Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Can The Midwest Get A Break!?

I have been sitting on this idea of talking about the wild winter weather most of the country has seen. It would seem that Oregon has been the only contiguous state that did not see any sort of significant winter weather. The Upper Midwest, Midwest, and East coast have been slammed several times with heavy snow starting in November and continuing even today! Today's forecast is calling for snow in parts of Nebraska and Pennsylvania. I looked into some numbers from some major cities around the central part of the country. Check out these seasonal average snow fall totals compared to the observed totals for this season:

Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN average: 42.3" observed: 76.5"
Chicago, IL average: 28.3" observed: 56.3"
Topeka, KS average: 4.3" observed: 19.1"
Oklahoma City, OK average: 2.1" observed: 18.9"
Sioux Falls, SD average: 7.4" observed: 14.8"

Some pretty impressive numbers! "Insert whitty Global Warming joke here" But seriously...that is a lot of snow. Which means that snow pack is probably a bit above normal for a lot of locations around the country. This could lead to water basins being at or above normal for many locations once melting begins. The people who have endured this extreme winter are probably looking forward to a break this Spring. However, Spring does not mean that there will be a break in the active weather.

We have just entered "tornado season", that typically extends from March through May-June. Spring is notorious for severe weather across much of the Midwest. The severe weather is caused by collision of the cool winter air still pouring down from Canada and warmer summer air that is pushing its way up from the south. These two air masses mix and create a ton of instability that often spins up severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Many of the states listed above lie directly in what is coined "Tornado Alley". This is where the highest frequency of tornadoes occur in the world!

Of course, we know tornadoes can be very dangerous and damaging. But we also need to keep in mind how dangerous all the snow can be, especially when it all melts when temperatures turn warmer and coupled with heavy rains from intense storms, can result in flooding. So even though the calendar says Spring, it doesn't mean a break in the severe weather for those who endured a long Winter.

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