Snow squalls are a specific type of winter storm that are not new, but predicting them has been difficult due to a variety of reasons. Squalls, no matter the precipitation type, are described as narrow bands of convective storms with intense winds. They form and dissipate quickly and can either track ahead of a larger system or be a localized event, but are often tied to strong cold fronts. As a result, the exact atmospheric conditions that can trigger their life cycle has been a focus by meteorologists in order to improve forecasting.
It can be easy for winter weather terminology to get confusing though, especially since snow squall forecasts were not issued by all weather service offices until recently. And they can often be compared to blizzards due to the similarities in what they do to visibility. These storms, however, are not exactly the same as blizzards due to their short life span. Blizzards require three hours or more of sustained winds and squalls will complete their passage in under an hours time. Squalls often are associated with precipitation, though if the snow accumulates can depend on the local conditions before the snow begins. Warmer surface temperatures can reduce accumulation but the speed and quantity can still result in inches of snow remaining after a storm has finished. Blizzards, however, can occur with or without snowfall since the necessary low visibility can come from falling snow, or previously deposited snow that is being blown back into the air by the constant winds and strong gusts.
These extreme conditions are brief but can cause significant damage and loss of life; notably on roadways where people are unable to take shelter and there is no way for people to accommodate for the sudden change in weather. In an effort to minimize this NOAA began testing a process of issuing warnings for snow squalls, which was why only selective offices were issuing these forecasts until the winter of 2018-2019 when the program went nationwide, just in time to get plenty of potential uses with the intense cold the nation saw with the trend of low temperatures and storms associated with the polar vortex in January. As the winter continues the weather service may or may not see more use of this particular warning, but now it can be used anywhere that these conditions may develop, and in an effort to keep people safer this is an excellent improvement to see in winter weather forecasting and safety.
The article below appeared in the January 13, 2012, edition of the Washington Post. Sunday, January 13, 2019, marks the 37th anniversary of a tragic aircraft accident in Washington, DC, Air Florida flight 90. The YouTube links that follow the article provide much more detail about this accident, including interviews with people who were at the scene.
Aircraft icing has been the cause of several aircraft accidents, with Simmons Airlines flight 4184 being another famous accident. It occurred on Halloween 1994 near Roselawn, Indiana.
As is the case in most airline accidents, many valuable lessons have been learned and applied in the wake of these accidents.
30 years after Air Florida crash, skies safer than ever
The indelible chronicle of that snowy late afternoon began even as Air Florida Flight 90 sank into the Potomac. A TV crew that had been stuck in traffic jumped out to film the horror and the heroism for which the day is remembered.
The four people trapped by bridge traffic who died in their cars. The 74 crew members and passengers — three of them infants — killed in the crash. The passenger, Arland D. Williams Jr., who helped others escape the water and then was sucked under himself. And the bystander, Lenny Skutnik, who dived into the freezing water to save a drowning woman.
People who were touched by that day or caught up in the magnitude of the disaster will remember most of that. But 30 years after the fact, few people who cross the 14th Street bridge are aware that its formal name is the Arland D. Williams Jr. Memorial Bridge. And the 2.5 million people who take off from Reagan National Airport this winter will do so in the belief that the history of Jan. 13, 1982, can’t be repeated.
Experts say they’re right.
The lessons of that day and advances in training and technology over three decades have contributed to the safest era in aviation history. Although the skies are not risk-free, there hasn’t been a U.S. airline crash that killed more than 50 people since 2001.
The investigators said that although the captain, Larry Wheaton, and the co-pilot, Roger Alan Pettit, were cockpit veterans, they didn’t have much experience with winter weather. And they said that the plane sat on the taxiway too long, being pelted by snow and ice that fouled the critical leading edge of the wings and reduced the plane’s lift as it hurtled down a runway that ended at the Potomac.
* * *
The captain of a plane that taxied past as Flight 90 readied for takeoff commented to his crew, “Look at the junk on that airplane.”
Later he recalled: “Almost the entire length of the fuselage had a mottled area of snow and what appeared to be ice. . . along the top and upper side of the fuselage above the passenger cabin windows.”
* * *
There are at least three reasons that in 2012 your plane shouldn’t be covered with ice: better chemicals to keep the ice off, stricter regulations and better training for ground and cockpit crews.
