Craig James


March 31, 2011 // 0 Comments

What a Difference Snow Cover Makes by CRAIG JAMES We had a very bright and sunny weekend March 26 and 27 with 100% of possible sunshine both days, but it certainly was cold. In fact, from the 24th through the 28th, temperatures were more than 10 degrees below average even with all the sunshine each day. Temperatures at night those five days dipped well into the teens, but it would have been even colder if there had been snow on the ground. Take a look at this satellite image from Sunday afternoon, the 27th. You can see the sharp southern edge of the snow cover not far north of Rockford running from southern Oceana County to northern Montcalm County. This snow was from last week’s storm that gave Rockford and Grand Rapids mainly rain and freezing rain. You can also see a narrow band of lake effect clouds from near Ludington to near Milwaukee. This orientation from northeast to southwest is because the wind was from the northeast. Over the snow-covered areas to our north, many locations reported low temperatures near and even below zero. The thermometer dipped to -7 near Big Rapids on the morning of the 26th. It was -6 at Cadillac on the 26th, -7 on the 27th, and -4 on the 28th. We could have been nearly that cold here if the snow cover had been a few counties farther south. Will we see more snow? I would certainly suspect so. The average snowfall for the month of April is two inches. There hasn’t been any measurable snowfall in our area in April the past three years, so I guess we are due, especially with the cold pattern we are experiencing. There have actually been a couple of snowstorms this past week pass just to our south, which is a little unusual for this late in the season. In St. Louis, high temperatures climbed into the low 80s on the 17th, 20th and 21st. However, they have now had 7.5 inches of snow this month as of the 28th, with more on the way. In Washington, D.C., an inch of snow fell on the cherry blossoms on the 27th. There has only been a little over an inch of snow in […]


March 24, 2011 // 0 Comments

What is The Earth’s Figure Axis? by CRAIG JAMES Since the huge earthquake in Japan earlier this month, I have read in many places that it not only shifted the island of Japan eight feet, but it also shifted the axis of the Earth about six-and-a-half inches to the east. What hasn’t been made all that clear is that it shifted the figure axis of the Earth, not the north-south axis. That seems even less clear. What exactly is the Earth’s figure axis? I confess to not having heard the term before. A seismologist from the University of Wisconsin explains that the figure axis is the imaginary line around which the world’s unevenly distributed mass is balanced. The figure axis deviates from the north-south axis by about 33 feet. You can visualize the difference this way by imagining “a spinning figure skater holding a rock in one hand. The rotational axis of the skater is still down the middle of the body, but the skater’s figure axis is shifted slightly in the direction of the hand holding the rock.” What he is saying is that we now have more mass on one side of the north-south rotational axis than we did before the earthquake, which will cause the Earth to wobble a bit differently as it rotates. This wobble has apparently had the effect of speeding up the rotation of the Earth. I say “apparently” because the change has been so small as not to be measurable. Scientists can only measure the length of the Earth’s day with an accuracy of 20 millionths of a second. Using computer models, it has been calculated that this earthquake shortened the Earth’s day by less than two millionths of a second. The Earth’s crust moved inward toward the center of the Earth, which would be like the skater pulling her arms slightly inward, causing her to spin faster. The earthquake in Japan is called a thrust earthquake, with an inward motion. This is the only type of earthquake that can speed up the Earth’s rotation and shorten the length of the day. The seismologist says, “Other types of earthquakes, such as horizontal strike-slip quakes, in which two plates slide horizontally past one another, don’t affect Earth’s rotation.” The […]


