Category Archives: Climate

Is Wisconsin getting windier?

Before we delve into the question of whether Wisconsin is getting windier, let’s review some basics regarding wind.

Wind is moving air. Weather reports include observations of wind speed and direction measured at the height of approximately 1.5 meters (about 4.9 feet) above the surface. If the wind speed is strong — greater than 17 mph — and highly variable, the weather report will include the wind gust, which is the maximum observed wind speed. Continue reading

Category: Climate, Meteorology

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How are we doing for snowfall this season?

Despite the persistence of snow and ice on the ground this winter, since our first real covering appeared just after Christmas Day, it has been a remarkably snowless winter thus far.

After Thursday night’s 2.7-inch snowfall, the season total for Madison rose to a paltry 21.4 inches, which places us well behind the average for the season to this point, which is 41.3 inches. Continue reading

Category: Climate, Meteorology, Seasons

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How did the Tonga eruption affect the atmosphere?

Hunga Tonga erupted on Jan. 15 and lasted 11 hours.

It devastated the region, covering the land in a layer of ash. The eruption blasted a plume of ash and water vapor 34 miles into the atmosphere — into the mesosphere.

The Hunga Tonga plume contained only a very small amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2). Sulfur dioxide from volcanic mega-eruptions that reach high in the atmosphere can have an impact on global temperature. The mega-eruption of Pinatubo in 1991 released enough sulfur dioxide to cool the Earth’s surface for three years. The Tonga eruption will not have that kind of impact. Continue reading

Category: Climate, Phenomena

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How does this winter measure up so far?

Two of the more popular (and telling) measures of the severity of a winter are extremes of cold and the presence of snow.

One reasonable way to consider extremes of cold might be to count the number of mornings on which the temperature drops below zero. So far this winter (defined as beginning on Dec. 1), we have had just five such mornings here in Madison. Continue reading

Category: Climate, Meteorology, Seasons

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Is permafrost permanent?

Permafrost is ground that has a temperature below freezing for at least two consecutive years.

Permafrost varies in thickness from less than a couple of feet to more than 4,000 feet thick. Permafrost is mostly located in polar regions, although it also occurs in some high mountains where it is called alpine permafrost. Much of the permafrost in Alaska is tens of thousands of years old. Continue reading

Category: Climate, History

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