Category Archives: Meteorology

What is the cause of strong winds?

The wind is simply air in motion, flowing from high atmospheric pressures to low pressures.

Moving anything requires a force. The strong winds we experienced this past weekend were due to a strong pressure gradient force. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Seasons, Severe Weather

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Is this cold early spring unusual?

Though we recently endured a colder than normal March (1.3 degrees below normal), temperature extremes were almost non-existent.

The daily average temperature in Madison was below normal on 16 of the 31 days of the month but never by more than 8 degrees. Continue reading

Category: Climate, Meteorology, Seasons

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Do April showers bring May flowers?

George Latimer Apperson’s “Dictionary of Proverbs,” traces the phrase “April showers bring May flowers” to the late 1880s and may even go back to the early 15th century.

Weather forecasts based on weather wisdom in folklore are based on careful observations of nature and the skies and correlating those observations with weather events. Some sayings are grounded in atmospheric physics and some seem a bit silly. Continue reading

Category: Climate, Meteorology, Seasons

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How much water is in the atmosphere?

Sitting nearly in the middle of the vast North American continent, Madison has what is known as a continental climate. Continental climates are characterized by large annual extremes in temperature and humidity as well as very distinct seasons.

The continental nature of Madison’s climate is what makes a year’s worth of weather in Madison usually a lot more varied than a year’s worth in Seattle, for instance. There is an astounding 144 degrees difference between the all-time highest (107 on July 13, 1936) and all-time lowest (-37 on Jan. 31, 1951) temperature in Madison.

In addition, the amount of water vapor in the air can range from the barely detectable level in the midst of a deep winter cold spell to as much as 3.5 percent of every breath you take during a severe July heatwave. No matter what the season, the vast majority of the invisible water vapor in the atmosphere is contained in the lowest mile or two from its source at the surface.

At any one instant, the Earth’s atmosphere contains 37.5 million-billion gallons of water vapor – enough to cover the entire surface of the planet with 1 inch of rain if condensed. This amount is recycled, through evaporation powered by the Sun, 40 times each year in what is known as the hydrologic cycle.

In each of these 40 cycles, enough energy is expended to power the U.S. — the largest consumer of energy in the world — for 3,441 years! A truly astounding amount of energy. Continue reading

Category: Climate, Meteorology, Seasons

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Is winter winding down?

Despite a prolonged deep freeze that straddled the end of December and the first week of January, during which we had below-zero morning low temperatures on 12 of 13 consecutive days, the month of January is likely to end at just about normal for Madison.

We are not, however, out of the woods just yet. Climatologically, the last week of January/first week of February is the coldest time of the year as a result of several physical factors. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Seasons

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