Craig James

Words on Weather & Climate

October 28, 2010 // 0 Comments

A Tale of Two Lakes by CRAIG JAMES This is a tale of two lakes, not two cities. The first lake is Devil’s Lake in North Dakota. Since 1940, this lake has risen nearly 50 feet! It has risen almost 29 feet just since 1993, but it is still not quite as high as it has been in the past, as seen on this graph from the North Dakota State Water Commission, showing water levels over the past 4,000 years. The lake experiences what appear to be normal fluctuations from dry to overflowing, which have little to do with global warming. Since the lake has no natural outlet, excess snow melt and rainfall remain in the lake until it rises another seven feet, where it can then discharge into the nearest river. The last time it spilled into the river was a little less than 2,000 years ago. Since the 1940s of course, communities have built up along the lakeshore, not taking into consideration the past history of the lake. These communities are now being flooded and over 10% of the population has moved out of the area. Over 400 homes have been moved or destroyed and not without considerable cost. By the end of 2010, the federal government will have spent more than $1 billion to ease the threat, buying flooded property, building dikes and making other improvements. That figure does not include a $27 million floodwater-diversion channel built by the state on the west end of the lake. It also costs $330,000 a month for the electricity for pumps to take one inch off the lake. Those are all our tax dollars spent so people could live on a lake that history has shown has always fluctuated this much. The other lake is Lake Mead in Nevada. This lake is experiencing the opposite problem: water levels are falling. The lake has dropped an amazing 126 feet since 1985, at one point losing 60 feet in just three years! The graph shows the fluctuations in the water level since the lake was filled behind Hoover Dam in 1937. The lake receives 96% of its water from snowmelt that drains into the Colorado River basin. During the past decade of drought conditions, the amount of […]

Words on Weather & Climate — October 21, 2010

October 21, 2010 // 0 Comments

A La Niña Winter Can you believe we are approaching the end of October already? Last year I was able to golf until December 2. That is not likely to happen this year. It appears to me as if prolonged cold weather and probably snowflakes will close the golf courses much earlier than last year. An El Niño weather pattern was the rule for the fall into spring last year but this year a strong La Niña looks likely, which should give much of the United States a very different winter than the past one. What is called a La Niña event occurs when the sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean near the Equator from the dateline east to the west coast of South America are more than 1 degree Celsius below normal. This is the opposite of an El Niño event where temperatures are above normal. Both El Niños and La Niñas usually begin to develop in the late summer and last into the following spring. However, some prolonged episodes have lasted 2 years and even as long as 3-4 years. While their occurrence can be quite irregular, El Niño and La Niña develop every 3-5 years on average and they have noticeably different effects on the weather here in the United States. The sea surface temperatures affect where the jet stream is located, which in turn determines the path of storms. The forecast problem, of course, is in the details but you can see from the graphic the average conditions that exist. Here in the Lower Great Lakes, it is usually warmer and drier during an El Niño year than during a La Niña year. There are exceptions but in general this is true, which probably means a colder and snowier winter here than last year when snowfall was right at average with temperatures about two degrees above average. La Niñas generally produce two distinct storm tracks across the country shown in this graphic. Our area gets Alberta Clippers, which produce lake effect snow and storms from the southern plains, which can give us a lot of snow, or sometimes a wintry mix of snow, freezing rain and rain if the low center comes far enough north. It could get mild and […]

Words on Weather & Climate — October 7, 2010

October 7, 2010 // 0 Comments

Peshtigo Horror by CRAIG JAMES Peshtigo is a small town in northeastern Wisconsin about 50 miles north of Green Bay. Most people have likely not heard of Peshtigo, but on the night of October 8, 1871, it was in the middle of the deadliest fire in United States history. Very little news of this horrible event spread across the nation because, at almost exactly the same time, the Great Chicago Fire was destroying much of that city, capturing most of the attention. Almost unbelievably, that same night saw fires destroy much of Holland, Manistee and Port Huron, Mich. as well as a good bit of forested area in the central part of our state. The exact cause of the Chicago fire is unknown, but the blaze started at about 9 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 8, in or around a small shed that bordered the alley behind 137 DeKoven Street. The traditional account of the origin of the fire is that it was started by a cow kicking over a lantern in the barn owned by Patrick and Catherine O’Leary. Michael Ahern, the Chicago Republican reporter who created the cow story, admitted in 1893 that he had made it up because he thought it would make colorful copy. Would news reporters just make up facts? But I digress. The fire encompassed almost 2,000 acres of the city. More than 73 miles of roads were destroyed, 120 miles of sidewalks, 2,000 lampposts, 17,500 buildings, and two to three million books. The death toll was between 200 and 300. The Chicago Water Tower is one of the few structures still standing that survived the fire. The Chicago fire was small compared to what happened in northeastern Wisconsin that same evening. The fire in this area consumed over 1.2 million acres of land, which is approximately twice the size of Rhode Island. At least 12 communities were completely destroyed with death toll numbers ranging between 1,200 and 2,500 people. The following account gives a vivid description of what happened in Peshtigo, Wis. that night beginning around 9 p.m. “A sound resembling a thousand stampeding cows or the ‘heavy discharge of artillery’ preceded the horrors that followed. The thick smoke made it difficult to see even a few feet ahead. […]

