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Brutal Cold

When in doubt, you can always talk about the weather in polite Minnesota conversation. Days like today, when we are expected to have yet another big winter storm and the potential for Olympic Ice Dancing on the roads, it’s a topic you can count on.  It’s not controversial but it provides a nearly endless supply of entertainment much like driving a flaming bus through a wall of televisions, at least in the sense that it’s likely to be lethal.

Many of us learn to be fascinated by the weather in ways that seek awkward and geeky to people in other parts of the nation. That’s a shame because a hard study of weather is a form of meditation that can clear your mind like no other form.  Plus, it’s on teevee.  Here in the middle of a vast continent we are at the mercy of whatever blows our way.  It’s something that everyone can talk about – even if no one does anything about it.

jet streamWhen I was in Germany once, I noticed something interesting about the weather. Aside from being generally good enough to drink beer outdoors most of the year, their weather is often much like ours with a short time delay in the winter. Whatever we get, they get about 4 days later. It’s just a bit milder overall, and their beer is significantly better. All of this lends itself to a wonderful Biergarten culture and a tendency to not talk about the weather at all.

When I returned home I was fascinated by this. The weather, that is, because  in the bone-chilling thrills of Minnesota it’s easier to find $5 pitchers of Bud than  really good beer. What was it that sent our bad weather their way?

It’s the Jet Stream, that same thing that got me over to Germany quicker than the return, allowing an extra few hours to “sleep it off” on the way home. Our weather is heavily dependent on the Jet Stream at this time of year as the bubble of warm air over the equator retracts and moves the whole shebang southward. Of course, spending time closer to the equator would be even more interesting than Germany, but that’s another topic.

This river of air is far from constant as it moves up and down with the season. From time to time it develops kinks and wobbles that circumnavigate the globe in about 12 days. Sometimes it even breaks up into tiny turbulent pieces that appear to make no sense at all, and parts of Minnesota are suddenly 100 degrees Fahrenheit colder than the inside of a refrigerator (the record low in Tower, Minnesota, is -60F ).  Sometimes it picks up moisture from the Gulf of Mexico that unloads on us as snow.

If you watch this ribbon of air and how it twists and turns around our planet, you can predict the weather rather far in the future. In fact, it goes without saying that whatever we’re experiencing now is about what we’ll have in 12 days, unless it straightens out or becomes more disturbed as it crosses from Siberia to Alaska. I think there’s a joke about how people came to populate this godforsaken tundra in the first place in there, but I’m too cold to think of it right now. It is February, after all.

The Jet Stream today. The kinks are what mark the flow of water from the south or cold from the north.

If you want to keep an eye on the Jet Stream, I recommend this map from the California Regional Weather Server.  It shows a friendlier, pole-hugging jet stream heading our way from Asia as I write this – and not a moment to soon for me.

If you follow the Jet Stream closely you might even be able to out-geek people in a topic that is considered geeky to start with. It won’t make you as popular in the Biergarten as, say, the ability to tell good jokes, but it can fill the gaps. Here in Minnesota, we might even make you a minor deity. If guy might want that kind of thing, you never know. Whatever.

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