What is an equinox?

The equinoxes (from “equi,” meaning “equal,” and “nox,” or “night”) occur when the sun’s rays strike the equator at noon at an angle of 90 degrees.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the vernal or spring equinox occurs around March 20, and the autumnal or fall equinox occurs on September 22 or 23.

During the equinoxes, the sun is above the horizon for all locations on Earth for 12 hours. This year the fall equinox occurs on Sept. 22 at 9:29 p.m.

The tilt of the Earth’s axis is responsible for the seasonal variation in the amount of solar energy distributed at the top of the atmosphere and plays a key role in determining the seasonal variation in surface temperature.

The Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted at an angle of 23.5 degrees from its orbital plane. Because the Earth’s axis of spin always points in the same direction — toward the North Star — the orientation of the Earth’s axis to the sun is always changing as the Earth orbits around the sun.

As this orientation changes throughout the year, so does the distribution of sunlight on the Earth’s surface at any given latitude, and this is the cause of the seasons.

On the equinoxes, the axis is not pointed at or away from the sun. This results in all areas experiencing a little more than 12 hours of daylight.

The September equinox is considered by many to be a sign of the beginning of fall in the Northern Hemisphere, and a marker of spring in the Southern Hemisphere.

Category: Meteorology, Seasons

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How does the Farmer’s Almanac make its forecasts?

The Farmer’s Almanac makes seasonal forecasts and recently came out with its winter forecast.

The Farmer’s Almanac does not share how it makes its forecasts so it cannot be judged scientifically. There is no proven skill of its forecast accuracy.

It also makes a weather forecast for specific time periods in a given season.

Such detailed forecasts are not trustworthy scientifically.

Seasonal weather forecasting is a modern-day science challenge. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center also makes seasonal forecasts.

They explain the underlying principles of their forecast and provide validation of their forecasts publicly.

These modern day seasonal forecasts rely on the known relationships between climate and some key forcing mechanisms, such as El Niño.

An El Niño is a periodic warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean between South America and the Date Line.

This warming is a natural variation of the ocean and is used to predict departures from average conditions rather than to make specific weather forecasts.

For example, a year with a strong El Niño leads to less snowfall than average in Wisconsin.

These seasonal forecasts also take into account the climatic impacts of other global oscillations.

These relations are uncovered by research conducted by atmospheric scientists, and while we understand these relationships, we cannot yet predict the occurrence of these key forcing mechanisms, such as the development of an El Niño.

Currently, there are no strong global patterns developing that allow for a confident prediction of our winter weather conditions.

There are equal chances our wintertime weather conditions will result in temperatures above, below or at average.

Category: Climate, Seasons

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How does the wind make waves on water?

Waves form as the wind’s energy is transferred to the surface of water.

A weak gusty wind can make ripples appear on smooth water. These ripples will dissipate quickly once the wind stops.

The size of a wind-generated wave depends on the following:

• The wind speed. The stronger the winds, the larger the force and, thus, the bigger the wave. The wind must also be constant, not just a wind gust here or there.

• The duration of the winds. The longer the wind blows over the open water, the larger the waves.

• The fetch. This is the distance of open water over which the wind blows. The longer the fetch, the larger the waves.

• The depth of the water also plays a role, as it is difficult to generate large waves in shallow water.

Waves in a deep lake or sea can be taller and last much longer.

Waves in the open ocean have been measured to be larger than 100 feet in height.

Waves in the Great Lakes have reached heights of 35 feet. The storm Sandy generated waves on Lake Michigan of 21.7 feet.

High sustained winds from one direction can push water up at one end of the lake, resulting in a storm surge.

Weather can also cause a seiche on the Great Lakes. In French, the word “seiche” means “to sway back and forth.”

An atmospheric disturbance causes waves to slosh back and forth between shores of the lake basin resulting in huge fluctuations of water levels in a short period of time.

Category: Phenomena

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What is baseball’s longest streak of games being rained out?

Baseball fans in our area are likely quite pleased with the persistent success of the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers who lead the National League Central by 1.5 games as of this morning.

Since the opening of Miller Park in 2001, Brewers fans have also enjoyed the certainty that a scheduled game will not be postponed due to rain.

Last week was the 105th anniversary of a most unusual baseball record as on Aug. 18, 1909, the Philadelphia Phillies endured their 10th consecutive rainout.

This rainy day was in Philadelphia, but the team had just returned from a “western” trip that began in St. Louis, moved to Cincinnati and then on to Pittsburgh.

Two separate storms were apparently responsible for the remarkable streak of bad weather-luck.

The first storm was an unusual late-summer cyclone that affected the midsection of the country near the end of the first week of August.

Our guess is that storm was the kind we now call a “cut-off” cyclone – an upper-level weather disturbance that gets isolated from the main westerlies farther to the north.

Such storms can linger in a region for unusually long periods of time, produce persistent showery and heavier rain, and are reminiscent of the sort of prolonged bad weather that can occasionally ruin Memorial Day weekend here in southern Wisconsin.

The second storm may have been a weak tropical storm that redeveloped off the coast of the Carolinas and Virginia near the middle of the month.

The details of this streak of rainouts are not well-documented, but it is a fact that the Phillies were out of the pennant race by the time the streak began — they finished 36.5 games behind the Pirates but well ahead of the now (thankfully) forgotten Brooklyn Superbas and Boston Doves.

Category: Uncategorized

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What is a funnel cloud?

A funnel cloud gets its name from its shape — it is a funnel-shaped protuberance from the base of a thunderstorm.

It is composed of water droplets and is often associated with a supercell storm. The funnel cloud often has rotation, and when it does, it’s a harbinger of possible severe weather.

A supercell thunderstorm is a large storm, sometimes 20 miles or more across, that almost always produces dangerous weather.

Supercell storms produce one or more of the following weather conditions: strong wind gusts, large hail, dangerous lightning and tornadoes. The severity of these storms is primarily a result of the structure of the environment in which the storms form. Severe weather requires warm, moist air near the ground and a change in wind speed and direction, or wind shear, with height above the surface.

Funnel clouds are not dangerous unless they reach the ground. We are interested in reported funnel clouds since it is possible that a funnel cloud can become a tornado. If the rotating funnel cloud stretches down and touches the ground, it is called a tornado.

Many tornadoes are at one time funnel clouds, but not all funnel clouds become tornadoes. When a trained weather spotter observes a funnel cloud, he reports it to the National Weather Service, who may then warn the public.

Less threatening is a cold-air funnel. These are generally observed in partly cloudy skies after the passage of a cold front. While they look threatening, they don’t pose a hazard.

Category: Meteorology, Phenomena, Severe Weather

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