“All three of those have evolved significantly over the last 30 years,” said Tom Hendricks, who flew for Delta Air Lines for 23 years before becoming senior vice president for safety, security and operations at Airlines for America, the trade group that until recently was known as the Air Transport Association.
Thirty years ago, Flight 90 was de-iced haphazardly by ground crews uncertain about the temperature, the NTSB report says. The plane sat waiting its turn for takeoff for 49 minutes after being sprayed with a de-icing chemical. It was snowing heavily.
De-icing chemicals have evolved since 1982, and new anti-icing mixtures developed in Europe were introduced in the 1990s. Applied after a de-icing, the liquid is thick enough to stick to the plane. It absorbs precipitation and then falls off as the plane gathers speed on the runway.
Pilots are now trained to use “holdover” tables that dictate how long they can remain on the ground after anti-icing fluid is applied.
“You’ve got to be airborne by that time, or you come back and you start the whole thing over again,” Hendricks said. “It’s incredibly structured. It used to not be that way. It’s very checklist-oriented. Pilots are highly trained in it.”
Co-pilot, watching instruments: “God, look at that thing. That don’t seem right, does it? Uh, that’s not right.”
Pilot: “Yes it is; there’s 80.”
Co-pilot: “Naw, I don’t think that’s right. Ah, maybe it is. . . .”
* * *
Thirty years later, few of the 26,000 passengers who take off from National on a typical day remember the details of the Flight 90 crash. But the people flying their planes do.
“Within the air crew world, this is a well-known accident,” said Jim Hookey, the resident expert on jet engines at the NTSB.
It was not the weight of the ice, the wait to takeoff or the slush on the runway that caused the plane to crash. For reasons no one will ever know, two pilots with little experience in winter weather failed to turn on heating systems that keep the idling jet engines warm.
Without that heat, something — almost certainly ice — clogged engine openings that are essential to determining how much thrust those engines are generating. As a result, the cockpit instruments told the pilots that the engines were generating far more power than they really were.
Because of those bad readings, when the plane failed to gain altitude, the pilots didn’t realize that throwing the throttle open would give them more lift.
“Up to about eight or 10 seconds before they hit the bridge, if they had just pushed the throttle [wide open], they probably would have buzzed the bridge, but they would have made it,” Hookey said.
That lesson, he said, has been learned throughout the industry.
“Crews now are not hesitant to jam the throttle to save the plane,” Hookey said. “There’s probably been a lot of airplanes that have been saved because of the errors that these guys made.”
* * *
Conversation in the cockpit as Air Florida struggles to get airborne:
Pilot: “Come on forward . . . forward, just barely climb. . . . Stalling, we’re falling!”
Co-pilot: “Larry, we’re going down, Larry . . .”
Pilot: “I know it.”
[Sound of impact.]
* * *
A driver stuck in traffic on the northbound 14th Street bridge:
“I heard screaming jet engines. . . . It was like the pilot was still trying to climb, but the plane was sinking fast. I saw the tail of the plane tear across the top of the cars, smashing some tops and ripping off others. . . . Once the tail was across the bridge, the plane seemed to continue sinking very fast, but I don’t recall the nose pointing down. . . . I saw the cockpit go under the ice. I got the impression it was skimming under the ice and water.”
* * *
Rescue crews and ambulances struggled through traffic to reach the scene on that snowy afternoon. The federal government had released its employees early, and roads were jammed. Then came word about 30 minutes later that a crowded Orange Line train had slammed into a concrete pillar near the Smithsonian station.
The first fatal accident in the history of Metro would injure 25 passengers and kill three others.
YouTube videos of the Air Florida flight 90 accident:
Every meteorologist has a beginning; a moment that made them realize that weather was their passion. For some, it was a significant weather event. Others, it was discovering the science. For me, there was no one seminal moment, but a series of them in childhood.
Perhaps none was bigger than Read Across America Day in March 2002. It was my first chance to meet a broadcast meteorologist, thanks largely to my family and the local parent-teacher organization. His name – Chris Cimino, morning meteorologist at NBC 4 in New York City, just 40 minutes from my home in New Jersey. I still remember every moment of that day.
Chris was speaking to a class of fifth grade students, and I was called out of class. I was escorted to the library and to my surprise saw him there. I waited until he was finished with his talk and got the chance to shake his hand and talk to him briefly. While Chris did not know it at the time, it was a big moment for me, helping to show me that my dream could be possible. We each have our own ways that led us to this field, this work, and this position in the weather enterprise. What’s yours? Your story is your history in the world of weather after all.
