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Indexing Weather 11/01/2017

Posted by zoidion in forecast, History, Photography, Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: The past several days have brought several Alberta clippers — several-hour-long snowfalls riding the winds out of Alberta —totaling about eight inches of snow. Fairly typical for January in these parts. Definitely a nuisance and a danger for commuting.

As the weather pattern passes and the sky clears, the temperature will likely drop below zero again: typical, in my experience, when there’s a full moon in Cancer.

At least these conditions are fairly normal. Unlike heavy rain in the Sierra Nevadas and heavy snow and severe cold in southern Europe.

As you may be aware, weather geeks are continually coming up with new terms for timeless phenomena. (The practice, presumably, helps justify funding and continued employment.)

Since this meteorological winter — which started at the beginning of December — is nearly at its halfway point, it’s time for the geeks to refer to the Weather Misery Index, applicable to either winter or summer.

According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the winter WMI is reckoned thus: “The WMI assigns single points for daily counts of maximum temperatures 10 degrees F or colder, and daily minimums of 0 degrees F or colder. If the minimum temperature drops to -20 degrees or colder greater, eight points are attributed to that day. Snowfall totals of one inch or greater in a day receive one point. Four-inch snowfalls generate four points for the day, an eight-inch snowfall receives a whopping 16 points. The duration of a winter is quantified using the number of days the snow depth is 12 inches or greater.”

As of January 10, 2017 the WMI for the 2016-17 winter is at 41 points: 19 points for cold, 22 points for snow. This is enough for this winter to be in the “mild” category. Fourteen more points are needed for this winter to be categorized as “moderate.” The WMI for the winter of 2015-16 finished with 47 points, enough for 2014-15 to be categorized as a “mild” winter. The WMI points for the 2015-2016 winter were 18 for cold and 29 snow: 46 points. The winter of 2016-17 should easily pass last winter in points. The WMI for the winter of 2013-14 in Twin Cities was 207 points, or in the high end of the “severe winter” category.  This was the ninth most severe winter on record based on WMI points. The lowest WMI score was the winter of 2011-2012 with 16 points. The most severe winter is 1916-1917 with 305 WMI points. Note, this could also be called the “Winter Fun Index” depending on your perspective!

I have some vivid memories of that winter of 2013-14. Some are white-knuckle: driving round-trip solo to Detroit to help a friend in an emergency, negotiating snowstorms both ways. Some more peaceful and contemplative: walking, morning and evening, from late January to early March, a labyrinth I stamped out in the deep backyard snow.

That winter, in my experience, deservedly ranks high, obviously for a lot of snow. But that winter of a century ago: I don’t regret missing that.

According to available records, here in the Twin Cities there was at least six inches of snow on the ground from 24 December 1916 to 24 March 1917 — uh, that’s three full months — with a peak of thirty-one inches on 16 March. (It sure took a while for that higher sun angle to eat away at the snowpack.) Seventy-four inches of snow fell altogether: double the local average.

The temperature side of the index was also nasty: fourteen minimum temperatures below zero in December, fifteen in January, nineteen in February, and seven minima of twenty below or lower.

Okay, what are the astro-meteorological indications?

The main ones pop right out: Luna and Venus in the crucial lower meridian position at the time of the Capricorn solar ingress.


Those are reliable indicators of abundant moisture, especially when both are in a zoidion (aka “sign”) of the watery triplicity, in this case Scorpio. This is a special case, though: Both Luna and Venus are “problematic” (in the system of planetary “dignities”) in that zoidion noted for extreme conditions and situations, and in relation to winter temperature, definitely cold.

Eclipses also marked the first month of the season: a partial solar eclipse on 24 December, a total lunar eclipse on 8 January, and a second partial solar eclipse on 23 January. That’s a bit of information to add to the bucket, in view of a pattern of mild weather into early December, later than usual (back then).

Also, testing the full-moon-in-Cancer observation: The full moon / lunar eclipse was followed, two days later, by the start of a week of below-zero weather.

Notably, the most bitter weather came in the first week of February, following the first-quarter-moon, at which time the meridian and horizon matched those in the season chart.


For folks around here that year, as temperatures at last reached the forties, the spring equinox just may have been celebrated with dancing in the streets.



Looking Toward Spring 13/02/2013

Posted by zoidion in Weather.
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Twin Cities ephemera: It lacked the sensational news value of the Big Dump out east, but around here and to the north and west, a decent amount of precipitatin’ happened, primarily on the day of the New Moon (Sunday, 10 February). It was enough of a mess for the Twin Cities to declare snow emergencies. The city plow drivers loved it, I expect: lots of weekend overtime pay.

The next day, I went to Austin—about 100 miles south—for a friend’s dad’s funeral, and it was dicey traveling. Along the way on the Interstate—or should I say, off it—there were two semis in the ditch, as the snow snaked across the lanes from the farm fields. The clumps of trees I saw were glazed with ice and a bit of snow, but I noted there was much stubble from last season’s crops visible—the area is still very much contending with the prospect of continuing drought.

Not so in the northern two-thirds of the state. There’s a fair amount of precipitation—almost four inches of water content—sitting on the ground, but whether it actually gets into the ground is another thing.

As a story in the Star Tribune cautions: “’We could have a flood on top of a drought,’ said assistant Minnesota state climatologist Pete Boulay. Soils are extremely dry over most of the state, and a cap of frost could well prevent most of the moisture in the snow and ice now lying on the landscape from soaking into the ground when spring warmth arrives. In that case, it would run off into lakes, streams and rivers.”

The best prospects for the start of the growing season would be a combination of plenty more snow and a gradual warmup: above-freezing days and below-freezing nights. Which is exactly what didn’t happen in 2012, when a dearth of snow was followed by record warmth with many above-freezing nights in March.


What do the moisture charts have to say for the coming month? The short answer is: dry with a couple of short cold spells until the week of 4 March (the start of the fourth quarter of the lunar cycle), when we’ll see an extended stormy period.

The local New Moon chart featured water sign Pisces—and Mercury (wind, variability), Mars (rising temperature) and Neptune (peculiar “borderline” conditions) clustered closely around the meridian. Water sign Scorpio, with Saturn therein, on the Ascendant closed the deal on a lingering messy storm.

The first quarter (17 February) and Full Moon (25 February) charts both have dry air sign Libra on the lower meridian, so dry—and cool—weeks can be expected. Both those charts also feature Uranus close to the upper meridian, foretelling rapidly and dramatically shifting temperatures: particularly dips on the cold side.

That pattern changes in the fourth quarter to a lingering cold and stormy spell, thanks to Saturn very close to the lower meridian. The sign involved is water sign Scorpio, which cues the watchword “extreme.” An unpleasant period, but one which also offers the best chance for the moisture needed along with conditions for that moisture to soak into the ground.

Sometimes unpleasantness turns out to be both beneficial and welcome.


Reading recommendation: American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, by Colin Woodard (2011).  See the author’s web site for selections of his writings.

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