Weather plays a pivotal role in disaster responses. As we witnessed with the Eyjafjallajökull volcano, wind patterns can disperse ash into the upper atmosphere causing severe travel disruptions. Modeling the ash cloud is an incredibly hard job to do with accuracy due to uncertainties in the ash plume itself and the limited predictability of the atmospheric flow. Likewise, winds have played a critical role in the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. High winds and waves in the days after the oil spill stymied cleanup efforts. Forecasted winds out of the south will continue to transport the oil slick slowly toward the coast of Louisiana.
If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you’re probably well aware of the weather problems that have plagued the outdoor Olympic venues, especially Cypress Mountain where the freestyle and snowboard events are being held. Since the sites are selected way ahead of time, there is no way to forecast how the weather will play out during the games themselves. Unfortunately for Vancouver, an exceptionally warm winter has caused a severe shortage of snow at Cypress Mountain. Snow actually had to be transported down from higher elevations in order to firm up the courses. Though there is plenty of snow to be found at Whistler, warm temperatures have caused the snow to be quite soft during the day posing an added challenge to athletes as they adapt on the fly to the changing conditions.
With weather more reminiscent of the Pacific Northwest, we’ve been mired in clouds with intermittent rain and snow for the better part of a week. The wind and rain storm Thursday evening sent gusts roaring over 60 mph (97 kph) from Boston to Concord, NH knocking down trees, tearing off roofs, and even sending a shed full of snow tubes flying across I-495. While we got the brunt of the wind and rain, New York City experienced its fourth largest snow storm on record with 20.9 inches (53 cm) in Central Park. The higher elevations of the Green and White Mountains in northern New England received more than 3 feet (91 cm) of snow, a boon to ski resorts which have been desperate for natural snow.
Meteorologists often describe snow as “wet” and “dry.” An example of wet snow is the kind we just got in yesterday’s storm. It tends to stick to tree trunks and street signs like paste, is hard to shovel, and makes good snowballs to pelt your friends or enemies with. On the other hand, dry snow is quite light and powdery, blows around easily, and makes for great skiing and snowboarding. There are a number of factors that determine whether we get wet or dry snow, but it generally comes down to the type of snowflakes that fall out of the sky and corresponding snow to liquid ratio that results.
Weather certainly has its ups and downs, and the last two months have been no exception. Comparing October and November as a whole for Massachusetts, October’s mean temperature ranked in the 18th percentile while November’s mean temperature will most likely rank around the 95th percentile. In fact, the temperatures at both Logan Airport and our campus weather station have yet to dip below freezing this autumn. The latest freeze in recorded history at Logan Airport was December 2nd in 1975 and we have a good chance of breaking that record, though it will be close call this morning.
Although this year’s Atlantic hurricane season has been a relatively quiet one, we are reminded in recent days that hurricane season doesn’t end until November 30. After going almost two months without a hurricane due to hostile conditions during the heart of the hurricane season, Hurricane Ida provided the late bloomer punch for this otherwise famished hurricane season. Spawned last Wednesday off the coast of Costa Rica, Ida lashed Nicaragua with heavy rain and waves. Unfortunately, 130 people were killed in El Salvador due to severe flooding there. Ida peaked as a category two storm, which was much stronger than anticipated, as it passed just northeast of Cancun, Mexico into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday. It is projected to make landfall early today near Mobile, Alabama as a tropical storm. The main impacts will be the heavy rains — possibly up to half a foot (15 cm) — over the southeast as it makes a hard right turn and slows down after moving inland.
The end of October is usually when the Boston area sees the peak autumn colors, and this year is no different. Aided by the recent chilly nights, the transition to the colorful landscape that New England is so famous for has accelerated in recent days. It appears that peak color in the urban areas is approaching, and these next 7–10 days will likely feature the best combination of color and minimal leaf drop. If you have a chance, be sure to enjoy the colors before they fade. Popular spots that are a short distance from campus include the Arnold Arboretum, Middlesex Fells, and Blue Hills.
Chicago is frequently termed the “windy city,” but the honor, according to the National Climatic Data Center, belongs to the nearby Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, MA which has an average wind speed of 15.4 mph (24.8 kph). Boston is considered to be the windiest major metropolitan area with an average wind speed of 12.5 mph (20.1 kph) while Chicago is much further down the list at 10.4 mph (16.7 kph).
