Weird, wonderful weather


Bill Gallus, ISU professor of geological & atmospheric sciences, is a self-proclaimed weather nut.

“I was born this way,” he says, laughing. “I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t fascinated by the weather.”

In fact, Gallus says that most students entering Iowa State’s meteorology program – the largest number of ISU students in the physical sciences – love the weather. Maybe, he adds with a wry smile, it’s because they have their own television channel.

Gallus has been working on research to improve prediction of thunderstorms and their rainfall and studying severe storm dynamics for years, and he’s passed on his passion for extreme weather to class after class of meteorology students.

“There’s still a lot to be learned about severe weather,” he says. “It’s a thrill to see if I can learn something to change how we understand tornadoes. Sometimes it’s still like I’m five years old, but it’s more fascinating now because I know how the laws of physics work.”

1) During a spell of particularly wild weather in early March 1990, Iowa had a severe ice storm that brought up to two to three inches of glaze on one day, tornadoes the next day, and then was part of a big tornado outbreak five days later. When Ankeny, Iowa, was hit by one of the tornadoes that day, it apparently picked up many of the piles of tree limbs along the curbs that had fallen in the ice storm a few days earlier!

2) On Jan. 24, 1967, a tornado outbreak brought roughly a dozen tornadoes each to Iowa,Illinois, and Missouri, killing several people. Within 36 hours, Chicago’s biggest 24-hour snowstorm was occurring, and more than a foot fell in the same parts of southeast Iowa that had just had tornadoes.

3) My pick for Iowa’s weirdest weather event was actually pretty weird across a big chunk of the country. On May 27-29, 1947, heavy snow fell across parts of Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Michigan, with around 10 inches in a few spots in each of these states. It would not have been much fun shoveling out the picnic table to celebrate Memorial Day!

1) On Feb. 14-15, 1895, over 20 inches of snow fell in Houston, 15 inches in Galveston, and six inches in Brownsville, Texas, on the Mexican border at the Gulf Coast. Enough also fell in Florida to allow people to go sledding.

2) Cordell, Kan., was hit by a tornado on May 20 three years in a row – 1916, 1917, 1918. I’d guess in 1919 no one hung around to see if it would happen again!

3) The largest hailstone to fall in the U.S. happened on July 23, 2010, in Vivian, S.D. – it was eight inches in diameter and weighed nearly two pounds. Hailstones the size of baseballs or larger can fall at faster than 100 miles per hour.

4) During perhaps the worst U.S. cold wave ever, the temperature fell to -2 in Tallahassee, Fla., on Feb. 13, 1899, and ice flowed out of the mouth of the Mississippi River into the Gulf of Mexico.

5) During the “Summer in March” heat wave of 2012, several cities in the Midwest and Great Lakes region had daily low temperatures that were already warmer than the previous record high temperature for the day. In Marquette, Mich., the previous record high for March 21 was 49 degrees. In 2012, it hit 81 that day! That same day, St. Johns, Newfoundland, in Canada set a record high for the month of March that was warmer than the record high for April! That is the stuff of science fiction!

How much do you know about extreme weather events?

1. What is the width of the largest tornado observed in the United States?
a) One mile
b) One and a half miles
c) Two and a half miles
d) Four miles

2. Which city has the coldest mean temperature for a January afternoon?
a) Juneau, Alaska
b) Ames, Iowa
c) Cheyenne, Wyo.
d) Winter Park, Colo.

3. How far away can lightning strike from its parent thunderstorm?
a) Up to 2 miles
b) Up to 5 miles
c) Up to 10-15 miles
d) Up to 40-50 miles

4. Which of the following has the highest temperature?
a) The sand in the desert near Yuma, Ariz., on a July afternoon
b) Surface of the sun
c) Aurora borealis
d) Lightning bolt

5. Which type of cloud is highest in the sky?
a) Cirrus
b) Altostratus
c) Altocumulus
d) Stratus

6. The typical halo one sees around the sun or moon when high clouds move in is caused by ice crystals refracting light by how many degrees?
a) 11
b) 22
c) 33
d) 44

7. Which weather event, on average over the past 30 years, kills the most people in the U.S. each year?
a) Hurricane
b) Tornado
c) Lightning
d) Flood

8. Which of these cities has had a snowstorm drop over 20 inches of snow in just one day?
a) Des Moines, Iowa
b) Barrow, Alaska
c) Houston, Texas
d) Atlanta, Ga.

9. What significant weather event occurred on May 22, 2011?
a) 100 degree heat in Nebraska
b) Flooding rains in eastern Colorado
c) EF5 tornado in Joplin, Mo.
d) Snow in North Dakota

10. Which of the following weather systems resulted in the lowest surface pressure?
a) Hurricane Wilma in 2005
b) The Great Appalachian Storm of 1950
c) Superstorm 1993
d) The ”Polar Vortex” event of 2014

(scroll down for answers)

Correct Answers: 1: C, 2: B, 3: C, 4: D, 5: A, 6: B, 7: D, 8: C, 9: C, 10: A


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