Wind has been a big talking point in the eastern U.S. this past week, with multiple high wind alerts issued. It begs the question of why things get so windy, and who is usually the windiest city in the U.S.
This is where we get a little technical. Air tends to move from high pressure to low pressure, to essentially fill the void. An invisible force, called the Coriolis force, deflects the air to the right in the northern hemisphere.
Especially in the Mid-Atlantic states, that air tends to flow then from northwest to southeast. Since the air is moving over the Appalachian Mountains, it will then accelerate east of the mountains. This has lead to gusts of 40-60 mph at times in recent weeks.
Does that make the Mid-Atlantic one of the windier regions? No. Places like Rochester, MN and Amarillo, TX are usually classified as some of the windier cities. Chicago’s nickname, “The Windy City” has some political history to it (even though it does get quite breezy there).
Through the winter and spring, be sure to pay attention for wind alerts issued by your local National Weather Service office. These alerts are usually issued in the event of potential downed trees and power outages.
Snow has a varied life span across North America. In some regions after the first few snowfalls, the sight of it will be consistent through much of the winter, or the time period between snow melts will be larger. While other locations, especially coastal regions and cities, can see many melts and fresh covers of snow through the entire season. Long term climate certainly plays a part; average temperature and humidity affect how snow melts or sublimates, as does geography. These factors are important due to how easily snow can resist melting by reflecting the sun’s energy back into the atmosphere.
But what also affects how snow melts is the quality of the air that was involved when the precipitation formed. This is called snow darkening and it reduces the ability of snow to reflect radiation. Aerosols particles can be brought to the surface after snow has formed around them due to wet deposition, and then are part of the snowpack on the ground. If those particles can absorb the radiation from the sun, such as carbon rich ash for example, they encourage the melting of snow. So regions with heavy industry and pollution will see this effect more strongly from emissions much more than rural regions that are not as rich with these heavier particles, though this natural effect is not limited to pollution.
This cycle continues as once a patch of snow has melted sufficiently to reveal a much darker area of ground beneath it. Exposed to the sun this darker surface can absorb and emit radiation and also start to melt the snow around it and encourage the melting or evaporation of all the snow around such spots. So if you travel to a place with low pollution or lots of shade, you’ll likely see snow on the ground for much longer times through the winter, even as it melts away closer to larger populations!
Jacobson, Mark Zachary. Air Pollution and Global Warming: History, Science, and Solutions. 2nd ed., Cambridge University Press, 2012.
A Look Back at the Bitterly Cold End of December 1863 through the Early Part of January 1864
Arctic outbreaks are nothing news. The most significant recent Arctic outbreaks occurred a little over a year ago, from December 23rd, 2017 through January 5th, 2018. Bone-chilling temperatures gripped a good portion of the lower 48 states, from the Northern Rockies, south to Texas and even the deep-south. The Great Lakes and the East Coast were not spared by the cold. Several locations experienced one of their coldest late Decembers through early January period on record. Wind chill of 50 below to 60 degrees below zero was observed in the Dakotas and Minnesota on December 30th – January 1st. Mount Washington in New Hampshire recorded a temperature of -36° on the morning of January 6th. When combined with 92 mph winds, the wind chill was an astonishing -92°F!
Was the cold at the end of December through the first part of January 2018 a surprise? Nope! Severe Arctic outbreaks like the one above are typically well forecast days in advance. Meteorologist and climatologist at the Climate Prediction Center analyze various climate signals, or oscillations when issuing their 6-10 Day and 8-14 Day Outlooks.