March 17, 2011 // 0 Comments

Could a tsunami occur in Lake Michigan? by CRAIG JAMES After a large tsunami somewhere in the world, it has been very common to hear the question, “Can a tsunami occur in Lake Michigan?” Fortunately, the answer to that is, “If you mean something like what just happened in Japan, NO.” We have no seismic faults in our area to cause large earthquakes that can generate what we saw in Indonesia in 2004 and Japan last week. In case you haven’t heard, according to the United States Geologic Survey, the earthquake moved the island of Japan eight feet and shifted the axis of the Earth several inches. Now that is power! Tsunamis used to be called tidal waves, but they have nothing to do with the tides. They propagate through the open ocean at speeds over 600 mph. There is little evidence of the wave out over the deep open water, but as the wave approaches the shore and the water gets shallower, the wave slows down and can build to immense heights. However, we do get an event in Lake Michigan, and in any large lake actually, called a seiche. It is pronounced “ saysh” and is a French word meaning to sway back and forth. It is defined as a temporary disturbance or oscillation in the water level of a lake or partially enclosed body of water, especially one caused by changes in atmospheric pressure. Thunderstorms frequently produce strong downdrafts of cold air that increase the barometric pressure along the leading edge of the storm. The wind plus the higher pressure can push water away from one shoreline of a lake toward the opposite shore. This is especially pronounced on Lake Michigan with a storm moving along the long axis of the lake. It is less frequent with a west-to-east moving storm but does occasionally happen. A seiche moves much more slowly than a tsunami, usually about the speed of the thunderstorm winds, but once the swell of water moves onshore, the water quickly retreats back into the lake, generating deadly rip currents. The water can then slosh back and forth for hours until lake levels return to normal. Large seiches on Lake Michigan are rare, but according to a Michigan State University […]


March 10, 2011 // 0 Comments

The Miserable Month of March by CRAIG JAMES Isn’t there a saying that goes something like: “30 days have September, April, May, June and November. All the rest have 31, with the exception of March that has at least 80?” Or at least that’s the way it feels to me. We keep being teased by spring weather in March, but it is a long time until it actually gets here to stay. That may especially be the case this year with the current weather pattern of a fairly strong La Niña and a cold phase of the Pacific Ocean called a cold PDO. When this type of pattern exists, it is not uncommon for the first year of the La Niña to have a cold winter. But wait! The second and third year of the La Niña tend to have even colder winters. That doesn’t bode well for the next two winters unless you like snow and cold. During the spring months of this type of pattern, the storm track is usually from the southwestern part of the country right up into the Great Lakes. These storms usually bring us fairly heavy precipitation of both rain and snow. And this pattern usually lasts at least into April. Yippee! Along with this type of pattern comes an increased risk for severe flooding. At the end of February, several river gauges in Indiana and Ohio were at or near record high levels. The amount of water locked up in the snow cover across much of northern New England, the Dakotas and Minnesota is currently about 6 to 10 inches. Unfortunately, early spring storms frequently bring more snow to these areas before the warmer rain arrives, so the potential for serious flooding is quite high. You can see in this spring flood forecast issued by NOAA that the eastern Dakotas and Minnesota may again be in for severe floods. The areas in purple have a 90% chance or better of major flooding and at least a 10% to 30% chance of record flooding. The Red River Valley along the North Dakota border all the way north to Winnipeg, Canada has a history of frequent flooding. You may remember the terrible disaster in 1997 in Grand Forks, North Dakota […]


March 3, 2011 // 0 Comments

A Weather CSI Team by CRAIG JAMES Yes, there is now a CSI team that has been formed within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). They do not investigate crime scenes; they investigate what they call climate scenes. The team is comprised of 26 employees from NOAA for the purpose of determining whether extreme weather events can be attributed to human-induced climate change or whether they are simply due to the inherent variability of weather patterns. NOAA states, “By distinguishing natural variability from human-induced climate change, they aim to improve decision-making and inform adaptation strategies.” As you may recall, there have been several record-breaking snowstorms over the past couple of years, especially from the mid-Atlantic region into New England. The CSI team assembled last year to analyze why the snowstorms happened. Many people, of course, specifically blamed these storms on human-induced global warming. In response to these claims, the CSI team “specifically wanted to know if human-induced global warming could have caused the snowstorms due to the fact that a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor.” Their answer: “not likely.” They went on to state, “They found no evidence—no human ‘fingerprints’—to implicate our involvement in the snowstorms. If global warming was the culprit, the team would have expected to find a gradual increase in heavy snowstorms in the mid-Atlantic region as temperatures rose during the past century. But historical analysis revealed no such increase in snowfall. Nor did the CSI team find any indication of an upward trend in winter precipitation along the eastern seaboard.” There is also another great piece of evidence to suggest storms in the eastern part of the country are no more frequent or worse than in the past. In 2004, two NOAA employees developed what is called the Northeast Snowfall Impact Scale (NESIS). NESIS scores are a function of the area affected by the snowstorm, the amount of snow, and the number of people living in the path of the storm. You can see from the chart how the biggest storms rate on this scale since 1956. In the summary graphic, the chart has been broken up into two separate time periods. If human-induced global warming was having an effect upon these storms, you would expect to see an […]

1 2 3 4 5 13