Archive for March, 2012

The warm streak continues…
March 31, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Temperatures this March finished about 9.5 degrees above average, which makes this our 12th consecutive month of mean temperatures above average.  Mean temperatures account for both the high and low temperatures.  This is now the second longest streak since records have been kept at Bradley Int’l since 1904.

Interestingly, such long streaks are actually quite rare.  Here are the 5 longest streaks of consecutive months with above average temperatures:

1) 15 months – June 1990 to Aug. 1991

2) 12 months – April 2011 to present

3) 11 months – Jan. 2010 to Nov. 2010

4) 8 months – June 1973 to Jan. 1974

5) 7 months (3 times) – Oct. 1950 – April 1951; Nov. 1952 – May 1953; Oct. 2001 – April 2002

*It is important to note that the “average” numbers used to compile these statistics are the same average mean temperatures for our recent streak.  The average highs and lows are actually tweaked every decade to reflect more recent “normals”…but that’s a weather blog entry for another day (perhaps even our coldest monthly streaks too).

 

Enhanced Fire Risk
March 25, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Prime conditions for forest and brush fires…like those seen across western Massachusetts last week…will be with us again as we start the new workweek.  Very low relative humidities and gusty winds enhance the potential for the smallest spark to cause an out-of-control fire.

Relative humidities on Monday and Tuesday are expected to be below 25%, which means fires can more easily start and continue to burn.  The analogy is as simple as burning dry versus wet firewood in the winter.  Many of you know to bring some firewood indoors for a little bit before putting it in your fireplace.  When left wet or snow-covered, it does not burn as efficiently.  The same applies for forest and brush…excessively low humidities will leave brush, dead limbs, and grass dry and more readily ignitable.

The other factor that enhances fire risk is gusty winds.  Winds on Monday and Tuesday of at least 20 to 30 mph can easily spread hot spots, and carry the small smolder from a discarded cigarette to a low-hanging tree branch nearby.  Precisely knowing the winds are one of the biggest assets for firefighters battling a wildfire.  Strong winds, however, really puts them up against the clock to contain a fire before the winds help it spread.

People are responsible for 98% of all wildfires.  Here are some simple things to remember for days like Monday and Tuesday:

12 hours of night & day…not on the equinox
March 20, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Today, the first day of Spring, is commonly believed to be when there is an equal 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness…thus leading to the term spring “equinox”.  However, if you look closely at the almanac for today, you’ll see this isn’t the case.  A sunrise of 6:53 AM and a sunset of 7:03 PM means a total of 12 hours and 10 minutes of daylight today.  Where does that extra ten minutes come from?

The difference lies in the definitions of sunrise and sunset.  As illustrated below, the American Meteorological Society defines sunrise as the moment a “sliver” of sunshine is visible.  However, the astronomical definition of equinox relates sunrise to when the midpoint of the sun is visible.  The same is true for sunset…the AMS defines it as the moment that last “sliver” is no longer seen, not when the midpoint intersects the horizon.

This difference in the positioning of the sun accounts for that extra time.  It takes a few extra minutes for the top half of the sun to rise above the horizon…from the top “sliver” that the AMS defines, to the midpoint defined by the equinox.  The same is true for the fall equinox.  The first day of fall, September 22, has 12 hours and 9 minutes of daylight…not an exact equal 12 and 12 for daylight/darkness.

Spring Flood Outlook
March 18, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

NOAA and the National Weather Service issued their Spring Flood Risk for the United States.  Much like western Massachusetts, below-average snowfall and an unusually warm winter across many parts of the U.S. has made this spring’s flood risk rather low…especially across the most flood-prone areas of the upper Midwest.

For the first time in four years, the Upper Midwest is at a “below normal” category thanks to a relatively dry winter, receiving roughly half of their normal precipitation totals since October.  Drought conditions across Texas and the desert Southwest for several months also leads to a lower flood risk for these locations this year.

The two areas on the map forecasted to have higher-than-normal flood risk…the lower Ohio Valley and lower Mississippi…are a result of excessive rainfall/precipitation over the winter, with long-range forecasts calling for above normal rainfall carrying into the spring.

As for western Massachusetts, we are simply under the normal flood risk.  The excerpt of NOAA’s report for New England reads like this:

“With the exception of extreme northern New England along the Canadian border, the winter snowpack in the northeast and mid-Atlantic regions have been well below normal this winter, and will not contribute to the spring flood risk.  Rivers in these regions respond to rainfall events that evolve over the springtime, which are only predictable on the scale of a week in advance.”

