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Janus Moment 02/01/2013

Posted by zoidion in Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The Janus moment was an appropriately chilly one this time. Inside, at Tapestry Folkdance Center (far from a regular haunt), lotsa grayhairs and a few youngsters were keeping toasty warm by contradancing. A couple of guys were wearing shorts. It was good, though, fighting a cold for a week at that point, I felt I could only dance one and sit out two. I may go back on Saturday to hear Toss the Possum, a couple—so I’m told—who moved here from South Carolina: a bold move. I’ll go for any sort of string band music, as it helps fuel my own fiddlin’ fire.

New Year’s Eve started out clear with a light breeze—a wind-chill breeze at eleven degrees above zero. By four o’clock, the sun almost down, the temp was thirteen, the sky still clear. Clearly, it would be the coldest night of the season so far. At eight a.m. on New Year’s, just before the sun hit the thermometer, the reading was an even zero. Although the sky clouded over by mid-morning as the temp climbed and snow flurries began falling by dusk, it was a stay-home day.

Hitting the couch, I gave James Howard Kunstler’s 1985 comic adventure novel An Embarrassment of Riches a second chance, and started getting into it. Kunstler’s been a character in his own right for about the past twenty years, as a critic of the post-modern American urban fabric (The Geography of Nowhere, Return from Nowhere, The City in Mind), then unfairly termed a prophet of doom (The Long Emergency), most recently alternating between post-peak novels (World Made by Hand, The Witch of Hebron) and an examination of America’s obsession with technology as a response to resource limits (Too Much Magic). He’s also found a place for himself on the edge of a small town a few counties away from where I was raised, in the Hudson Valley of New York, and in a string band. I’m glad I seized the opportunity, a couple of years ago, when he stopped at the Twin Cities Book Fair, to chat him up a bit. I asked him for his birth data, which he readily gave me, but I neglected to ask for permission to add it to a public database.

That chat, in which I questioned the wisdom of building expensive and disruptive light-rail systems, was much on my mind last evening as I read a piece on Minnpost.com about the impact of construction of the University Avenue line (between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul) on a fledgling business along the route. I put in my two cents worth before having a look at Paul Douglas’ weather blog and following a link to the National Climatic Data Center about the rare tornado outbreak in early March 2012.

It’s a relief to be having a fairly normal winter, even though I typically wear three layers indoors, plus a hat and sometimes gloves without fingertips. There’s no avoiding the fact that it’s winter in Minnesota, at least not without burning large amounts of fossil fuel. And after winter, in March, comes . . .  tornado season.

In that spirit, I did a bit of digging last night into what happened at the beginning of March 2012, right after non-winter.

I doubt that anyone in the US of A could have forgotten the strange warmth of March 2012. Around here, the weather was like April or even May ought to be. In the Ohio and Tennessee valleys, the weather was early deadly, with 132 reported tornadoes on March 2.

Why so early in the season? Three main factors pop out: a Sun-Mars opposition (an energetic, rising-temperature combination, less than two degrees before exactitude); a first-quarter moon moving from air-sign Gemini to moist Cancer; and wind-indicator Mercury entering fresh-energy Aries and approaching unpredictable, turbulent Uranus.

Upon looking at calculations for the hardest-hit town, Henryville, Indiana, the indications are not immediately stark: The seasonal chart, going back to December 22, 2011, has the Sun (of course) at zero degrees Capricorn and Uranus in the first degree of Aries—a very disruptive combination that was essentially replicated at the time of the historic (some might say biblical) derecho storm. But the seasonal chart afforded only a general sense of the region susceptible to disruptive impact: at about 83 degrees west longitude (see the central vertical section of the astromap below).

CapIng2011_astromap

On the other hand, indications at the time of the first-quarter Moon are alarming, narrowing down the zone of danger chronologically and geographically. With the Sun also closing in on the opposition to Mars, there was a great deal of atmospheric tension. Uranus exactly on the horizon was a flashing warning signal. (See the first-quarter Moon astromap, below.)

1QFeb2012_astromap

Mercury, at 29 degrees of Pisces, was at zero degrees of declination: an especially potent place. Once Mercury crossed into Aries, at 6:42 a.m. on March 2, the cosmic word went out for the winds to stir with greater force. And the tornadoes erupted through much of the zone between the Mercury and Uranus lines shown above.

But the greatest degree of devastation was in store for a time and place marked by the Moon. A tornado designated at the level EF-4 (the next-highest level of wind velocity and destructive capability) touched down at 2:50 p.m. at Fredericksburg, Indiana, and began carving a path of destruction 49 miles long. As the tornado did its deadly work, the Moon had already triggered Mercury and was attaining the place at the upper meridian of the first-quarter chart, simultaneously triggering Uranus.

It was the second-deadliest early March outbreak of tornadoes in record-keeping history.

1QFeb_MercAR-HenINtor2012

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