Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Perihelion Storm More of A Miss than A Mess
Here in the wee hours of the morning I am checking in to make sure you know everything is on track for a minor weather event today. The big thing that will be our saving grace will be the extremely dry air in place. Mark in Monticello called in 19 degrees at 11 p.m. and this really tells the story. Not only do we have a cold air and dry air mass in place but the main storm track is well south of our area. Notice the stationary front above. This front will be the main train tracks of activity and it will also intercept most of the moisture from reaching us. Latest QPF estimates or the amount of precipitation expected for us will be .10" or less. I do think most of us will remain under an inch of snow and some areas especially north of Lafayette will only see flurries with little or no accumulation. Heading south be especially careful, I do not want you to let your guard down. There is a winter weather advisory from Montgomery County southward for slick travel. Here is your Crawfordsville timeline. Make sure to add extra time.
The light snow may mix with a little freezing rain and sleet mainly south of Lafayette and even though amounts of ice and snow should be light we all know that a little ice can cause big problems. So do not be fooled heading south. It can go from nothing to something bad in a hurry this morning. If you noticed I was very unimpressed by this storm and did not even give it a real name. I called it the Perihelion storm because the earth officially reached perihelion in the last few hours or its closest point to the sun in its orbit. We are only 91.3 million miles from the sun while in July we are at Aphelion or the farthest point from the sun in our orbit which comes out to about 95 million miles away. The big mistake folks make is they think that our seasons are based on the distance from the earth and the sun but in reality it is the earth's tilt. We are certainly tilted away from the sun in our orbit this time of year and we know this because of our short days and the sun staying much closer to the horizon. We have gone from 15 hours and 4 minutes of daylight at the summer solstice to just 9 hours and 31 minutes of daylight today. We are about 3 percent closer to the sun today than during July, but it certainly will not be helping our temperatures. The saying this time of year is that as the days grow longer the cold grows stronger and we will certainly feel this over the weekend here in Lafayette. The picure below is from Lake Freeman in Monticello when the sun was about 4 million miles farther away in the middle of the summer. The big difference again are the more direct rays we receive and those longer daylight hours created by the tilt of the earth on its orbit around the sun! Man, I am ready to go water skiiing now!
There is some good news and that is our darkest days of the year are officially over literally and climatologically and we will be gaining about 2 to 4 minutes of daylight the rest of January. Also we will continue to see increasing sunshine on average. We have made it through our cloudiest month of December with only 38% of possible sunshine and by February we will see 50% of our possible sunshine. This makes a huge difference. It has been proven humans and even animals are much happier and even healthier (as long as you avoid sunburns) thanks to some natural vitamin D the sun's ultraviolet rays provide. We have already been dazzled by spectacular sunsets around the area over the last couple of weeks. Here is another beautiful sunset sent in by Kierstie Phillips from Christmas Eve. Yes! We can get used to more of this!
Here is another of many beautiful pictures sent in yesterday evening. Russ Thomas who is also known as the Boudin Man or the Clark Griswold of Buckingham shows us he has some talent taking pictures. Check this scene out!
It looks like the hand of God was cradling Lafayette. Meteorologically, this dramatic scene was caused by our extremely dry atmosphere forcing any moisture from the big storm staying to our south being forced to move in at more than 30,000 feet high. These cirrus clouds were certainly beautiful. The cold, dense air was certainly holding its ground last night and it was another reason I have downplayed today's Perihelion storm. Richard Beedle called in last night and made a great observation. He said that the sky almost looked like the aurora borealis with the way those clouds re-directed the setting sun's rays. The only thing missing was the "shimmey"or curtain effect of the aurora and of course the colors are usually a brighter green or darker red that light up the night sky. We usually only see the aurora in Lafayette about once every two years on average so I made sure to dig up this picture for you for those that have never seen what a real aurora looks like. Here is what it looked like over Lafayette on November 20, 2003. I remember it looked like a volcanic eruption when I was walking the dog. It did not take long to realize it was in fact the aurora borealis!
The Weather Question of the Day: When can Lafayette expect the next aurora borealis?
I will work on this for you today and of course have an update on the winter storm. Meteorologist Stefanie Davis has you covered today and even if it is winter she will tell you all about going green this morning. It should be interesting. Have a great day and remember smiling is contagious and can make an ordinary day become a great one!
The answer to our question is an easy one....not any time soon. We are at a solar minimum which means with fewer magnetic storms or sunspots the viewing in the mid-latitudes will remain almost non-existant. You can still take a trip up to the Arctic Circle and enjoy this beautiful spectacle almost every single night this time of year.