Wacky Weather

Mar 11, 2011

You don’t need me to tell you this, but we’ve had a rough winter. Not nearly as tough as they’ve had in New York, or almost anywhere on the eastern seaboard. But it’s been cold and snowy.

How snowy? Well, in Detroit, we are already in the top dozen winters of all time, with more than sixty inches. Last month was the third snowiest February in recorded history.

But it could always be worse. If you have any interest in the weather, by the way, there’s a fascinating little book that just came out last year: Extreme Michigan Weather: The Wild World of the Great Lakes State, published by the University of Michigan Press.

Author Paul Gross is a longtime meteorologist who now works for WDIV-TV in Detroit.  His book looks at the strange and constantly changing weather we have in this state, or, as he puts it, everything from heat waves to bitter snows, ice storms to tornadoes to floods.

We don’t, however, have hurricanes, and his book will tell you why. (Not having any tropical ocean waters around here is a big part of it.)  Ice we do have -- in abundance.

Ice and snow. But if you are feeling so tired of snow you can’t stand it, consider this. We lucked out today. Grand Rapids once got almost seven inches of snow on March 11. In Flint, it’s been as cold as seven below zero this day, which I found in Paul Gross’s book.

He includes all these tables for fun in Extreme Michigan Weather. So, just in case you were burning to know, it was once twenty below zero on this date in Ironwood.

I’m glad I wasn’t there -- though I wish today was going to match the seventy-two degrees we once hit on this date in Motown.

What has been happening is snowier winters. Five of the last nine winters have had at least sixty inches of snow. Prior to that, we had only ten such winters in more than a century. So the logical question is: Does that mean global warming is a bunch of hooey?

Not at all. I talked a few weeks ago to Professor Andrew Jorgensen at the University of Toledo. He is a chemist who has been studying climate change. He told me that one effect was hotter summers and colder winters. But with fifty years, if present trends continue, he expects our climate here to be somewhere between that of Kentucky’s and that of Arkansas. 

We may feel nostalgic for winters like this if and when that happens, though this year I’ve had enough of walking a rambunctious puppy on icy sidewalks to last me a lifetime. Paul Gross’s book didn’t answer every question I’ve ever had about the weather, but he did clear up one mystery for me: What makes weather happen?

“There’s one main concept to remember,” he says. “Weather results from change and from rising air.” Works for me.

By the way, I read that sentence the other day while waiting for a meeting in Lansing, and I realized that if you substitute the word “politics” for “weather,” and make it “rising hot air”….  you’ve got a second handy definition that’s just as true as the first one.