Snowstorm Across US: Update Week 2: 2012 GLOBE Surface Temperature Field Campaign

Storm Coming Across US

If you live in the United States, you probably have heard of the snow storm crossing the country right now. There will be mountain snow in the Rockie Mountains, a potential for a blizzard from Nebraska to Wisconsin and then some snow to the Great Lakes states.

The National Weather Service (NWS) definition of a blizzard is:

"A blizzard means that the following conditions are expected to prevail for a period of 3 hours or longer:

  • Sustained wind or frequent gusts to 35 miles an hour or greater; and
  • Considerable falling and/or blowing snow (i.e., reducing visibility frequently to less than ¼ mile)"

Some of the Surface Temperature Field Campaign participating schools will be getting snow this Friday especially the lake effect regions. The jet stream causes the storm to take this type of track. I put the jet stream and the forecast storm track on the snow and ice cover for today December 19, 2012, from NOAA below. There are two ingredients that help storms (called mid-latitude cyclones) to form east of the Rocky Mountains. The first is the boundary between hot and cold air. For this storm, there is warm weather in Texas and cold weather coming down out of Canada. The second is that when the jet stream takes air over the Rocky Mountains, the air column gets bigger on the east side of the Rockies. When the air expands, it leads to low pressure. Here is a tutorial on mid-latitude cyclones.


Week 2 Update

The second week of the GLOBE Surface Temperature Field Campaign has come to a close. The number of schools participating is slowly increasing. I have also worked with a number of teachers this past week and with the GLOBE Help Desk, to get their students access to post data. The GLOBE Help Desk has done a wonderful job of responding to individual requests. I am hopeful that even more teachers and students join the field campaign once all of the teacher training data has been migrated into the new system. That is going on this week. I can't imagine trying to migrate the data for 20,000 teachers and trainers from one system to another. One of the big challenges is that the teachers and trainers are trained in different protocols. Not everyone is trained in all protocols.


Here are the schools that have posted observations so far. 13 schools total.

Taaksi Basic School, Estonia, Thanks for participating again.

The University of Toledo, This is me and my children.

Westchester Area School, Hi Trenton, it is good to see your data.

Chartiers-Houston Jr./Sr. High School, Good to see you Mr. Pop.

Burlington County Institute Of Technology, New Jersey

West Union High School, Ohio

Birchwood School, Ohio – Hi Mrs. Brown.

Lakewood Catholic Academy, Ohio – Great that you got on Mrs. McGuire

Roswell-Kent Middle School, Ohio – Hi Mr. Frantz.

Mohican School in the Out of Doors, Ohio - Hi Susan and Steve

Brazil School, Brazil

Main Street School, Norwalk, Ohio – Hi Mrs. Burns.

The Morton Arboretum Youth Education Department, Illinois

Here are the schools that posted data so far in the United States on Dec. 11, 2012.

Please be careful when entering data that the universal time is correct. Also, take a look at the visualization on the GLOBE website to make sure that the location (latitude and longitude) of your sites are correct. I have seen at least one case where I think the location is incorrect.

If you or your students have taken data and you haven't entered it yet, please do so soon. I check over the data for any errors and let the teachers know. Okay, I'm guilty. I haven't entered my data yet either. Below is a picture of Robby and Timmy, my kids, helping me take surface temperature observations.

Doing a Project

One thing I would like you to consider is having the students do a project with the data. There are lots of projects built into the surface temperature field campaign. Below, I have a discussion about the difference in temperature between the United States and Europe. That is a great project. The question is "Why are the temperatures different between the two continents even though the observations were taken at about the same latitude? When I was in Europe this past summer, a heat wave was going on. I asked the question, How do different paving materials affect the energy budget. I share this study early next week. I have to finish writing it up. You can look at my GLOBE trip to Europe here:


Implications of the Observations

Looking at the observations, it is very apparent that Europe has been colder than the United States even though at this time of year, that is not normally the case. In the image below, you will notice that the temperature at Uzwil School in Switzerland is colder than any of the observations in the United States. When I visited Markus Eugster this past summer in Uzwil, I was surprised when he described the weather and climate there. He said that they get snow but that it usually does not last long. His school is to the northeast of the Alps. In the Alps, the snow falls in the fall and stays throughout the winter. But in Uzwil, it does not. These observations match what I have been seeing. In Europe and Asia, snow cover is pretty extensive. On the other hand, in the United States, the snow has been confined to the northern most states. On the day shown, Dec. 4, 2012, the surface temperature in Uzwil was 1.6 C while in the eastern United States, the schools all reported about 10 C. By Dec. 6, 2012, surface temperatures had fallen in all locations. Uzwil fell to -4.3 C while the schools in the United States reported temperatures between 0.9 and 7.2 C. The surface temperature at Brazil High School in Trinidad and Tobago on Dec. 4, 2012 was much higher than any of the others, 36.8 C.

