Craig James


February 23, 2011 // 0 Comments

Don’t believe everything you hear or read by CRAIG JAMES My mother always used to tell me to believe almost nothing of what you hear and only half of what you read (except in The Rockford Squire, of course, where you can always believe what you read… right?). With the advent of the Internet, it is now getting even more difficult to believe some of the things you read. Once again this year, there are e-mails making the rounds showing some incredible winter weather, and I thought I’d address whether these e-mails are true or not. I’m sure many of you have received pictures like this first one in an e-mail stating that this iceberg occurred in Lake Michigan. It is indeed a true photo of an iceberg, but it certainly did not occur in Lake Michigan. However, icebergs occasionally do look like this in the Antarctic Ocean. Blue stripes can be created when a crevice in the ice sheet fills up with melt water and freezes so quickly that no bubbles form. Salty seawater can sometimes freeze to the underside of the iceberg and if it is rich in algae, it can form a green stripe. Brown, black or yellow lines are caused by sediment picked up when the ice sheet slides downhill toward the sea. They are truly beautiful but you won’t ever see them on Lake Michigan. The pictures making the e-mail rounds were taken by a Norwegian sailor about 1,700 miles south of Cape Town, South Africa. Another thing you won’t ever see in the Great Lakes, regardless of what your e-mail says, are frozen waves such as in this picture. Waves like this were reported to have formed when the water froze the instant it came in contact with very cold air in northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. It does get cold around there, but not that cold. Pictures like this one were taken in Antarctica and the apparent waves were actually formed by melting and not freezing. Melting produced the downward pointing spikes and the smoothly polished surfaces that look like a breaking wave. Pictures like this next one have been circulating since 2004. The first ones were claimed to be from Oswego, New York and another mailing […]


February 17, 2011 // 0 Comments

We Deserve a Break Today by CRAIG JAMES We are finally getting a break in the prolonged winter weather pattern we’ve been having. If you, like me, think a day above freezing feels like a heat wave, it is because we just aren’t used to this “warmth.” The cold air arrived back on the first of December when five inches of snow fell, and there have only been seven days since then with no snow on the ground. Saturday, Feb. 12 was the first day above freezing in Grand Rapids since January 18, when the thermometer soared all the way to 34 degrees. That was 24 days in a row when temperatures never climbed above freezing. One more day and it would have been the longest such streak in 32 years. Between January 1 and February 12, 39 of those 43 days never saw a reading above 32. The longest streak of below-freezing temperatures we have ever recorded was 45 days from December 26, 1976 through February 8, 1977. Thankfully, winter ended in mid February 1977, but I certainly don’t believe it is over yet for this year. We will likely see occasional periods of snow and cold into April and maybe even some freezing rain, too. South of the Ohio River, it looks as if winter is basically over. This should be a great spring to travel to Florida. A strong La Niña developed this year in the Pacific Ocean. Looking back over winters that followed a strong La Niña, the signs are not very encouraging for next winter and spring in Michigan. The second and even third year after a strong La Niña is usually cold and snowy with strong tornado-producing storms in the spring. In case you haven’t heard, preliminary indications are that the state of Oklahoma set a new all-time record low temperature last week when the thermometer registered 31 degrees below zero in the northeast part of that state. You never know whether the state climatologist will decide to throw out that reading for some strange reason or other, as happened in Illinois two years ago and in Michigan in 1994, but there were several other thermometers nearby that were also below the previous record. Temperatures have risen as much as […]


February 10, 2011 // 0 Comments

Snowmageddon by CRAIG JAMES  Snowmageddon. Snowzilla. These are both terms I have heard used to describe some of the snowstorms of the past couple of years. How many more ways can the media hype winter weather? It is generally agreed that this past storm in our area was not as bad as either the 1967 or 1978 blizzards. If we have another storm to top those two, the media would go absolutely berserk trying to come up with a new word to out-hype the new catastrophic words they’ve already invented. To put things in perspective, the storm produced no more than the third highest snowfall totals from a single storm anywhere along its path. Chicago received 21 inches of snow, with five-foot drifts at O’Hare Airport, while Kenosha, Wisconsin, just north of Chicago, received 23 inches for the highest amount at any location. You can see from this map the snow totals recorded in our area. The official total in Grand Rapids was 16 inches. The highest amount in our area was reported at South Haven with 20 inches. The 1978 blizzard produced over 19 inches in Grand Rapids—although I have always felt that number is too low—and around 30 inches in Muskegon. The historic cold weather that plunged all the way into Mexico was more notable than the snowfall with all-time records broken in many areas. Over 80 locations had never experienced a colder February afternoon and over 30 locations had never experienced a colder afternoon in any month. El Paso, Texas on February 2 had a high temperature of just 15°F, which is the coldest high temperature ever recorded for any day of the year and a full 45 degrees below the average high for the date. The temperature fell to 36 degrees below zero at Angel Fire, New Mexico. Even Phoenix experienced what must have been frigid weather for those folks. The high on February 2 was just 44°F with a low of 32°F and wind chill temperatures near 20°F. It was the coldest day ever recorded in that city in the month of February. I don’t imagine the golf courses were crowded. Wind chill temperatures dropped below zero as far south as Monterrey, Mexico. The locals have apparently never experienced weather […]


