John was born in Baton Rouge, LA, and grew up near Birmingham, Alabama. As a teenager, his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and later to a small town in northeast Iowa. John traces his early interest in weather to the difference in climate between Alabama and Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in meteorology. Like any meteorologist, John is intrigued by extremes of weather, especially arctic air outbreaks and winter storms. John has been known to say he prefers his summers to be hot but in winter, he prefers the cold. When away from work, John enjoys long-distance running and reading. John has been a meteorologist at WDAY since May of 1985.
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Our weather has had its ups and downs lately. But can you imagine a temperature swing of 80 degrees within a few days? In February 1996, our region was deep into one of the coldest periods of weather of the 20th century. Feb. 1, Fargo-Moorhead officially had a high temperature of 28 below and a low of 39 below zero (not wind chill). This temperature is remarkable because it is the closest the temperature in Fargo Moorhead has been to 40 below since the 1880s. However, after a few more days of subzero weather, there came a thaw. On Feb.
Climate normal reaches its inflection point this week. We are at winter's midpoint. This means that average daily high and low temperatures rise steadily for the next six months or so. Coincidentally, warmer weather is expected soon. However, this is purely coincidental. Some years, the coldest weather comes in February. Some years, it comes in December. On rare occasions, the coldest days of a winter are in November or March. The average high today is in the teens. On March 9, the average high reaches 32 degrees. On April 21, it hits 60.
The weather has been generally cold since Christmas. Most of the days and nights have been well below average. But to put this into perspective, there have been no record low temperatures during the past three weeks. No records have been set for number of days or nights below zero. It has been cold, but not unusually so. It would likely have been colder, perhaps by a few degrees each day, had our snow cover been deeper. This is due to the isolative and radiative properties of deep snow.
The snow that falls in a blizzard is a lot harder to measure than snow that falls straight down. The location of the measurement is critical. You get too much if you are downwind of a large, flat roof. You get too little if you are downwind from a big tree. In the right location, sheltered but not too sheltered, it is still necessary to make many, many measurements to account for drifting. Last Thursday's snowfall measurement of 0.8 of an inch seemed too low to many people who shoveled deeper snow accumulations.
Be proud, Norwegians. The science of meteorology and weather forecasting are based on what is commonly known as the Norwegian School of Meteorology. All of us who studied meteorology in college learned of Jacob Bjerknes, Carl-Gustav Rossby, Sverre Petterssen, Tor Bergeron and others; all followers of the great Vilhelm Bjerkness; all with meteorological formulas and theories now known by their hard-to-pronounce names.
"Bomb cyclone" somehow became a buzzword during the national media coverage of the powerful winter storm that formed last week along the Atlantic seaboard. The use of this "term" accomplished little except to create confusion and make the storm sound worse than it was. Actually, the word "bomb" is a legitimate, albeit jargon, meteorological term that has been in common use among meteorologists for decades. A deepening (strengthening) low-pressure system (cyclone) is in a state of cyclogenesis.
On a clear and calm winter morning, the lowest temperature of the day is often well after sunrise. Throughout the night, the ground loses heat into space via the radiative process, causing a very cold layer of air to form right at ground (or snow) level. As the sun rises, solar radiation passes through the air and is reflected back into space by the winter snow cover. Eventually heating of the surface begins, causing the air to mix and become slightly turbulent. Thermometers are usually mounted at eye level and are officially mounted at 2 meters (approximately 6 feet).
The Fargo-Moorhead area, like all cities, has an urban heat island effect. The buildings, pavement, and the output of combustion (cars, furnaces, etc.) all induce warmer temperatures in the city than in the surrounding countryside. The effect is most noticeable at night and during the winter. The heat island of Fargo-Moorhead tends to be the most noticeable when there is a light southerly wind.
Today is the anniversary of the coldest temperature ever officially recorded by the National Weather Service for Fargo-Moorhead. On this morning in 1887, a temperature of 48 below was recorded by what was then called the U.S. Weather Bureau, which was located at the Moorhead Post Office and Federal Building at 521 Main Ave. at what is now the Rourke Art Museum. This number does not reflect wind chill. It was a mercury-in-glass thermometer reading. A similar temperature of 47 below was recorded Feb. 9,1888.
You hear it all the time. What's the wind chill? Can you imagine going through a winter without this numerical fixation? Did you know that the wind chill index came into weather reporting vogue during the early 1970s. Prior to that, we could only add the term "windy" to our temperatures. The original wind chill formula was developed by the U.S. military during the 1950s for Arctic maneuvers. But their science was hastily done and the values it gave were ridiculously low. During the 1980s, many meteorologists began to argue for a new index based on more accurate experimentation.