World map with green trees and continents represented as lakes

Forecasting day-to-day weather and predicting what climate will be five years or 50 years from now have very different outcomes. Both processes use most of the same land, water, and sea parameters, but the range for climate forecasts can also vary due to human activity. For climate forecasts, scientists may use the word "scenario" instead.

Glowing sun behind trees spilling rays of light over a grassy late summer meadow

As we move through August, some folks will reference it as being the “dog days.” What are they talking about?

thunder and lightning storm rolling over farm land

We tested your knowledge last month. Did you pass the test?

  1. True or False: Due to the Greenhouse Effect, the earth takes in more heat from the sun than it gives off.
    FALSE: What greenhouse gases do is slow the release of heat. If the earth really took in more heat than it received from the sun, the earth would be much, much hotter.
     
  2. An increase in temperature the higher you go in the atmosphere is called a (BLANK BLANK). 
quiz icon

It's scorching outside. Stay inside and take our most recent weather quiz.

It’s summer. It’s baseball season. Millions of people attend Major League games, just waiting for their favorite hitter to knock one into the seats. Fans contend with afternoon games that may be hot and muggy or just simply hot. I once went to a Rangers game while attending a conference where the temperature at the start of the game was 103°. 

Does it make a difference what the weather is like for hitting home runs? You often hear broadcasters talking about the “heavy air” on a muggy day. Does muggy air reduce the chances of a home run?

Rays of light from the sun above a layer of clouds over the earth.

Earth’s atmosphere, while it appears to go forever, is actually a very thin layer of air. Technically the atmosphere reaches out for thousands of miles, but over half of the atmosphere is within 4 miles of the earth’s surface. Think about driving 4 miles- it’s not very far. By the time you’re 16 miles up, 98 percent of the atmosphere is below you. Again, not a big distance. At the upper end of this lies a concentration of a gas that protects life on earth. Without this gas, very little life would be able to survive.  This gas is called ozone. It works to prevent

I don’t know about you, but this Ap

When thunderstorms are predicted for your area, weathercasters will often include information on the severity of projected storms. What does this information mean?

What makes a thunderstorm severe?

The National Weather Service defines a severe thunderstorm as any storm that produces one or more of the following elements:

tornado over field

Mississippi and Alabama were recently hammered with severe storms and large-scale tornadoes. The damage that large high-speed tornadoes can cause is phenomenal and life-threatening.

Many have heard of the “F-Scale” or “EF-Scale” of tornado intensity. The F stands for Fujita, last name of the scientist that developed the scale.

cumulous clouds

If you ever take a few minutes to watch what happens to clouds in the sky, especially in March, you’ll see many puffy shaped clouds form and fall apart. You’ll see these clouds at other times of the year, but they are around a lot in March and April.

What clouds are puffy?

Cumulus clouds form within a few hundred to few thousand feet above ground. They form from surface heating of the earth. Imagine a bunch of air bubbles being warmed by the land below them and acting like hot air balloons. 

The title doesn’t work as well as Beware the Ides of March, but the sentiment is the same. If we experience dew point temperatures in the 50s or 60s in March, just be wary that the chance for severe weather is high.

Yellow siren on roof of brick building

Ominous clouds and an approaching storm may be accompanied by the wail of a community siren. Other times they can be heard in the morning on what may be a nice day. What do the different blasts of the siren mean?

Sirens are part of the Public Alert System to let those outdoors be aware of a local or national emergency. Originally designed for civil defense, sirens are also commonly used in the Midwest and other locations to alert people of severe weather.

gray volcano erupting plume of smoke and ash

A large underwater volcano recently erupted in the South Pacific. Volcanoes can send huge amounts of gases and ash into the atmosphere. Very large eruptions can affect the climate.

In 1815, one of the most powerful volcanic eruptions in the last several thousand years occurred in the South Pacific. The following year was known as the Year without a Summer in the fledgling nation of the United States. Snow events occurred on the east coast in mid-summer. Western Europe had a very cold summer as well. 

weather map with Q&A icon on top of it

In December, I provided a weather quiz post, the second one I’ve done. Here are the answers. How did you do this time? Let me know! We’ll try another quiz later in the year.

 

1. True or False, the United States experiences a monsoon. 

man and woman walk dog as sun sets over frosty field

If someone is sad that holiday season is over, here is something to celebrate.  The earth is the closest it will ever be to the sun for the year! 

We all know the earth revolves around the sun. It takes about 365.25 days to do this, or one year.

However, that revolution (or orbit) is not a perfect circle. Instead, it’s slightly elongated or elliptical, which means the earth is farther from the sun at one time and closer at another.

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.

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.