The first ten days of September have been exceptionally nice with mostly sunny skies and temperatures near normal. September always seems to shake out this way for a good chunk of the month. It’s our short intermission from the otherwise variable weather we typically experience here in New England.
Who knew being a meteorologist could be such a dangerous job? In Brazil, a forecaster who predicted a big storm that never materialized was threatened with a six month prison term. In Peru, a local TV weatherman who failed to predict a flash food was taken away by a furious mob and lynched in retaliation. Although such unreasonable or violent displays are unheard of domestically, meteorologists often take the blame for what are perceived as bad forecasts through vindictive calls or e-mails.
Seasonal allergy sufferers don’t need the visual cue of the blooming flowers and budding leaves to know that everything is coming alive. The recent hot spell is partially to blame for the sudden rise in sneezing and stuffy noses as the near record temperatures have really accelerated the greening of trees and plants. Along with the warmth, days with low humidity and a stiff breeze can really aggravate the suffering as pollen is more easily suspended in the air.
Although the Western Conference may have bested the Eastern Conference in Sunday’s NBA All Star Game, the weather bragging rights are clearly in the East. It didn’t seem possible, but much of the ice and snow that fell in the prior month has vanished in recent days. Although temperatures haven’t been far from the climatological average, daily high temperatures have consistently climbed above freezing. This, combined with a few bouts of rain in lieu of additional snow storms, has laid waste to the deep snow pack Mother Nature had built up last month. However, we’re still in the depths of winter and the risk of snow returning spontaneously is still in the cards. Thankfully, this week does not feature a return to the ice cavern of January.
After a seemingly benign start to the winter, the snow started flying just before Christmas and has really piled up around these parts. The shivering and shoveling will continue as another storm arrives on our doorstep tomorrow afternoon. Albeit, this storm will minor compared to its predecessors as it will move through fast and contribute at most a couple more inches to the snowpack.
One doesn’t have to be in New England very long to realize that the weather gets crazier as we approach the winter solstice. While the polar regions cool off quickly, the tropics remain relatively constant producing a large equator to pole temperature difference and a strong jet stream. The consequence of this is increased storminess that throws the area in to a weather roller coaster yielding huge swings in temperature and a whole gamut of precipitation. It’s Mother Nature’s way of trying to restore equilibrium, but at the cost of a wet pair of pants and shoes from time to time.
Every now and then a story about a novel invention that modifies the weather becomes an attention grabbing flash in the pan with the popular media. Wouldn’t it be great if you could order up sunny days every weekend and have it rain only at night? Florida homeowners would love nothing more than to set up a huge fan along the coast to blow hurricanes out to sea. Most attention in the arena of weather modification has been to prevent severe weather events, make it rain by seeding clouds, and reverse the effects of global climate change. Unfortunately, despite the rosy promises any method holds, there are often problems with feasibility, cost, scaling, reproducibility, and just plain lack of thought. For now, we mere mortals just have to deal with the weather or move to San Diego.
The mere mention of snow sends people flocking to get sweaters, gloves, scarves, and occasionally every last loaf of bread and gallon of milk in supermarkets as well. We’re approaching that time of year when the flakes will begin to fall and cover the ground in a serene white. On average, the first snow arrives in Boston around Nov. 4, and the first inch of accumulating snow doesn’t usually occur until the first part of December. However, some years are curveballs, including 2005. On Oct. 29 of that year, 1.1 inches (2.8 cm) of slushy snow coated the still changing leaves.
Hopefully you got the most out this stretch of very nice, dry weather we’ve been happily mired in the last few weeks. Mother Nature has some catching up to do in the rain bucket, and boy will she certainly fill up the bucket today and tomorrow. The culprits are two systems to our south.
Although the Atlantic Ocean sees the lion’s share of its hurricanes August through October, hurricanes have been observed to form in July. Last week, a strong and consolidated area of thunderstorms emerged off Africa and quickly developed into Tropical Storm Bertha. On Monday, Bertha strengthened into a hurricane and underwent a period of rapid intensification becoming a category 3 storm with winds of 120 mph (190 kph). While hurricanes in July aren’t remarkable, the location of Bertha is. Bertha has set records for the farthest east a tropical storm, hurricane, and major hurricane have formed so early in the hurricane season (though reliable records date back to only the early ’70s).