It will be interesting to see if this pattern of cold in Europe and warm in the US persists throughout the winter. That was the pattern last winter where in the eastern United States it felt like there was no winter at all. Here is the figure of snowfall in the United States and in Europe. You can see though that since Dec. 6 there has been a lot of snowfall in the United States especially in the northern states and, most recently, in the western states. But, will it snow at my house? That is what I want to know. Will it get cold enough to make the ice rink in the back yard so we can skate?


Ask your students, Why is snow cover so important for the Earth? How does it affect the surface and air temperature during the day and night? How does it impact the energy budget? I get pretty geeked when there is now.

Here is a response I received from the 5th grade class at Lakewood Academy in Cleveland, Ohio.

"My fifth grade students spent time reflecting on your questions: Why is snow cover so important to the earth? How does it affect the surface and air temperature during the day and at night?

The students focused on the reflectivity of snow. They know it has a high albedo compared to darker surfaces. In our area, that means that the snow on the ground will reflect more sunlight than the green grass or black asphalt. They also mentioned the poles. The students tell me that the ice and snow is melting at the poles. They say that when the snow and ice melt, the surface, which becomes water or land, is darker. The darker surface absorbs more heat making the surface hotter. If the surface is hotter, it’s harder to keep snow on the ground even if it snows again.

This causes a bad cycle of warming. The kids want to ski and we want a white Christmas! They want to play in the snow."

Living in southeast Michigan, the weather has been pretty warm with high temperatures in the 40s that last couple of days. Even with that, ice is forming on the cover of our swimming pool. The average temperature for the days has been below freezing which is forming the ice. Even though the temperature during the day goes above freezing, it is that warm for only a short period of time. The night is very long.

Keep up the great work!

Dr. C

Week 1 Update

The GLOBE surface temperature field campaign started this week with some record warm temperatures in the United States. Students in much of the United States enjoyed short sleeve weather for several days.

Schools have started to post observations on the GLOBE website. The GLOBE website has been changed dramatically over the last year. The GLOBE Program Office will be adding all teachers in a bulk transfer from the old database in the near future. Many teachers have also signed up on the GLOBE webpage and the help desk has set them up so they can enter data. The help desk has been doing a great job managing everyone.

Here are the schools that have posted observations so far.

Burlington County Institute Of Technology, New Jersey

West Union High School, Ohio

Birchwood School, Ohio – Hi Mrs. Brown.

Lakewood Catholic Academy, Ohio – Great that you got on Mrs. McGuire

Roswell-Keny Middle School, Ohio – Hi Mr. Frantz.

Brazil School, Brazil

Main Street School, Norwalk, Ohio – Hi Mrs. Burns.

The Morton Arboretum Youth Education Department, Illinois

This is a map from the GLOBE website that shows the schools that entered surface temperature data so far on Dec. 3, 2012. Please try to have your students get your data online as soon as possible so we can trouble shoot any problems. Let me know if you run into any problems.

As many of you know, I love snow. I love to ski and ice skate and sled. So far this winter has been a dud. There hasn’t been a lot of snow. Last winter was so warm, there was very little snow as well. As you can see in the attached figure, there is very little snow today in the lower 48 of the United States. That is the part of the United States that does not include Hawaii and Alaska. A storm recently laid down snow in Europe. The weather pattern is going to change in North America and bring the cold air from Alaska and northern Canada into the lower 48.

Seasons and Biomes Frost Tube

I have taken frost tube observations for the Seasons and Biomes GLOBE project for the past 3 years I tried to take an observation this morning only to find that the tube had broken and all of the water drained out. I wonder if the plastic had gotten brittle and when it froze it broken when the ice expanded. I'll have to fix it this weekend before consistently cold temperatures arrive next week.

I hope to see your data soon.

Dr. C

GLOBE STAR of Finland Training

GLOBE recently made a STAR out of my trip to Finland to work with GLOBE teachers and trainers there.

It was a great experience. If you ever have a chance to go to Finland, I think you will enjoy it.

More Blog Entries