Words on Weather & Climate by Craig James, September 30, 2010

September 30, 2010 // 0 Comments

The Long Island Express  by CRAIG JAMES  In last week’s article I wrote about the extreme weather that occurred in 1888, 1896 and 1899. This week I want to take a look at the incredible hurricane that devastated New England on September 21, 1938. This is another amazing weather event most people have never heard about. Back in 1938, there was no weather radar, no satellites and no ocean buoys. Ocean weather observations came from ship reports and occasionally an aircraft. The U.S. Weather Bureau, now called the National Weather Service, knew that a storm had formed in early September just off the African coast. The storm had probably reached category five status as it passed north of the Bahamas on the 19th. Charlie Pierce, a young research forecaster for the Weather Bureau, concluded that the storm would not curve out to sea and miss the United States, as most storms in this area do, but would instead track due north. But as so often happens in many organizations, he was overruled by more senior meteorologists and the official forecast called for nothing more than cloudy skies and gusty conditions in New England. Because the official forecast contained no cause for alarm, even as the winds picked up speed and the waves rolled in, nobody realized that a catastrophe was only a few hours away. Instead of re-curving out to sea, the storm moved due north from off the coast of Virginia and accelerated in forward speed to 70 mph. In the history of hurricanes, this is the fastest known forward speed recorded. Because of its speed of movement, the storm became known as the “Long Island Express.” As residents of Long Island and southern New England looked off to the south, what they thought was a bank of fog moving north actually turned out to be the storm surge, or wall of water, over 15 feet high with waves of over 30 feet on top of the surge. Millions of tons of sea water swept entire homes and families into the sea. The impact of the storm surge was so powerful that it was actually recorded on the earthquake seismograph at Fordham University in New York City. The storm created a new inlet separating […]

Words on Weather & Climate — September 23, 2010

September 23, 2010 // 0 Comments

The Weather Ain’t Like it Used to Be by CRAIG JAMES How many times have you heard someone say, “The weather ain’t like it used to be”? And I always say, “It definitely isn’t. The climate is always changing.” We all seem to have selective memory about the past, but we are told now that weather extremes are worse than ever. Is that so? Let’s take a look a few weather extremes I imagine most people are unaware of that happened in the United States. The 19th century (1800s) saw many extreme weather events in this county but let’s look specifically at the years 1888, 1896 and 1899. There were two incredible storms in 1888. The first occurred in the Plains and Midwest January 12-13. It is still the worst blizzard of record in Nebraska. Most school children were trapped at school for days. In 24 hours, the temperature fell from 70 degrees to almost 40 below zero. The wind at times was so strong you could not hear voices 6 feet away. Many cattle suffocated due to the fine powdery snow being blown into their nostrils. The second great storm occurred March 11-14, 1888, and has become known as “The Great White Hurricane” or “The Blizzard of 88” that paralyzed areas from Chesapeake Bay to Maine with New York City being hit the hardest. New York City papers reported that in 36 hours: “the snow had fallen to depths of between two to five feet, with drifts piling up over fifteen to thirty feet in many sections of the city.” In some western suburbs, snowdrifts were reported to be as high as 50 feet! Transportation collapsed. Trains on all four of the city’s lines stalled, leaving 15,000 passengers helpless in unheated cars. Trolleys were blown off their tracks in wind gusts estimated over 75 mph. There hasn’t been a storm of that magnitude since. In 1896, there was a brutal heat wave from the Plains to the East Coast. Theodore Roosevelt, then head of the Board of Police Commissioners in New York City wrote: “the death rate trebled until it approached the level of a cholera epidemic; horses died by the hundreds.” Although official high temperatures were mainly in the 90s, the humidity was […]

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