The image above is the Climate Prediction Center’s 6-10 Day Outlook issued on December 23rd, 2017. The graphic is a forecast of temperature anomalies for December 29th, 2017 through January 2nd, 2018. The darker the purple, like over the eastern half of the lower 48, the higher the confidence for below average temperatures. Meteorologist today rely on weather models and observations to monitor incoming bone-chilling temperatures. Wind chill advisories and warnings are issued, usually, 12 to 24 hours in advance, so people can be prepared before heading out. Today we have a wind chill graph which informs people how long they can stay outside before getting frostbite. Wind chills were introduced in the 1970s as a way to express the severity of the weather. Back in 1863, weather forecasts were none existent. Arctic cold waves were brutal and caused significant hardship in early Americans. The weather was documented during this time period by meteorological observers for the Smithsonian Institution, Signal Service reports (Fort Data), and Civil War Diaries. A diary by Samuel A. Agnew in northeastern Mississippi wrote about the cold, saying “It is severely cold – as cold as it ever gets in this country…”
Beginning on December 31st, 1863, a horrific snowstorm with gale force winds, (39 to 54 mph) and extreme cold impacted the Midwest, from Iowa to Ohio. The significant blowing and drifting snow blocked highways and railroads, with some areas, like Galesburg, Illinois failing to receive mail from Chicago for a week. Elsewhere in Illinois, “500 head of sheep perished under snow-drifts in Menard County. All young pigs that were not very well protected died, either from the snow drifting or from the cold. Twenty five per cent of the sucking calves were lost. Many fat hogs, and partially so, were smothered beneath the snow or died from their piling – piling on top of each other.” Livestock across the Midwest perished due to massive snow drifts and the extreme cold.
Temperatures plunged 30 to 60 degrees in less than a day in some places. In Welshfield, OH, the temperature fell from 40° on December 31st at 10 pm, to -14° January 2. “The people being wholly unprepared for so sudden and so great a fall of temperatures, much damage was done.” Easton, OH fell 61° in 12 hours, and Urbana dropped 45° in just 10 hours. In Ottawa, Illinois, on January 1st, the weather was intensely cold. One man in this city froze to death but a short distance from his own house. Also a man and his wife, and their span of horses, within two miles of this station perished. The observer from Galesburg wrote, “Such a storm and such cold are seldom experienced here.” In St. Louis, “the thermometer sank to 26 degrees below zero on the night of 31st of December, and remained below zero for nearly two weeks.” Fruit trees heavily damaged by the prolonged cold. Raspberries and blackberry bushed not protected were severely injured.
The following information from the Arctic blast are from the meteorological observers for the Smithsonian Institution. The information was published in the Bi-Monthly Report of The Agricultural Department for January and February 1864. (Source) The reports were nearly quoted word for word.
Fond Du Lac County, Wisconsin, Jan 1st – “Wind north, extremely cold and blustering; snowed all night, and drifted all day; highways and railroad blockaded; thermometer 35 degrees below zero.” Fond Du Lac County, Wisconsin, Jan 2nd – “Wind northwest; thermometer 38 degrees below zero. The coldest day and hardest storm ever known in Wisconsin.” Jan 6th “measured the snow; found it 24.5 inches on level.”
Mr. John Hill of Petersburg, Menard County Illinois – “500 head of sheep perished under snow-drifts in Menard county. All young pigs that were not very well protected died, either from the snow drifting or from the cold. Twenty five per cent of the sucking calves were lost. Many fat hogs, and partially so, were smothered beneath the snow or died from their piling – piling on top of each other.”
Adams County, Iowa – “The coldest day was Jan 1st; thermometer 24.5 degrees below zero. During the first three days of January, the thermometer kept below zero all the time.”
St. Louis, Missouri – “January 1 – The thermometer sank to 26 degrees below zero on the night of 31st of December, and remained below zero for nearly two weeks. On the morning of 31st it was 16° above. Soon a snow-storm set in, and by three pm the thermometer indicated 10 degrees below zero, with a gale blowing from nearly due west. Stock has suffered severely. Horses, mules, cows and hogs, more or less, have perished in the storm. Our peach trees are killed to the ground. Nearly all our heart-cherries the same. Quinces, fully one half killed. Pear trees, much damage to tender varieties; young wood nearly all killed. Vineyards badly injured.”
New Castle, Indiana – “Thermometer at 2 pm, December 31, 35 degrees above zero. Thermometer at 5 am, January 1, 19 degrees below zero; a change of 58 degrees in 15 hours.”
The following communication was received and read before the Cincinnati Horticultural Society
Bardstown, Kentucky – “On the night of December 31 it turned suddenly cold; the thermometer suddenly sunk upwards of 50 degrees that night; and next morning at 8 it stood at 8 degrees below zero.”
Cynthiana, Kentucky – “On the 31st of December we had a very warm day, with moderate rain. That night within the space of 12 hours the thermometer fell 54 degrees, and during the 1st, and for two weeks continually, it was from 10 degrees below to 15 above.”