In other words, we are not at risk for springtime flooding as a result from melting snow and ice jams.  Instead, our flood concerns will only be the “normal” flood concerns we have during the spring as a result from a few days of heavy rainfall or flash flooding from a strong thunderstorm.

You can find the full report from NOAA here http://www.nws.noaa.gov/oh/hic/nho/

Flood Safety Awareness Week
March 17, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Hard to believe it after our quiet, mild weather, but this past week was National Flood Safety Awareness Week.  Two common situations begin to climb around this time of year…snowmelt across the north, and severe thunderstorms to the south…which leads to more flooding situations.

Rising temperatures heading into the spring season leads the winter snow to melt, sometimes rapidly, and can cause ice jams and quickly rising rivers.  The month of April also begins the peak of severe weather down to the south, which leads to numerous flash flooding situations.

The following link to the Flood Safety Awareness Page provides complete coverage of different flooding causes, events, statistics, and stuff for homeowners that the National Weather Service made available this week.  You’ll find dozens of sections to browse through about flooding information:

http://www.nws.noaa.gov/floodsafety

The most compelling section each year seems to be the “Turn Around, Don’t Drown” campaign.  Last year, 63% of flood-related deaths were caused by people trying to drive through flood waters.  The general rule of thumb is that if you can’t see the bottom of the roadway, you can’t be certain if the road has been washed away and if there is a strong current underneath.  Two feet of water can lift and float a car…an amount of water that can easily accumulate in an area where the roadbed has been washed away from a heavy thunderstorm.

Record Highs Today
March 12, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Today’s high temperature of 74 degrees at Bradley Int’l was a new record high for the Pioneer Valley, beating out the previous record of 69 degrees set in 1977.  Other official high temperatures from across western Massachusetts today include 74 in Westfield, 72 in Chicopee, 69 in North Adams, 69 in Orange, and 66 in Pittsfield.

We also had a number of viewers send in the high temperatures they recorded at home, which are listed on the map below.  If you would like yours added to the map, post it on our CBS3 Springfield Facebook Page, or email us at weather@cbs3springfield.com

History of Daylight Saving Time
March 11, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Many people know that one of our founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was credited with proposing Daylight Saving Time.  Part of this comes from his, “early to bed, early to rise” saying.  He believed that getting up earlier and going to bed earlier would help cut down on the use of candles.  In a paper to the French, he calculated that utilizing more daylight instead of burning more candles would save the city of Paris more than 96 million livres per year (the French currency in the 1700s).

However, Benjamin Franklin never specifically “invented” Daylight Saving Time.  He proposed rationing candles per household, firing cannons at sunrise to awaken Paris earlier, and placing evening curfews on the streets.  However, he never suggested directly manipulating the clock an hour forward and back.

Daylight Saving Time as we know it was first proposed by a New Zealander named George Vernon Hudson in 1895.  Hudson had a hobby of collecting insects, and valued the hours of light after his shift work during the day.  Noticing the “wasted” daylight hours early in the morning would better serve him collecting insects after work, he published papers on the matter in 1895 and again in 1898…proposing a two-hour forward shift of the clocks during the summer.

The idea of Daylight Saving Time gained a lot of momentum by an Englishman named William Willett, who also published a paper called “The Waste of Daylight” in 1907.  Loving to play golf (much like myself), Willett hated cutting his rounds short in the summer because of darkness (much like myself).  His vigorous campaigning eventually earned the attention of British Parliament, including Winston Churchill.  By World War I, the interest in saving coal led to the adoption of Daylight Saving Time by Britain and many of its allies in 1916.  The United States waited a little longer, finally pushing the clocks ahead one hour for the first time on March 31, 1918.

Solar storm
March 9, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Did you notice the solar storm early this morning?  Well, nothing to see here in western Massachusetts, but you may have heard or read about it.  Parts of the northern Great Plains, as well as Canada, Alaska, and other northern territories around the world had a spectacular view of the Northern Lights.  This photo was captured just north of Duluth, Minnesota:

What solar storms can cause are disruptions in satellites and voltage spikes in electrical grids.  A two-hour blackout of radio communications was reported this morning from eastern Africa to Australia.  The chance of such solar storms will also cause some flights to be rerouted just to avoid the chance of technical problems with their instrumentation.  Solar storms pose little direct threat to life, except some extra radiation exposure to astronauts and those flying at high altitudes.