Despite its nickname, Chicago is not the windiest major metropolitan area in the United States: That distinction actually belongs to Boston. Sunday surely lived up to the billing as the wind gusted ferociously around campus. A weather station on the top of the Green Building clocked a wind gust of 62 mph (100 kph) just after 4 p.m. Associated with this gust was a intense snow squall that also produced a short bout of lightning and thunder. This fickle weather was associated with an arctic front that blasted through the area dropping temperatures quicker than a piano falling from Baker House freezing any wet surface from earlier in the day.
As if stepping to a drumbeat, storms keep catching us on the weekend. The jet stream is currently situated like a welcome mat from sea to shining sea allowing storms to quickly traverse across the country. This flow, which is known as a progressive pattern, is characterized by quick hitting but frequent storms. The first in a series of storms will come through Saturday morning giving us a light bout of rain, which will quickly clear out in the afternoon.
Given all the sources of weather forecasts online and in the media these days, you might wonder, who should you trust: The Weather Channel, your favorite weather character on TV, or your friendly neighborhood staff meteorologist at <i>The Tech</i>? This is actually a much harder question to answer than by simply pointing a finger at myself and humbly saying, “I’m the best!” Perhaps a better question to ask is: how far out can you trust any weather forecast?
When precipitation is measured in feet, it’s usually when it snows. For example, a severe Nor’easter may bring 2-3 feet over a day or two to New England, but how about 17 feet of rain in six days? A small island in the Indian Ocean, La Reunion, received an incredible amount of rainfall from Tropical Cyclone Gamede late last month. A new world record was set at Commerson’s Crater, a volcano on the island, with a staggering three day rainfall total of 155 in. (3.9 m) and a one week total of 213 in. (5.4 m). Compare this to the yearly average precipitation in Boston of 41.5 in (1.1 m). Although Gamede never made landfall on La Reunion, the excessive rainfall was caused by persistent rain squalls continually lashing the island as the tropical cyclone moved slowly toward the southwest.
As you transition from a summer of frolicking to a fall of problem sets or an orientation week of free food to a first week of sudden starvation, the weather seems to be the only thing somewhat constant this first week of the semester. September is considered to be the nicest month of the year, but it is not without its variety. Autumn’s chill can come barreling out of Canada and hurricanes can approach from the Atlantic, though none of that is in the cards the next few days.
Twice before has Hurricane Noel spun across the open waters of the North Atlantic, but the Noels of 1995 and 2001 were only storms for the fish as neither threatened any land mass. Hurricane Noel of 2007 proved much different and will likely be the most fatal of this year’s Atlantic hurricanes as it inflicted parts of Hispanola with 20 inches (50 cm) of rain, causing devastating mudslides.
The first full day of autumn was yesterday, but from the many sightings of shorts and T-shirts on campus, you wouldn’t have known. Don’t put away those summer clothes yet as more heat is in store the next couple of days. Strong southwest flow will make it breezy and transport an air mass more characteristic of the middle of summer over the area. In fact, high temperatures may approach record levels today. You should also notice the humidity gradually creeping up, but given the recent dry spell it should not become too soupy.
This time of year, one can often figure out how warm or cold it will be based only on whether the wind is blowing from the ocean. The water is still a chilly 55°F (13°C) in Boston Harbor. If there is no sunshine and a strong wind out of the east, as there was last Wednesday when it felt more like the beginning of April than mid-June, our air temperature will be very close to the water temperature in the harbor. If instead of clouds we have the strong June sun, the marine air will absorb heat from the sun-drenched ground as it moves towards campus, resulting in afternoon temperatures near a comfortable 70°F (21°C). With the prevalence of more clouds than sun today, we’ll likely fall short of 70°F (21°C), but it will still be warmer than the past couple of days.
You’ve probably noticed the change in the weather recently as we’ve been on one crazy roller coaster ride, going from stinging ice pellets to downright balmy weather in less than two weeks. Spring seems to have missed its layover in Boston, but these wild swings from day to day are very characteristic of the temperamental nature of the season. Gradients between cold and warm air masses can become very sharp. For instance, on Tuesday there was a blinding snowstorm in the foothills of Colorado where some places received almost two feet of snow and tornadic thunderstorms were spinning on the high plains less than 100 miles to the east.
Many New England ski resorts have had to make a majority of their snow this season since Mother Nature has been reluctant to lend a hand. While it has been a famine for Boston and surrounding areas with about 2 inches (5 cm) of snow this winter recorded at Logan Airport, a feast of snow has been unleashed downwind of Lake Ontario in recent days. As of Thursday morning, Parish, NY had received 88 inches (224 cm) of snow this week.