Additional reports from the Bi-Monthly Report from The Agricultural Department for March and April 1864. (Source)
South Hartford, New York – “January 1; the month commenced with a fine drizzling rain which continued until 2:30 pm; thermometer indicating 42°. At 7 am of the 2nd the temperature had fallen to zero, being a change of 42° in seventeen hours.”
Urbana, Ohio – December 31, a sudden and extreme change during the night. At 9 pm the thermometer 34°; At 7 am, January 1, the thermometer was down to 11 below zero.
Eaton, Ohio – December 31, “At 7 pm the mercury stood at 45°. It was not noticed at 9, but it much have been down nearly to zero. At 7 am, January 1, it stood -16°; being a change of 61°
Welshfield, Ohio – The temperature fell from 40°, December 31, at 10 pm to -14° January 2. The people being wholly unprepared for so sudden and so great a fall of temperatures, much damage was done.
South Bend, Indiana – “Seven inches of snow on the 31st of December. Temperature at 9 pm, 18°; fell thirty-eight degrees by 7 am next morning, January 1.”
Winnebago, Illinois – “December 30, sky cloudless till about 4 pm, when a low bank of clouds was observed along the southwestern horizon, which overspread the sky during the evening. December 31, a severe snow-storm set in soon after midnight and continued through the day. The snow ceased soon after nightfall. The wind continued blowing a gale through the night, with heavy drift and increasing cold. The day following (January 1) was one of the most severe on record in this latitude.”
Ottawa, Illinois – “January 1, weather intensely cold; one man in this city froze to death but a short distance from his own house; also a man and his wife, and their span of horses, within two miles of this station. Snow, of the 30th and 31st December and today one foot in depth. It is badly drifted, and the cars have stopped running.”
Galesburg, Illinois – “Very cold high wind night on December 31; snow in motion; cattle, horses, and hogs suffered greatly, and many froze. The roads were blocked up, and no mail was received from Chicago for a week. Such a storm and such cold are seldom experienced here.”
Sandwich, Illinois – “One of the most terrible snow-storms ever witnessed here, accompanied with severe cold, visited us at the close of the old year and the beginning of the new. It began the last day of December to storm moderately from the north; at 3 am, January 1, it began to increase in violence, and continued until it become impossible for man or beast to withstand its violence; a 7 am, January 1, the mercury marked -26°, and snow falling rapidly; railroads became blocked, and the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy road was so obstructed that for one week no mail express passed this (Sandwich) station. Many cattle perished in the corn fields; stock in transportation on the car perished by hundreds, and thousands of fowls froze upon their perches. The depth of snow falling here was about two and a half feet. The extreme cold continued about eight days. Peaches are destroyed, that is, the fruit germs, and in many instances the trees are ruined. The fruit germs upon nearly all early varieties are also destroyed. Early Richmond cherries also, and probably plums. Peaches are said to be destroyed more than a hundred miles south of Memphis.”
Pekin, Illinois – “December 31. I was up several times last night; the wind increased in force; the snow came faster each time I looked out; 4 pm, the wind is from northwest; it is so severe that I cannot at times walk against it without using all my strength. I do not remember ever experiencing so severe a snow-storm; it continued about the same to midnight. After 8 pm the wind was from the west.”
Augusta, Illinois – “December 31. From 9 pm last night to sunrise this morning, snow fell to the depth of about seven or eight inches, and it continued to snow, more or less, nearly all day; the wind blew very hard, and the snow drifted so much that it was very difficult to tell the average depth; it was a very severe storm; I remember but one equal to it since I have resided in Augusta, from 1833 to the present time.”
Waverly, Illinois – “A severe snow-storm began at 10 pm on the 30th December, and continued over the 31st, the wind blowing almost a gale some of the time from the northwest, with the thermometer almost at zero; about ten or twelve inches of snow fell, and it lays piled up in every conceivable shape. The thermometer -24° this morning, (January 1.) The storm must have obstructed railroads and killed much stock for farmers.”
Athens, Missouri – “This month of January is the coldest weather that has been experienced here for a number of years. From the 23rd of December to the 23rd of January the ground has been covered with snow to the depth of seventeen inches on a level, and drifted to the height of the fences. Many roads became impassable, the general depth of the drifts being six feet. We have had as deep snows before, but not so cold, not drifted so badly. The timber was loaded down with snow, and much of it broken, especially the pin oak and black jack, which had the leaves on. Great number of cattle, sheep, hogs, and fowl have perished, and many persons have been frozen to death. Twelve inches of snow fall on the 28th of December; none on the 29th or 30th, one inch on the 31st; one inch on the 1st of January.”
