Friday, January 7, 2011

A Sunny Beautiful Day in Florida, But the Dynamo Effect Shuts Down Tampa's Main Runway

Friday, January 7, 2011      6:30 p.m.

It was a sunny beautiful day across Florida, but nature always keeps it interesting. We had a really interesting story on First Coast News tonight. The magnetic pole is shifting about 25 miles a year and it has shifted enough that Tampa had to close down their main runway this week. You can see in the graphic above the magnetic north pole it is literally moving north-northwestward toward Siberia and has shifted quite a bit since 1904. In the last 125 years the magnetic pole has shifted about 700 miles.  Now this magnetic shift has nothing to do with geography, this impacts our compasses. This can also have a big impact on air travel. Tampa's runway has not moved but the magnetic shift has been significant enough that the runway that used to point due north is now facing north-northeast! In fact Jacksonville International will re-paint the lines on its runways to show the correct compass directions in 2012 due to this same phenomenon.

What causes this shift of the magnetic pole? Well the earth spins on its axis but there is also a lot of movement taking place in the earth's inner and outer core. They also spin at different rates of speed. This creates a convective or dynamo effect much like we have on earth when a thunderstorm forms from rising air currents.

One other interesting note is this magnetic shift may impact the aurora borealis. The magnetic pole helps create this phenomenon and while folks up in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Vermont and the high latitudes enjoy the aurora or northern lights several times a year it is rare to see it here in Florida. Although on April 6, 2000 there was a huge geomagnetic storm on the sun that lit up the skies all the way down to Orlando! Here is a picture of an aurora in taken near Fairbanks, Alaska in 2008 by Meteorologist Ross Ellett. Ross known to be one of the best weather forecasters in the entire country also loves taking trips North just so he can see the spectacular northern lights but in the future that may not be necessary. What may be happening is not just a magnetic polar shift but a magnetic polar flip-flop where the magnetic north and south pole switch places. While this takes place over the course of thousands of years these poles can wander and at times  be located over Arkansas or even Florida during this flip. So there may be a day well into the future where folks look south to Florida to see the incredible aurora borealis. What is interesting is the last time we saw this magnetic flip-flop was 780,000 years. During the earth's history it has taken place about once every 250,000 years. So we are overdue! Now this will not happen in our lifetime but someday it could be a reality. Pretty amazing! Nature is always full of surprises. Here is a cool link to check out that shows aurora forecasts.

Our Live Doppler Radar also had a little surprise on it this afternoon. Despite crystal clear skies we were picking up an area of dark green which would usually indicate light to moderate rain. What it was actually seeing was a smoke plume from a controlled wildfire in eastern Columbia County. That is the great news! In fact there are no large wildfires burning in our area and the numbers have dropped in half compared to just a couple weeks ago. This thanks to above average rainfall so far in January. We are running a surplus of .69" but we still badly need rain and will continue to pay the price for that 19" deficit as we head into the Spring. But the good news is we will have more green and even a few yellows showing up on our Live Doppler by later Sunday night and Monday. This weekend is still looking dry but we do have a cold front moving through Saturday and we will really feel its impact by Saturday night and Sunday. You will certainly need your winter coats. We could have a freeze and frost by Sunday morning with highs struggling into the 50s on Sunday with increasing clouds.

If  you are looking for something interesting to do this evening you can go cheer on the St. Johns County Ladies Flag Football teams out at Fruit Cove Middle School. Here is the Hoosier Mama team that won the championship back in 2009. They are ready to take back their trophy. There are 14 teams in this league and it is for ladies 25 years and older! Watch out for Heather Patterson, she is the Maurice Jones Drew of the group. I would not want to line up on the other side from her. This weekend there will also be a lot of collisions in the atmosphere taking place that could bring snow as far south as Macon. Make sure to tune in and check back here on the blog for updates. We are also tracking a Siberian Express and I am not talking about a train. I will have an update on how far south it will actually track. Take care and have a wonderful weekend!

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