Jul 10, 2013

Extreme weather

As they say, everything is bigger in America. Typically that saying is referring to manmade things, but after moving here GABROEN realized it also applies to nature, and the weather. Tornadoes, hurricanes, snow storms, all indicate the US climate produces more extreme weather than what GABROEN has encountered in Western Europe. And that's not only a matter of perception - statistics show that the U.S. holds many weatherly world records:

- most snowfall in one year: 95 feet (Mt Baker, Washington)
- heaviest rainfall in one hour: 12 inches (Holt, Missouri), which is about a third of the average annual precipitation in notoriously wet places like London or Amsterdam
- largest hailstone: 8 inch in diameter (Vivian, South Dakota) - imagine getting that on your car
- hottest temperature: 134 F, or 57 C (Death Valley, California) - back in 1913, and the local mercury came eerily close at this record's centennial last week.

Supposedly this all has to do with geography - the US is uniquely situated about halfway between the equator and the pole, in between two oceans, and without east-west mountain ranges. This creates a continuous collision between dry, cold arctic air and moist, warm air from the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico and Pacific, a recipe for everything from arctic blizzards to the 10,000 or so severe thunderstorms and 1000 (or 80-90% of the world's) tornadoes each year.

Northern Illinois is not part of tornado alley, but being perched against Lake Michigan we do seem to be at a summer storm cul-de-sac. Most of the storm systems that wreak havoc further southwest migrate up to us and create spectacular skies (see last year's post Local warming), perhaps because they hit cooler air over the lake.

This year's first visitor frequented our climatic cul-de-sac about two months ago, dumping almost 10 inches of rain (see the post Crazy weather), and since then we have seen a pretty continuous flow of storms come through. Much to the dismay of the fragile petunia flowers on our deck, and a particular Mexican hairless dog. Fortunately, her senior ears make her pretty much oblivious to all but the heaviest thunder striking very close-by, but she still appreciates being walked appropriately timed in between storms, so she's the only one watering the plants.

We had another spectacular system come through a few days ago, with dramatic skies of grey and fiery tones and a tiny rainbow as extra splash of color.

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