Fontenelle, Nebraska – “December 31 is the coldest and most disagreeable day experienced in this Territory by the oldest settlers. Ground frozen eight inches deep.”
Geneva, Wisconsin – “January 1, snow-drifts are from four to twelve feet high; roads running north and south are impassable. Large number of quails are found frozen in the snow.”
Beloit, Wisconsin – “The 1st day of January (mean temperature -25°) was the coldest day on this record for fourteen years, and the first week was five degrees colder than any week during that time, but the amount of snow was not so great as it has been. It was drifted terribly, and blocked the railroad trains for several days. I saw some drifts in a railroad cut east of here fourteen feet high.”
Algona, Iowa.—On the 30th December, at 9 pm, the wind began to drift the snow, which had fallen to the depth of five and a half inches on the26th and 27th, and continued to increase all night, and by daylight of the 31st it was blowing a hurricane, which continued all day and till New Year’s morn with the same violence apparently. At no time in the whole day could a house be seen at six rods’ distance. The extreme cold in the face of the wind was, at 7 am,—15°; at 10 a.m.,—17°; at 2 p.m.—20°; at 6 p.m.,—24° at 9 p. m., —26°. In some places there is no snow; at others it is ten feet deep, according to location, and considerable damage has been done by blowing down hay and straw stacks and timber. The early part of January was clear and no snow.
Mount Pleasant, Iowa.—“Thursday, December 31, has been the most stormy and dismal day that I have ever known in this latitude. The wind blew a gale all day from the northwest, and the driving snow rendered the air dark, and made it almost impossible to go about out of doors. More stock died on this night in Iowa than was ever before known in any month of time; cattle, sheep, and hogs were often buried in snow-banks, where they perished by being smothered, &c. One man, in this county, lost fourteen head of cattle.”
Muscatine, Iowa.—“December 31, the most severe day of the winter so far; a most powerful northwester with snow-squalls and the air full of snow; thermometer below zero all day. The storm began in the evening of December 30; some flying clouds appearing and the cold wind beginning to rise at 10 p. m.; snow-squalls began in the night and continued all day the 31st. On the 5th of January the mail got through from the east the first time for six days; many cattle have frozen because they had not good shelter. January 2.—To-day has been a very severe one; thermometer —26° in the morning, and the average of the day—14.3°; not windy, and the snow appears to be done drifting. Yesterday and the day before were the severest which have been seen here for ten years. Drifting snow has completely blocked the railroads and country roads. The snow is about eighteen inches deep in the woods, most of it damp, frozen hard, so it will drift no more. January 8.—The past week has been about as cold as any I ever experienced; thermometer averaging —10° for eight days in succession. About one hundred head of cattle and many hogs froze to death in this county on the night of December 31; but they were not properly sheltered. Sheep crowded into sheds, and the snow drifting upon them, they piled up, and some smothered, and others froze—Foster.”
Prospect Hill, Floyd County, Iowa.—“The steadiness of cold from the eve of December 30 to the morning of the 10th of January has not been equalled in seven years and two months, the period my register covers. There was no visible increase of snow here, in the woods, on the 31st of December; still, on the prairie, the position of the sun was not apparent, except faintly, at 9 a. m., on account of blowing snow.—James Coley”
Fort Madison, Iowa – “The last day of 1863 was the most severe storm we have had here since this country was settled, and the year 1864 was ushered in by said storm. The night before New Year’s day was the most particularly severe, with high wind from the northwest and drifting snow; some stock was frozen to death, and a number of chickens. Nine and a quarter inches of snow feel on the 27th of December; note fell again until the 2nd of January, when there was half an inch, and three and a half inches fell on the 4th.”
Iowa City, Iowa.—“On the last day of the year (mean temperature —21°) commenced the most violent snow storm known in this region of country; snowing all day and night, and wind blowing violently ail the time.”
Natchez, Mississippi, on December 31st – “The morning was sultry and close; thermometer 80°; wind south; cloudy. About 9 am a remarkable change occurred, and the wind increased and became chilly, and then stinging cold, with occasional warmer gusts. What was remarkable this cold wind blew strongly directly up the river, or from a point south 30° west. At 12 pm the ground began to freeze and the wind had veered round to west. At 7 pm the thermometer stood at 23°, and next morning at 10°, and in some localities in the country as low as 8° above zero. The cold lasted till about the 10th of January.”
