June 10, 2011
Here in New England, you never know what you’re going to get for weather. Right now, we’re coming off a spring heat wave, and the temperature is forecast to drop 40 degrees as we head into a cool, rainy stretch.
As Mark Twain once remarked, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes.”
Lucky for me, I do like the weather here. In fact, I’m a self-confessed weather junkie. I’m fascinated by all Mother Nature has to send our way—from tropical storms to ice storms.
A few short months ago, when it was snow—not daylilies—that reached my windowsills, we experienced a weather phenomenon that I had never witnessed before: Graupel fell from the sky. For a brief time, soft hail bounced off the snowpack and coated our neighborhood with what looked like those tiny freeze-dried ice cream dots.
The local meteorologists caught it on camera and explained what graupel was in detail. This got me thinking about some of the other lesser-known weather terms out there. Here’s a list of ones I’ve heard over the past few months:
- Alberta clipper – a fast-moving weather system that originates in Canada and moves across the northern U.S., usually accompanied by light snow, strong winds, and cold temperatures
- Bermuda high – a weather system, centered near Bermuda, that delivers hot, humid air to the eastern U.S. for days or weeks at a time during the summer (I dread this because I can’t stand intense humidity)
- El Niño - the unusual warming of the surface waters of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean; the event causes changes in wind patterns that have adverse effects on weather across the globe
- Fujita Scale - the scale that measures the strength of tornadoes based upon wind speed; it ranges from F0 (least extreme) to F5 (most extreme)
- graupel - small, white ice particles that fall as precipitation and break apart easily when they land on a surface (check out the photo!)
- La Niña - a widespread cooling of the surface waters of the eastern tropical Pacific Ocean; it’s the opposite of El Niño and, according to the government’s Climate Prediction Center, a period that just ended
- microburst - a severe localized wind blasting down from a thunderstorm (a macroburst is the same but larger and more intense)
- nor’easter – an intense storm that either exits or moves north along the East Coast, producing winds blowing from (you guessed it) the northeast
- thundersnow - a relatively rare kind of thunderstorm with snow falling instead of rain (I’ve experienced this before during a particularly severe blizzard; it’s wild!)
- virga - rain or snow that falls from a cloud but evaporates before it reaches the ground
- wind shear – a sudden shift in wind direction and speed
“There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger’s admiration—and regret. The weather is always doing something there; always attending strictly to business; always getting up new designs and trying them on people to see how they will go. But it gets through more business in spring than in any other season. In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of twenty-four hours.” –Mark Twain, in a speech to the New England Society, Dec. 22, 1876
Associated Press 2010 Stylebook