature now read 38F and the sun was shining brightly. All this giving little warning as to what was about to transpire overnight. Or would anything transpire?

I resolved to try and go to bed early so as to help with my cold and to be able face whatever mess Monday would bring after getting a good night's sleep. Achoo!

In the next exciting episode, follow our intrepid blogger as he confronts 'The Mother of all Storms'!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Arctic Invasion – Feb 11 – Day 2

It’s been sometime since I remember feeling the cutting effect of super chilled air blowing across my cheeks as I filled my auto with gas. A feeling I would just as soon forget, thank you very much. It turned out that this Saturday, February the 11th was unfriendly in just that sort of way. By that, I mean it was hard to warm up while standing outside, as the high temperature never got much above 29°F!

Add to that a wind chill effect that made it feel like the teens and you'd get my point! Ka-Brrr! Needless to say, I kept my outdoor errands down to a bare minimum. Even a quick visit the local grocery was a chore. While crossing the parking lot, I looked up and noticed the sky, which had been partly cloudy earlier, was now a crystal clear blue. Well, everything looked pretty darn tranquil to be honest, just real cold! (Yet, I knew that in the back of my mind, trouble was brewing for Sunday night)!

That said, and before I got too worked up about any chances for wintry precipitation late in the weekend, I still had to make it through the bitterly cold that would be our fare for this evening. After all, I was in the middle of an ARCTIC INVASION! The weather service was calling for single digits overnight, and while I wasn’t sure it would actually get that cold, I wanted to be prepared! (You see, around these parts, the electricity has a tendency to go off during bad spats of weather)! My plan this season was to lock up and head for a fancy hotel in the event of any trouble. Preferably one with a bar!
By 6PM the mercury, which had been hovering at around 29F for much of the afternoon, began to sink along with the setting sun. Looking at the radar map on my computer screen, I saw it was supposed to be clear with a dome of high pressure situated right overhead. Add in the light winds, and all the ingredients were in place for whatever warmth there was to radiate on out into space! Wonderful! Maybe time to crank up the old thermostat! (Its also times like this that I pause to wonder if maybe I should have had that furnace checked when I had a chance to last fall… Naw, it’ll be fine….).

An arctic invasion - Feb 10 - Day 1

Darkness settles in on a clear Feb evening! Wait! Up there in the corner! Is that Uranus?

'It seems to me that just about all winter long we've been spared harsh temperatures here in North America while the folks living in Europe have been getting it dished out to them big time! But, are we overdue for a change in the climate guard?' Well, time will tell...

The weather service is forecasting for two events over the next couple of days; a blast of honest to goodness arctic air from the North Pole and wintry precipitation, most likely in the form of sleet or freezing rain. Should make for an interesting time, if you're a weather nut like myself!

The Arctic Express!

From Canada to my doorstep in no time!

Right on cue, and in line with the National Weather Service forecast, we had an arctic front slam its way past my little southwestern Missouri town of Forsyth in the early afternoon hours of Friday, February the 10th. (You can most always tell when a front has a pant-load of cold air by the speed at which it makes it from the Canadian border to my front porch)! Starting at 2:30 PM, I kept an 'ad-hoc  spreadsheet' which produced the graph seen below. The winds, which accompanied the front, picked up out of the north and were relatively constant from that point on until Saturday morning when they had calmed down just a bit. The average speed was about 5-7 mph with gusts to 13!

Wonder what caused the temps to briefly flat-line?
Shortly after six pm, the downward temperature spiral hit the freezing mark and then continued creeping on down. (Not sure why there was an hour long pause in the trend just prior, however). About this time, dusk was falling and the sky which had been overcast, cleared! (Not very good signs as they indicated some 'radiational cooling' might occur as a result). Sure enough, by 1AM we were flirting with 19°F. and the rate of temperature loss was at about 1° degree Fahrenheit per hour.

The next morning dawned partly cloudy and very cold at just 14°F above zero by 7AM. Those pesky arctic winds were also still in play, coming resolutely out of the north (abet more slowly). Mornings like this reminded me of living in Chicago when it got so cold your hands would stick to the car door handle! So, this was not a day I'd normally want to venture out, but I did anyway. I wanted to go have breakfast at a local eatery, so I bundled myself up, got into my Jeep and made the trek into town. I'll tell you right now, it felt every bit as cold as I imagined it would!

Hot food is the order of the day!

Hey! A man's gotta eat! Right?
I arrived at a restaurant named Charlie's Steak Ribs and Ale in Forsyth, Mo. at about 8AM to find just a few patrons also having breakfast. I remembered, then that it was after all a Saturday morning and most folks didn't need to get out of bed. The food was good, however, and did I mention it was hot! In short order, it was time to pay my tab and depart!

Back out on the streets, the traffic was light. Typical for an early weekend. I got home, in short order, and checked my gauges to find the temperature had gotten all the way up to 16°F!

Gonna be a hot one, I thought! Well, at least I'll have time to run to the grocery store and stock up today before things get really nasty on Sunday.

[end of day 1]

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A hobbled together spring 2012 weather forecast!

After looking through some of the technical jargon from the National Weather Service, I was able to come up with a few snippets of information concerning the educated 'guessing' that will make up part of the long range forecast for North America this coming spring and summer.

Two of the large driving forces for weather, the ENSO or El Nina Southern Oscillation and the AO or Arctic Oscillation seem to be change dynamically as we head into early spring. While we have been living under the effects of La Nina for some time now, that appears to be weakening. This may have the effect of bringing wetter conditions along the northwest and northeastern coasts while dryer conditions will prevail across much of the south.

In addition the Arctic Oscillation which had been strongly negative the past two winters has shifted to positive earlier this winter and the trend of warmer weather for the states should then continue. Just these two factors along would imply that southwest Missouri can expect to see dry, but warmer than normal conditions as we head into the spring months.

I'm not sure if anything has been released officially at this point and want to remind my readers that I am not a meteorologist.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The first week of February 2011 was shall we say seasonable!

Unlike this year (2012) with temperatures averaging as much as seven degrees above normal, last February began in the deep freezer. According to my records, we had about two inches of crusty sleet and snow on the ground with temperatures that got down to eight above zero. As a result my furnace labored hard to keep the house warm and burned through over a hundred kWh’s each of the first few days.

I remember that so well because, that year, I maintained a Weather Log. A journal as it were, where I kept pretty concise records pertaining to not only my energy use, but also the ambient temperatures of many rooms in my home three times a day. Now, as you might expect, this was a lot of work and something I don’t plan on doing again!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

February 2012: A month of purification?

It is with no little amount of trepidation that I watch as this last full month of winter makes her entrance. With 2011 now in the record books at by far the costliest year we've had in terms of weather related damage, I can't help but see more bad things coming and February may just start things off.

In the past, this month has generally been on the quiet side with not much going on, but cold days and even colder nights to show for itself. The name itself comes from the Latin word februum, which means 'purification', a ritual practiced by the ancient Romans on the fifteenth of the month. It is also a time when the sun is making a rapid transit in a northerly direction that results in the creation of hot and cold air masses and which sets the stage for the storms of a spring yet to come.