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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In this season of rain, snow, rain or snow, and even rain mixed with snow, there is one significant difference between the two main kinds of precipitation worth noting. Rain falls faster. An average-size raindrop falls at about 25 to 30 feet per second. This means a raindrop observed on Doppler radar some 5,000 feet over Fargo will reach the ground about three minutes later, give or take. A snowflake, however, has various degrees of feathering to its structure, and falls much more slowly.
On television, we show storms as an "L" on the weather map, often surrounded by isobars (lines indicating air pressure). This can create the impression that a storm is some sort of an entity. But a storm has no skin, no exoskeleton and no real external boundaries. There is only one thing that storms (precipitating ones, anyway) have in common.
Solar radiation from strong March sunlight has caused snow to melt every afternoon this week, despite cold temperatures. But very little snow has melted. Obviously, warmer weather will help to melt snow faster. Interestingly, the best weather for quickly melting snow might not be what you think. A warm, sunny day is not always a great eater of snow cover.
With 9 inches of old winter snow on the ground Sunday, March 4, thundershowers rolled in from the south producing pea- to marble-sized hail, along with thunder and lightning. The next day, we were buried under half a foot of fresh snow. "Only in North Dakota," wrote everybody in North Dakota on Facebook. Across the river in Minnesota, people wrote, "Only in Minnesota." Logically these statements cannot both be correct. But from a climatological point of view, both statements are fundamentally wrong, anyway.
February is the driest month of the year based on average precipitation (rain plus melted snow). Part of the reason is that there are fewer days in the month. But the difference between February precipitation (0.59 inch), January precipitation (0.71 inch) and December precipitation (0.83 inch) cannot be accounted for by the three extra days. It usually just doesn't snow as much in February.
Kivalina, a village in northwest Alaska on the seacoast, may well become the first U.S. community to be relocated or face abandonment from the effects of global climate change. The problems in Kivalina are multi-faceted, but the biggest problems are associated with changes in sea ice. The sea now freezes over much later in the fall and opens up earlier in the spring. Ice was routinely 12 feet thick years ago but now is often unsafe for travel.
There continues to be only a low risk of spring snowmelt flooding this year. Not only does the snowpack contain well below average moisture across the Red River Basin, but soil moisture conditions are considerably drier than average. Rainfall last year, April through November, was anywhere from 2 to 7 inches lower than average. The one element that could present a problem is that the frost depth is substantial. One week ago the frost depth in Fargo was measured at 39 inches. This is largely due to the light covering of snow this winter.
Another round of cold weather is headed our way early this week. An exasperated cold weather hater asked why we are still getting cold weather this late in the winter. After all, he pointed out, the daily average highs are rising day by day. Actually, the fact that the average highs are in the 20s now, whereas they were in the teens a few weeks ago, does not suggest that the weather should be warming up. Rather, it suggests that the historical frequency of cold or subzero weather is lower in late February.
Many St. Paul students were stranded in school buses Monday, Jan. 22, some until almost midnight, when very heavy snowfall rates caused sudden snow accumulations. The big problem is that powerful winter storms often do unexpected things, so potential forecast error needs to be a part of any decision. In this case, the general idea of a heavy snowfall for the Twin Cities area was well forecast. The heaviest accumulations were, as expected, south of the metro area, and the idea of a sharp cutoff to the north was anticipated.
Please cut the snow forecasters a little slack. True, winter precipitation is a lot less variable than that which falls from summer thunderstorms. But snow accumulation is very hard to predict because most of snow accumulation is not snow, but air.