Unusual cold allows Bill Gallus to toss students a meteorological curve ball

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Looked at the long-range weather forecast? It’s not good unless January is one of your favorite months.

Tuesday’s U.S. weather map.

High temps in the low 30s are predicted for more than a week. Meteorology prof Bill Gallus said Tuesday’s temperature (it was 27 with a 12-degree wind chill when we spoke) was “fairly unusual but not unheard of.” The 20-degree-below-normal temps are not extreme for a day or so, but their duration has caught his attention.

“It’s very unusual to stay this cold for this long in mid November,” he said.

What makes it feel worse, he believes, is that recent Novembers have been warmer than usual most of the past decade. That now explains why I could comfortably wait until the week before Thanksgiving to put up the lights on the house. Not this year. If the frosty forecast holds, Bill says our November average temperature could be the coldest in nearly 20 years. (Remember, two home Cyclone football games remain to be played.)

Bill is impressed with the size of the cold snap, too. “It’s the whole country east of the Rockies,” he said. It gave him the opportunity to assign Cheyenne, Wyo., as one of the cities the students in his Meteorology 411 course would have to forecast.

He studied at nearby Colorado State University, and he knows from experience big blasts of cold air like this can get into the east side of the mountains much faster than normal. With Cheyenne temperatures at least 40 degrees below normal, he said the students will be challenged to arrive at accurate predictions.

“It’s good for instruction,” he quipped.

Monday’s temperature in Ames, according to the National Weather Service, was a nice 61 about 2 p.m. but a breezy 37 (with a wind chill of 25) by 6 p.m. That drop was nothing compared to the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940, 74 years earlier. Because of the crude forecasting tools of the day, people all over the Midwest were caught off guard. Temperatures dropped in some places from the 60s midday to the teens and single digits with high winds and rain and sleet followed by snow at night.

Because of the warm Armistice Day (now Veterans Day) holiday, duck hunters were out in force on the Mississippi River. Hundreds in Iowa, Minnesota and elsewhere became stranded and too many underdressed hunters died from exposure. Some even drowned when high winds reported to be 70 to 80 miles an hour “swept down channels and marshy backwaters.”

Respect dangerous weather. And be thankful Bill Gallus and others can now give us such accurate forecasts, even if we don’t like them. – Steve Jones