house with torn shingles from a storm

Seeing the tragic consequences of the December tornado outbreak in the Midwest, I’m sure many folks are wondering if there are ways to make homes more resistant to wind damage, whether it’s straight-line winds or tornadoes. The answer is yes.

weather map with Q&A icon on top of it

A few months ago, I posted a quiz with several weather questions for people to try to answer. It seemed to go over well, so here is round two. I’ll post the answers in a few weeks.

La Nina weather model from NOAA

You’ve probably heard these weather terms many times - El Nino and La Nina. They seem to affect our weather and they come and go. Are they normal to occur? Where do they occur? Why does it affect our weather?

What is La Nina?

In this post, I’ll focus on La Nina since that is what will likely affect our 2021-22 winter weather.

a microburst storm in the sky

As I write this, folks just a few miles away are sawing up downed trees and clearing debris from severe wind damage that occurred during a round of thunderstorms passing through the area the night before.

No tornado was observed either by eye or on radar, so it appears to have been caused by straight-line winds. However, the worst of the damage was confined to a narrow area and is over a mile long. The relatively small area of damage may have been due to a microburst, a localized area of strong downward air that hits the ground and spreads out.

Looking at the title sounds almost like a 60s rock band, doesn’t it?

Actually, I want to talk about precipitation. You’ve probably heard about acid rain and the environmental concerns associated with it. What it really should be called is “precipitation that is more acidic than normal” because precipitation is naturally slightly acidic. First, let’s give some background on what acidity is.

We're moving into fall and looking ahead, the outlook for winter temperatures continues the trend toward warmer temperatures.  


fall leaves during sunrise

The passage of summer to fall happens this year on September 22, which is called the September or Autumnal Equinox.

What is an Equinox and why do we use it?

Equinox basically means “equal night.” It comes from a couple of Latin words. We have two equinoxes yearly, one in March (the March or Spring Equinox) and the other one in September.

aerial photo of hurricane moving toward east coast of United States

At the writing of this post on September 2, we are in the average peak week of hurricane activity for the Gulf of Mexico. Remnants of hurricane Ida are drenching the East Coast, and a new hurricane is currently out in the Atlantic.

The Earth’s weather is a complex system of winds, moisture, and heat. Hurricanes are a good example of all of these. They move huge amounts of heat from the hot tropics to the milder middle latitudes.

What makes them form, and how do they move heat? I’m so glad you asked!

A tornado near Kirkland, Ill., on August 9. Photo by Gord Houghtby.

About 6:30 p.m.

My blog post on “corn sweats” was widely read and got reprinted in some publications. In fact, it was read by an author of one of the articles I used as a reference. 

Dr. Satish Gupta, emeritus professor at University of Minnesota, sent an email with some concerns about some of the wording used in the post and with findings from a separate study. 

From Dr. Gupta:

hazy sky

Growing up, we would listen to the local radio station at breakfast. In addition to the news, they would play songs from the great crooners of the time, including Nat King Cole. One of his songs is The Lazy, Hazy Crazy Days of Summer.

As I look out my window, the sky has a milky, hazy appearance. What is haze and why does it happen?

cloudy skies over town

When I talk to groups about the weather, I usually first open things up for any question someone may have on the subject. A lot of times I get similar questions, so I thought I would address some of those questions in this post.

Corn Field

As I write this article, corn has tasseled on about 80% of fields in Central Illinois. Apologies to those with corn pollen allergies!

Corn, just like other plants, experiences evapotranspiration (ET)Evapotranspiration is when water is taken up by corn plants, water vapor - the gas form of water - is released into the atmosphere from the leaves while evaporation occurs from the soil, which also adds water vapor to the air. 

weather map with Q&A icon on top of it

First, thanks for your interest in the How Well Do You Know Weather quiz post from a few weeks ago. Some people sent responses and several said they enjoyed the quiz even if they didn’t send in answers. 

Without further ado, here are the questions and answers:

illustration of a cartoon man watching a tornado "whats' the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?"

Tornadoes can form in a few minutes and dissipate just as quickly. However, the conditions that may create a tornado and other severe weather can be seen hours in advance giving forecasters and the public the chance to be vigilant.

I have some pet peeves about weather casts. Temperature is one of them. During the summer when it gets hot and muggy, we start seeing weathercasters talk about “feels-like” temperatures. Media folks assume we know how they got those temperatures, which are always higher in summer than what the temperature actually is. It’s confusing to a lot of people. 

photo of weather map

Game shows are on the rebound. Shows that were around in the 1960s and '70s like "To Tell the Truth" and "Match Game" are back on air, along with "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" from the ’90s and the solid, never-went-away "Jeopardy." 

Since there seems to be a renewed interest in trivia, this post is a game that anyone can play!

The Rules

Below are 10 questions. Some will be pretty easy, but a few will test your true weather knowledge. Each is worth 100,000 points - go big or go home!

We watch the news, search the web, or go to the weather app to see what the great outdoors is like at the moment and what it will be for the next few days. You may go ahead and look at the weather map. It typically has many lines, symbols and colors. Any idea what it all means?

map of volunteer precipitation researchers

People always are asking how much rain or snow you got at

raindrops on puddles

If you’ve been outside and experienced those first drops of rain, especially after a dry spell, you know that smell. You might even be able to sense the smell a little before it starts to rain, a signal that rain is coming. Even after a rain, a sweet musty odor will linger for some time.

There are several types of thunderstorms, from the single cell “pop-up’ thunderstor

green grass is greener after a rainstorm

Have you ever noticed grass looking greener after a spring rain? 

Hold that thought.

As you look into how nature works, you see a lot of plant nutrient cycling taking place. Makes sense since the earth isn’t getting any deliveries from Mars. Nitrogen is an essential component of proteins, which all living creatures contain.

storm from two jet streams overlaping

Early spring in Illinois can be a battle between the last of cold winter weather and the mild air of spring. On relatively rare occasions in March, we can experience warm, muggy air that normally doesn’t reach us until April or May. When this occurs early in spring, it’s best to be on guard for severe weather. 

I’m now at the point in my life where I know others look at me and think I’m old. For truth in advertising, I’m currently 61; actually 61 ½, but the pleasure in saying the ½ left many decades ago.

I can talk about my weather experiences with a sense of sage nostalgia. Case in point, I lived through the winters of the late 1970s in Central Illinois. The last three winters of that decade are remembered, though likely not fondly, by anyone who was around.

snowy path

Many people have heard of Jim Cantore from The Weather Channel. He is even more of a weather geek than I am. In February 2011, the Midwest was hit with a very strong winter storm, and Cantore was in in Chicago reporting on its effects there. During one of his broadcasts, when it was snowing like crazy, there was a flash of light followed by thunder. Cantore was jumping around like a kid in a candy store and earned made him the title King of Thundersnow.

weather chart

You’re watching a local weather forecast or checking it online when you notice it says temperatures will be 'above normal or below normal.' But what does this actually mean?

Normal is Average

In most cases, the word 'normal' is used in place of 'average.'

snow-covered polar vortex rural scene with trees

Two words people have learned to dread in the past few years is "polar vortex."  People may not know a lot about what that is, other than it usually means we may be in for some bitterly cold temperatures. 

The worst outbreak in my experience was December 23, 1983. I had just finished my graduate work and was beginning to look for weather-related jobs. So, I was living back at home on the farm. The farmhouse was uninsulated, and my bedroom was upstairs with no heat.