Category Archives: Meteorology

What caused last month’s flooding?

The nearly unprecedented flooding that has plagued the southern half of the state over most of the last two weeks began with the incredibly heavy rains that fell on Dane County and surrounding areas in the afternoon and evening of Aug. 20.

Western parts of Middleton recorded over 12 inches of rain, and a staggering total of 14.7 inches fell in Cross Plains in well less than 24 hours. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Severe Weather

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What forces a mid-latitude cyclone to develop?

Our rainy Friday was arguably the first storm, or cyclone, of the autumn/winter season. Though it will surely be followed by more powerful examples, you may well have wondered how do such storms come to be?

That has been the central motivating question in meteorological science for most of the past 100 years. During that time, meteorologists have learned a great deal about how these mid-latitude cyclones are formed. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Seasons

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When is tornado season?

Tornadoes form in regions of the atmosphere that have abundant warm and moist air near the surface with drier air above, a change in wind speed and direction with height, and weather systems such as fronts that force air upward.

The United States provides these three ingredients in abundance, so it is not surprising that the majority of the world’s reported tornadoes occur in the U.S. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Severe Weather

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How much summer is left?

The welcome respite we just enjoyed from the prolonged heat and humidity of late June and July may have inspired fond thoughts of autumn to many in southern Wisconsin.

Of course, there is still a lot of summer left, though we have just passed the climatologically warmest day of the year in Madison – July 14/15. This closely coincides with the date on which air with a temperature of 23 degrees at about 1 km above the surface shrinks to its annual minimum extent. Continue reading

Category: Climate, Meteorology, Seasons

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How fast do raindrops fall?

Gravity pulls everything downward. As an object falls, it experiences a frictional drag that counters the downward force of gravity.

When the gravity and frictional drag are balanced, we have an equilibrium fall speed that is known as the terminal velocity of the object. The terminal velocity depends on the size, shape and mass of the raindrop and the density of the air. Thus, it is worth talking a bit about the shape and size of raindrops. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology

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