John Dalton – Meteorologist in History; Written by: Jenna Hans
Many of us know John Dalton for his Law of Partial Pressures, or maybe his work with the blind. Dalton is responsible for introducing atomic theory and the idea that everything is made up of little particles (atoms), and he even put together the first chart of atomic weights! However, what people might not know is that he was an active meteorologist, weather enthusiast, and that meteorology led Dalton to a lot of these theories and conclusions.
Growing up near the Lake District in northwest England, young John Dalton was among one of the most beautiful and mountainous regions in the UK, making it a great place for him to make meteorological observations. He used various instruments to take measurements of things like temperature, pressure, air circulation, and cloud formation. These measurements along with his observations were recorded in his book Meteorological Observations and Essays that was published in 1793. The book contains more than 200,00 entries, many of which we use in meteorological and climate records today2. In the book he also included guides for students, his thoughts on the composition of the atmosphere, and experiments he conducted.
Throughout the book Dalton outlines many different theories and conclusions he made through his observations, experimentation and research. This led him to publish ground breaking papers on evaporation and its role in the hydrological cycle. He made the statement that rain and dew are equal to the amount of water evaporated, something that was questioned at the time. Not only that, but he developed the evaporation equation (E=K(es-ea)) that is still used today3. He developed his law of partial pressures from atmospheric observations and even developed his 5-part atomic theory from his interest in atmospheric gasses1.For over 50 years Dalton went out to record his weather observations and even made entries from the day before his death in Manchester in 18443. Although his work was barely discussed, he continued to publish papers and books relating to meteorology and chemistry many of which have has stood the tests of time, proving his work to be accurate and ground breaking3. The amazing things that Dalton accomplished prove the importance of studying the natural world and how maybe us weather fanatics and storm chasers have a method to our madness!
Christopher S.W. Koehler, The Atom Man, Chemistry Chronicles, 2003, 51-53
John Dalton: Atoms, Weather, and Vision, SciHistory, 2012
Howard and Sylvia Oliver, Meteorologists Profile-John Dalton, Weather Vol. 58,2003, 206-211
Become a Museum Ambassador with us at the National Weather Museum!!
Job Title: Museum Ambassador
(estimated 5 hours/mo)
marketing, and administrative support to the Museum.
volunteer Museum Ambassador position is remote. This position is under supervision
and is a direct report to the President of the Board. This position is
responsible for a variety of administrative and marketing tasks to support the
Museum’s networking and marketing efforts. The Museum Ambassador should ensure
the efficiency and fluidity of internal and external marketing tasks and
provide proactive support.
included but not limited to:
2x a month blog post regarding the Museum,
current events, new technologies, etc. related to weather, the environment, space
or science. Blogs need to be between 2-5 paragraphs with images included and
all references accounted correctly for.
Maintains a complete understanding of the Museum’s
functions and abilities, with the intent to speak out regarding the Museum
including retweeting, reposting, posting, networking, gaining followers,
responding to comments and followers.
Social Media Marketing on the Museum by
retweeting/reporting and networking
1x month team meetings and email updates
Proactive outreach to prospects and the public
regarding the Museum
Assist with newsletter writing and creation
but not limited to:
Strong Interest in Science
Knowledge of current weather events and
Meteorology courses not required, but preferred
Well-developed knowledge of social media
platforms, including but not limited to, Twitter/Facebook/Instagram/Linkedin
Experience blog writing
This position is on a 100% voluntary basis, for the National
Weather Museum and Science Center. This is for a one-year term. There is no
compensation and all work is voluntary. In order to maintain this position
within the Museum it is expected that all responsibilities are adhered to.
Email us for more information about joining our Ambassador team! We look forward to hearing from you soon!!
Have you ever wondered what the warmest temperature has been for your state? What about the highest measured in the United States? You can view these records, as well as others on the State Climate Extremes Committee tab on National Centers for Environmental Information webpage. Other state records include minimum temperature, 24-hour precipitation, 24-snowfall, snow depth, and largest hail size if available. This blog will focus on all-time high temperatures by state.
Including the Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, there are 78 state all-time high temperatures. The District of Columbia is not included. Here are some facts by the numbers.
