Weather & Climate


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 […]

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 […]

WORDS on WEATHER & CLIMATE — January 6, 2011

January 6, 2011 // 0 Comments

More on December  by CRAIG JAMES  In last week’s article, I wrote about some of the interesting weather that had occurred in December, but it was written before the month ended. The final week of the month also had some newsworthy weather I want to tell you about. I’m sure you heard about the major storm that buried much of the Northeast the day after Christmas. This storm produced 24 inches of snow in Newark, New Jersey and in Brooklyn, New York. Up to 32 inches of snow fell in northern New Jersey, which may be the largest snowfall total ever recorded for that state from a single storm. I think it would be really neat to get a storm like that around here, but it has never happened. The storm gave Atlanta its first white Christmas since 1881 and, at a number of locations in the Southeast, it was the first white Christmas ever recorded. It was a Christmas miracle for some folks in North Carolina who ended up with free diamonds. A jeweler in Wilmington pledged to refund every purchase made at his store between November 26 and December 11 if three inches of snow fell at the Asheville, N.C. airport on Christmas Day. Statistically, the odds of snow falling in Asheville on Christmas Day are roughly three percent. It has only happened twice in the past 60 years. I don’t imagine his insurance company was very happy to learn that 8.5 inches fell there this year resulting in over a half million dollars in purchases having to be refunded to customers who have never been so happy to see snow. Behind the storm, another shot of very cold air plunged all the way into Cuba and the Bahamas. At Freeport, Bahamas, the low of 40 degrees on Monday the 27th was just one degree shy of the coldest temperature ever recorded in that country. The state of Florida has now confirmed that this past month of December was the coldest December of record. In California, a final storm for the month on the 29th upped the monthly rainfall total in Los Angeles to over eight inches for the wettest December of record. It was very cold behind the storm. I was in […]

Words on Weather & Climate — December 30, 2010

December 30, 2010 // 0 Comments

A December to remember by CRAIG JAMES I know the month of December is not quite finished yet, but it certainly has been a December to remember in many areas, even though I think it has been a rather boring month in our area. Temperatures in West Michigan are running colder than average, but there have been no record lows and no big snowstorms. In fact, at inland locations, snowfall is running around a foot below average. There have been significant lake effect snows in northwest Indiana and in Ontario downwind of Lake Huron. Near London, Ontario, up to five feet of snow fell in four days early in the month. On the 12th through the 14th, almost three feet of snow fell near Valparaiso, Ind., trapping several motorists in their cars overnight. The heaviest snowfall in Grand Rapids was just five inches on the 1st. Our area missed the heavy snow from the storm on the 11th that gave Minneapolis its heaviest snowfall in 20 years, causing the Metrodome to collapse. The NFL game was moved to Detroit and played on Monday night. I guess this is the only way Detroit will ever get a Monday Night football game. The biggest storm of the month occurred in California on the 19th through the 23rd. Some truly incredible snowfall amounts were recorded. The base station at Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort in California received 123 inches (over 10 feet) with 186 inches (over 15 feet) falling at the top of the mountain in four days. The base station has already received a record 261 inches of snow this season. In addition, a wind gust up to 164 mph was recorded at a chair lift station at an elevation of 9,951 feet. Here is photo of someone trying to find his car at the resort. As of this writing, it was already the wettest December of record in several California locations, including Death Valley, one of the driest places on Earth, where it rained over 1.51 inches in four days. The average rainfall for an entire year is just 2.28 inches. In Los Angeles, where the yearly average rainfall is 13.15 inches, over 7 inches fell in six days. Even the Hawaiian Islands were quite wet. The average […]

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