Weather of Discontent
By: Jim Virkler
Once or twice each year most areas of our country experience truly unusual stretches of weather. In the writer’s Midwest tri-state neighborhood region—Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin,—our local newspaper, the Dubuque Telegraph Herald highlighted this year’s “weather of discontent” in an editorial entitled “We Can Stay Silent No More on Source of Our Discontent.” They were true to Mark Twain’s famous quip, “Everyone talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
Based on remarkable statistics as well as personal comfort levels April 2018 has been truly atypical. The editorial committee cited the current April 1-18 time frame, claiming its 31.1ºF degree average temperature was 5.1º colder than the previous record first 18 April days of 1975. That was the coldest April ever recorded in this region, narrowly beating the previous all-time April low average temperature in 1907 by 0.1º. On April 16 Green Bay, WI had 23.5” of snow, its largest fall in 130 years. Our four local April snowfalls were minor in contrast. Besting the all time record for April 1-18 by 5.1º is truly remarkable. For people fascinated with unusual weather statistics and winter folklore, April 2018 has been paradise, at least in our region.
We cite several Midwest local weather phenomena personally experienced in the past few years. By relating these events, we wish to reinforce the concept that weather, replete with unusual manifestations, deserves Mark Twain’s helpless analysis. There is seldom such a thing as an “average” weather day because weather averages are based on numerous above and below average events and conditions—some of them far above or far below average.
Let’s proceed to a few other recent examples from our local weather history. Our winter of 2013/14 exceeded the April 2018 event. There were 43 below zero days recorded with winter snowfall totals approaching the all time seasonal record. In sharp contrast fast forward to the record-setting heat during the six day period of February 17-22, 2017 during which the average temperature was 64 degrees! Now consider a most unusual weather sequence in January 2013: Three separate lightning/thunder episodes in 15 hours with temperatures in the high 50s produced nearly two inches of rain. Those events were followed by a next-day drop in temperature to —6ºF and 6” of snow. The mighty deluge of 15” of rain in just a few hours on July 27-28, 2011 was the result of a mesoscale convective system which gave rise to a phenomenon called “training,” heavy thunderstorms repeatedly traveling over the same narrow geographic area, similar to train cars on a track. The 16.01” of rain in Dubuque, IA, just 25 miles to our west during the month of July 2011 included this deluge and represents their all-time maximum monthly rainfall.
In 2012 much of the US was struck by the worst drought since 1988. This includes our local Midwest region. The rains finally returned in 2013 before other regions of the country experienced relief. The drought was caused by a phenomenon called the Arctic Oscillation (AO). We list the AO and other related events such as El Nino, not only to instruct our readers in esoteric details, but to raise their awareness that the causes of such incidents are extremely complex and cannot be remedied by ill-advised modifications to the human “carbon footprint” as some climate change experts propose. We cannot explain the diversity of discontent-producing weather events described above by citing anthropogenic global warming caused by CO2 emissions from human consumption of fossil fuels. In short, we are unable to explain global warming by attributing both warming and cooling effects to the same cause. Our climate system is far more complex and majestic.
Thousands of weather events and conditions blend together over extended time frames. Eventually, these events and conditions describe and define the broader category of climate—a distinction lost on many people who fail to identify the beauty and complexity of long term climate and climate change. Some folks describe themselves as “weather junkies” in a positive sense. One friend obsessively enjoys thunderstorms, perhaps identifying their generous production of life-sustaining water, or their potential for electrically splitting nitrogen atoms into useful forms to fall with the rain, eventually forming soil-enriching nitrates. Awesome accounts of lightning and thunderous downpours from the Book of Job, chapters 36-38, highlight God’s omnipotence and majesty. Some weather events produce fear; others inspire joy and ebullience.
In his omniscience, the Creator possesses ultimate knowledge of how our planet’s weather and climate systems operate. God created matter and the physical laws governing its behavior. We do not pretend to completely understand these systems but we understand basic causes and effects. Natural climate change has occurred on Planet Earth for uncounted millennia. How do the systems work, we ask? What caution must we exercise as we experience weather events? We respect the majesty of our weather systems. Ultimately, we also respect the beauty of our climate system, mindful that it sustains the lives of 7.5 billion souls. For this sustenance, we give thanks to God.
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Jim Virkler, a retired New Jersey public school science educator, now devotes his time investigating the harmony of scientific discoveries and Christian faith. He and his wife, Eleanor, now reside in the mid-west near their children and grandchildren.