February 3, 2011 // 0 Comments

Confused  by CRAIG JAMES  I admit to being confused about many things, but this time it is about record low temperatures. I doubt many people spend much time wondering about such things, but once a weatherman, always a weatherman. The idea for this article was put into my head by a post on the blog, “WattsUpWithThat” by E. M. Smith. Consider the following. The coldest temperature ever seen in New England is -50°F, which has happened twice. A remote site in northern Maine recorded a minus 50°F reading on January 16, 2009, that tied the record set back in 1933 in Bloomfield, Vt. Also, on January 16, 2009, a new state low temperature record was apparently set in Illinois when a reading of -36°F was recorded in the town of Rochelle. However, the state climatologist determined that this record would not be accepted, even though the thermometer had been recalibrated just the day before, because this thermometer had not been recalibrated by the National Weather Service. What does that have to do with it? The point is, it was recalibrated and was working just fine. Another questionable exclusion happened in Michigan in 1994. The Michigan State Climatologist Office reported the following: “Low temperatures on the morning of the 19th reached near all-time record low levels nearly statewide as readings of 20 to 40 below zero were quite common. Numerous daytime and monthly record lows were broken as well as numerous daytime record low maximum temperatures. The all-time record low for the state of Michigan was also challenged on January 19 with Amasa, Michigan coming in with a remarkably low temperature of -53°F surpassing the old record of -51°F. Unfortunately, this reading cannot become an official state record low since the thermometer site was too close to the observer’s house!” Say what? Wouldn’t the thermometer have read even colder if it had been farther away from the heated house? This is an especially puzzling statement since temperature readings that are taken from thermometers mounted on the side of a brick building facing into the sun are considered official in other locations, such as this one in Urbana, Ohio. Why wasn’t the Michigan temperature accepted? Or the one in Illinois? Could it be because they represented all-time […]

Words on Weather & Climate

January 28, 2011 // 0 Comments

Trends in Snow Cover  by CRAIG JAMES  On the morning of January 12, 2011, an amazing 71% of the lower 48 states had at least a little snow on the ground. You can see on this map from the National Weather Service National Operational Hydrologic Remote Sensing Center in Minnesota that Florida was the only state with no snow, although it was not far away. That means at least parts of 49 of the 50 states had snow on the ground since the volcano tops in Hawaii were also snow covered. Last year on February 12, the same thing happened, although this time there was a little snow in the Florida Panhandle but none in Hawaii, at least not officially. However, upon further investigation, some people supposedly took pictures on that day of a little snow left on the north slope of Mauna Kea, the highest mountain in Hawaii. If that was true, it would have been the first time all 50 states had snow at the same time in living memory. There are no official records of this statistic, but it is indeed a rare event. Rutger’s University in New Jersey does have a Global Snow Lab, where they keep track of such things as global snow cover and extent. This first graph shows the snow extent (amount of land area with snow on the ground) for the winter months of December, January and February for the Northern Hemisphere since the lab began keeping records in 1967. The overall trend line shows no change, although there were huge variations from year to year. The greatest snow extent was in the harsh winter of 1978 (when we had our big blizzard) with the least just a few years later in 1981. The snow extent was the second greatest last year in 2010. On the next graph, you can see the snow extent for the spring months of March, April and May. The trend is definitely down since 1967, which appears to support the claim that spring warm-ups are occurring sooner due to global warming. I certainly have no problem with the idea that the earth has warmed slightly since 1967, but I don’t believe we are anywhere close to understanding how much it has warmed […]

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