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Feature

Minnesota Weather Almanac traces history fair and foul

A new book by University meteorologist Mark Seeley weaves fun facts in a rich fabric of the state's weather history

By Deane Morrison

April 14, 2006

On April 14, 1886, all the water leaped from the Mississippi near Sauk Rapids, sucked up by an 800-foot-wide tornado as it passed over. In July 1867, a 30-hour thunderstorm turned the Chippewa River from a 20-foot wide summer creek to a surging flow 900 feet across at its narrowest. On October 16, 1880, a blizzard dropped so much snow on western areas of Minnesota that people in Canby, Yellow Medicine County, had to use second-floor windows as exits. You'll find those and lots of other fascinating weather nuggets in University meteorologist Mark Seeley's Minnesota Weather Almanac, hot (but not humid) off the press from the Minnesota Historical Society. Seeley, a central figure among Twin Cities weatherwatchers and regular weather commentator on Minnesota Public Radio, has compiled not only the history of floods, tornadoes, blizzards, heat waves, and cold snaps over nearly two centuries of Minnesota history, but numerous colorful facts that bring the world of weatherwatching to life. He'll talk about his book and sign copies at 2 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, at the University Bookstore in Coffman Union, 300 Washington Ave. S.E., Minneapolis.

Dumbbelling

When a low-pressure system splits into two circulating lobes that remain close together, this behavior is called dumbbelling. The lobes act as a single system but appear as two distinct rotatiin cloud masses on satellite imagery. In these cases, dumbbelling refers to the shape of the pressure pattern rather than to the character of the forecaster. -from "Minnesota Weather Almanac," by Mark Seeley.

In a state that often sits at the crossroads of weather systems, interest in the topic runs high. It's a phenomenon Seeley dubs "meteorological affected disorder, or MAD." "We want to know about the weather when we walk out the door in the morning," says Seeley of himself and Minnesotans in general. He sees weather as "a common thread in our lives, a bookmark to our most vivid memories of significant events." Those of us who lived through events like the Halloween snowstorm of 1991 and the Red River floods of 1997 know something of the weather's caprices, but Seeley found, in researching the book, how people in earlier eras dealt with the same, but without benefit of snowplows or transportation. "The weather of every generation shapes the character of that generation," Seeley says. "We can say our weather-related traumas are bad, but generations of Minnesotans have survived worse."

throughout the book, you'll pick up enough meteorology lingo to cover any situation. For example, you'll learn that an intense rainfall rate is called bucketing; the technical term for snow blindness is niphablepsia, and the Camelot Climate Index is used to determine climate suitability for human habitation. Camelot, of course, was never too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry.

Take, for instance, the tornado that scooped up the Mississippi. It also killed 72 people, including several members of a wedding party holding a ceremony near the river. Oddly enough, however, a tornado was responsible for one of the state's crown jewels. Striking on August 21, 1883 in the Rochester area, an F5 (winds greater than 260 mph) tornado, nearly a mile in diameter, descended from the clouds southwest of the city. The powerful storm lifted a train from its track and tipped it over. In its aftermath, citizens had to team up to tend the injured and rebuild the town, and from them came the idea to build a local medical center. It is, of course, the Mayo Clinic. The almanac bursts with pictures, including breathtaking shots of twisting tornadoes, a flood sweeping over a bridge, weather instruments, and snow, snow, snow. Seeley takes the seasons one at a time, starting with winter (what else?) and leading the reader through the memorable events of each, paying special attention to the weather history of holidays. From the numerous quizzes and fun facts sprinkled throughout the book, you'll pick up enough meteorology lingo to cover any situation. For example, you'll learn that an intense rainfall rate is called bucketing; the technical term for snow blindness is niphablepsia, and the Camelot Climate Index is used to determine climate suitability for human habitation. Camelot, of course, was never too hot, too cold, too wet, or too dry. The book, says KARE-11 meteorologist Belinda Jensen in her foreword, is "a treasure trove of climate details, storm stories, fun facts, and means and extremes. You may not be able to do anything about the weather, but 'Minnesota Weather Almanac' will help you understand and appreciate its complexity and beauty." If your appetite for more weather lore has been wetted--er, whetted--tune in to Minnesota Public Radio at 11 a.m. Monday (April 17) to hear an interview with Seeley.

You can also listen to Mark Seeley discuss Minnesota weather and his new book on University of Minnesota Moment.