Solar storms are caused by larger-than-normal solar flares…those big eruptions or explosions you see on the surface of the sun in NASA photos.  Often these flares are too weak to have an impact, or do not send any energy directly towards earth.  In this case, a large solar flare spotted on Tuesday night (pictured below) sent high-energy particles racing our way…and was forecasted to reach earth with the potential of creating some of the satellite and power problems listed above.

That’s right…I used the word “forecasted”.  Just like the weather, there is an entire branch of NOAA called the Space Weather Prediction Center, which monitors and forecasts this type of solar activity.  Always on the lookout for events like this morning, the Space Weather Prediction Center alerts air traffic, grid operators, and communications officers for potential “solar storms” that could affect technology.

Winter Recap
March 4, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

With the month of March finally here, we are now in “meteorological spring.”  Discussed in more detail in a weather blog entry from September 1, meteorological seasons are shifted slightly from the astronomical seasons that everyone is familiar with.  The reason this is done is more of a book-keeping thing.  Keeping the months grouped together (“meteorological winter” is simply all of December, January, and February…”meteorological spring” is simply all of March, April, and May) makes records easier to analyze.  Plus you’ll see that our coldest average high temperature stays at 34 degrees from January 4 – 31.  This correlates more with the middle of “meteorological winter” than “astronomical winter.”

Anyway, here is a complete recap of the numbers from the official records at Bradley International Airport for meteorological winter:

December

Avg High: 46.9 degrees (+7.2 above normal)

Avg Low: 28.1 degrees (+4.7 above normal)

Precipitation: 5.00 inches (+1.56 above normal)

Snow: trace (-7.4 inches below normal)

January

Avg High: 40.2 degrees (+5.7 above normal)

Avg Low: 22.9 degrees (+5.2 above normal)

Precipitation: 2.96 inches (-0.27 below normal)

Snow: 6.8 inches (-5.5 below normal)

February

Avg High: 45.2 degrees (+6.7 above normal)

Avg Low: 26.3 degrees (+5.4 above normal)

Precipitation: 1.47 inches (-1.42 below normal)

Snow: 5.9 inches (-5.1 below normal)

Winter Summary

Avg High: +6.6 degrees above normal

Avg Low: +4.9 degrees above normal

Precipitation: -0.13  below normal

Snow: 12.7 inches total (-18.0 below normal)

This will go down as the second warmest meteorological winter on record (since 1905).  However, don’t let this lead you believe our spring will be equally as warm.  Excluding this winter, three of our previous top four warmest winters on record had temperatures fall back below normal for spring.  Of the top ten warmest winters…only once did temperatures stay more than a degree above average for the following spring.

U.S. Tornadoes Per Month
March 3, 2012

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Friday’s deadly tornado outbreak over the Ohio Valley resulted in 19 confirmed tornadoes as of Saturday evening, with dozens of other reports still being investigated.  While it is not at its peak, the graph below shows that we are starting to enter “tornado season” in the Midwest…the time of year when tornado occurrences reach a maximum over the next three months.

The simple reason for this spike to start at this time of year relates to North America’s unique geography.  In general, three large-scale ingredients are needed to spark these multi-state tornado outbreaks like Friday’s…1) cool, dry air coming down from Canada (the Rocky Mountains largely prevent cool, moist air from coming from the Pacific)…2) hot, dry air coming from continental Mexico…3) low-level moist air coming in from the Gulf of Mexico.  These three things most commonly clash in the Midwest, which is why that area is known as “tornado alley.”

Tornadoes are most common in the spring because the air coming down from Canada is more likely to be cool enough to provide a significant difference from the warm air coming up from the Gulf.  In other words, the air from Canada can be “too warm” in the summer to support as many tornado outbreaks.  These next three months or so provide the best scenario for vastly different types of air clashing in a violent way to produce widespread tornadoes.

Here in Massachusetts, our peak tornado season does occur in the summer months of June, July, and August according to NOAA.  The large-scale ingredients listed above are more likely to occur during those months in Massachusetts.  We are more likely to have a hot, muggy day mixing with a cool, dry Canadian cold front in the summertime, not spring.  If you recall the June 1st tornado…the heat index that day was in the low-90s with dewpoints at an oppressively-humid lower-70s…and a storm system through Canada had a cold front pass right through that muggy New England atmosphere, helping trigger the thunderstorms that day.