Comet watch and coats

From the Institute for Climate Education at A-B Tech:  No doubt about it: March is off to a chilly start. Thursday’s sunny skies were almost enough to fool you into thinking that spring had already arrived … until you stepped outside and the brisk breeze and cold air harshly reminded you that it’s still late winter.

If the clouds cooperate, I encourage you to bundle up and take the opportunity to spot the comet PanSTARRS low on the western horizon after sunset for the next week. (Look here for images and information on where to look from the Astronomy Club of Asheville.) I bundled up and headed out on Tuesday night, and while I was unable to catch a glimpse of the comet, I did enjoy the beautiful evening scene below.

If you’ve been thinking that it seems unusually chilly, you’re right. Average temperatures in Asheville so far for the month of March have been cooler than the normals, with every day but three (last Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday) running below normal. In fact, most of the average temperatures since mid-February have been below normal.

If you think back to last year, this is significantly different than the weather we experienced during the winter and spring of 2012 when temperatures were running well above normal.  In fact, the high temperature on March 14 one year ago was 77 degrees and temperatures this time last year were consistently 15° warmer than normal.

So, what’s the difference? The large-scale weather pattern in the Northern Hemisphere is much different than it was during late winter last year, and we can look to the polar vortex for an explanation. The polar vortex is a band of winds that blow counterclockwise, circling the Arctic. Last year, that band of winds was very strong and acted as a dam that kept much of the cold air locked up over the polar regions, and out of the lower 48. (Check out the February 16, 2012 Fun Facts for more info.)

This year, especially for the past 30 days, the vortex has been much weaker and cold air has spilled across the U.S./Canadian border regularly as strong storms crossing the plains have pulled that cold air southward.

The good news: Spring is right around the corner with the vernal equinox signaling the start of spring next week at 7:02 a.m. local time on Wednesday, March 20. And while it’s no guarantee that the winter weather is over, it does mean that those beautiful spring flowers are not too far behind.

Event Notice: SkyWarn 2013 is coming on Saturday, April 13!
Do you want to learn more about severe weather? What causes it? How it forms? What you can do to protect yourself, your family, your co-workers? And, how to report it to the National Weather Service.

Join us for a free severe weather workshop on Saturday, April 13, at A-B Tech.  The event is open to anyone who wants to attend, but pre-registration is required. You’ll find more information and super simple registration here. I hope you’ll join us!

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