The warmest temperature measured in the United States is 134°F in Greenland Ranch, California on July 10th, 1913.
All states, including Alaska and Hawaii, have reached 100°F.
Maryland and Oklahoma lead the way with four records each.
Maryland – 109°F (July 3rd,1898, Aug 6th, 1918, Aug 7th, 1918, July 10th, 1936)
Oklahoma – 120°F (July 18th, 1936, July 19th, 1936, Aug 10th, 1936, Aug 12th, 1936)
Nebraska, Virgin Islands, and Virginia have three records.
Nebraska – 118°F (July 15th, 1934, July 17th, 1936, July 24th, 1936)
Virgin Islands – 99°F (July 31st, 1988, Aug 4th, 1994, June 23rd, 1996)
Virginia – 110°F (July 5th and 7th, 1990, July 15th, 1954)
Seven locations have set their state’s record more than once.
North Bridgton, Maine – 105°F on July 4th and July 10th, 1911.
Cumberland, Maryland – 109°F on August 6th & 7th, 1918.
Altus Iris Res Station – 120°F on July 19th, 1936 and August 12th, 1936.
Phoenixville 1E, Pennsylvania – 111°F on July 9th, & 10th, 1936.
Perryville, Tennessee – 113°F on July 29th, 1930 and August 9th, 1930.
Charlotte Amalia Cyril E King AP, Virgin Islands – 99°F on August 4, 1994 and June 23, 1996.
Columbia 2SSE, Virginia – 110°F on July 5th & 7th, 1900.
Records by month.
July – 50
August – 18
June – 8
April and September – 1
Records by decade.
1930s – 35
1910s – 10
1990s – 8
1980s – 6
1950s – 5
1890s – 4
1920s – 3
1900s, 1970s – 2
1960s, 2000s, 2010s – 1
The only decade since 1890 with zero records, the 1940s.
Glendive, Montana – 117°F on July 20th, 1893.
Columbia University of South Carolina, SC – 113°F on June 29th, 2012.
Most Usual Location Name.
Ice Harbor Dam in Washington reached 118°F on August 5th, 1961.
Interested in exploring more about all-time maximum temperatures by state? Here is a Google Map of their records. If you click on an icon, you can view the actually Cooperative Observer’s form when available. Enjoy!
Hurricanes need specific conditions in order to form and strengthen; generally this means higher ocean temperatures, warm and moist air above the water, and low wind shear so storms can stay organized and not loose the air masses that feed them. There are other factors as no weather phenomenon or condition exists in a vacuum, but these more prevalent ones tend to control much of hurricane development. Currently in this 2018 season though there has been a more unique occurrence that has been helping to keep the Atlantic quiet. That would be the clouds of dust carried from the Sahara in West Africa by winds moving towards the Americas.
These air masses are extremely dry, and while they’re not an uncommon event at all due to the Easterly winds in that region, the plume observed at the end of June was visibly larger than most on satellites. This larger mass of dust has likely been preventing larger storms from forming as the dryer conditions lie above the moist layer that’s at the surface and restrict convection and keep storms from intensifying. This is such a regular occurrence in the region that the term “Saharan air layer” is used to refer to the section of atmosphere all this heat and dust resides in. This influx of particles is also tied to air quality in the southern united states and the Caribbean with the dry, hot, and dusty air interacting with local air masses and adding to pollution problems.
In May, NOAA predicted that the Atlantic was likely to see an “near or above normal” hurricane season, but this hasn’t come to pass exactly. There have been relatively less storms and even fewer have intensified enough to be named. The conditions at face value should be favoring storms as sea surface temperatures are higher and broke records in June. The month was the fifth warmest June ever for the planet, and the sea surface temperatures when averaged made it the sixth warmest June ever for the sea surface. Ocean temperatures of this sort should be ripe for severe weather development, but the dust plumes that were also pushed into the atmosphere at the same time seem to be contributing to the lack of storms and keeping this available energy under wraps. But while this is the current pattern now, as the dust clears and ocean temperatures continue to rise with the rest of summer, the chance of a hurricane becomes higher. The later half of the season is normally the more active and intense part to begin with and this effect might only be a break before the 2018 shifts once again.
Summary: The recent weeks the Atlantic’s hurricane season has been going slowly, and while things can change, dust plumes from Africa could be keeping the effects of a warm ocean in check for now.