Words on Weather & Climate

Meteorologist Craig James, new Squire columnist

Meteorologist Craig James, Squire columnist

Storm facts


Here are a few facts about the storm that affected much of the country Dec. 6-11. The barometer reading in Grand Rapids dropped to a record-low reading for the month of December at 28.86”. Some home barometers don’t even register that low. Readings below 29.00” are not uncommon in Great Lakes storms, but don’t happen very often in West Michigan due to the fact that the low pressure centers usually move either to the south or to the north of our area. This one went directly overhead. By the way, the lowest barometer reading ever recorded for this area was set in the blizzard of January 1978 with a reading of 28.68”.

Technically, we never did reach actual blizzard conditions in Kent County from the storm. To officially be a blizzard, there must be sustained winds of 35 mph or greater with the visibility reduced to less than a quarter mile in snow and blowing snow. The highest sustained winds reported in Kent County were around 30 mph, but we did have many times when the visibility was less than a quarter mile. Many people don’t realize that the amount of snow is not considered when issuing a blizzard warning, just the wind speed and visibility.

The worst of the weather, as usual, occurred to the north and west of the storm center. A state of emergency was declared in much of Wisconsin due to 10 to 18 inches of snow and wind gusts over 40 mph. However, Milwaukee only picked up 3 inches. At Marinette, in the northeast corner of the state, a wind gust hit 78 mph with widespread power outages and most roads drifted shut. Snow totals of 15-30 inches were common in the western half of the Upper Peninsula, which was a pretty significant snowfall even for those hardy folks.

This was the same storm that earlier in the week produced wind gusts measuring over 100 mph in three western states. The highest gust of 116 mph hit White Sands, N.M. The Deer Valley Airport in Phoenix, Ariz., reported a wind gust to 75 mph. Wolf Creek Pass, Colo., received 5 feet of new snow from the storm.

As bad as this system was, it wasn’t as strong as the one to hit the small island of Attu in the Aleutian Islands about 1,100 miles west of the mainland of Alaska on Nov. 28-29. A Coast Guard station there reported sustained winds of 125 mph with gusts to 178 mph. I imagine you’d have to really screw up to get stationed at that location.

The strongest storm of the past several weeks was Super Typhoon Nida in the Central Pacific Ocean when on Nov. 25, a weather satellite estimated sustained winds at around 185 mph! There were no estimates of gusts, although they were likely over 200 mph. The barometer reading in this storm may have fallen to as low as 25.67”. If so, this would be the lowest barometer reading ever recorded in a storm anywhere in the world. Super Typhoon Tip, in October 1979, is currently recognized as having the previous low barometer reading of 25.69” with sustained winds of 190 mph. However, since hurricane (typhoon in this case) aircraft reconnaissance flights into tropical storms were discontinued in the Western Pacific in 1987, we will never really know for sure if Nida set a new record low barometer reading. The reading in this case was a satellite estimate. Fortunately, the storm weakened quickly and caused no damage on land.

Storms of this magnitude have led some people to speculate global warming may be causing an increase in the number and intensity of storms. I don’t happen to agree with this point of view and in my next article, I’ll show you a few charts to illustrate why I don’t see this happening.

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