Up on the Tightrope

By: Justin Manship
By: Justin Manship

Up on the Tightrope

<i><b>I'm Up on the Tightwire
One Side's Ice and One is Fire
It's a Circus Game With You and Me</i></b>

Those are lines from Leon Russell's timeless tune "Tightrope", a "Gene Birk Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame" hit from the early 1970's. Just like a trapeze artist "putting on a show for you to see" as Russell so eloquently puts it, Nature has been putting on its own show for millions of years now. And, as the song also implies, we often look into the past like rubber-neck giraffes, trying to learn what may have spurred changes in global patterns and temperatures. And though we may not have too many hard facts or figures that go back beyond 150 years, we know the climate has always been evolving.

Recently, I've had a couple of viewer inquiries about weather patterns in the late 1800s and how they compare to those of the early 2000s. One e-mail posed this question: "Why does it seem like so many record lows for Bowling Green were set in the late 19th century?" Now I know the terms "global warming" or "climate change" may come to mind, but let's not get too hasty here! This much is fact, though: A catastrophic volcanic eruption cooled the earth significantly in the mid to late 1880s, and may very well have altered weather patterns in the lower Ohio Valley during this period.

The island volcano of Krakatoa, located halfway across the world from the United States in Indonesia, set off a series of violent explosions when it blew its top on August 27, 1883. Large amounts of ash and aerosols reached high into the earth's stratosphere, causing "blue" and "green" sunshine by day and unsual red hues at sunrise and sunset. Not only did these phenomena that lasted several years after the massive eruption, the veil of volcanic dust and particulate matter in the upper atmosphere served as a solar filter which lowered global temperatures as much as 1.2 degrees Celsius! That cooling period lasted about five years after the event.

Knowing that, I think it's no coincidence that some of Bowling Green's chilliest temperatures were recorded in that five year stretch from 1883 to 1888. Our city's all-time record minimum temperature of -26 happened in January 1886 (it's believed by some that record came in the wake of a major blizzard, though official snowfall records for our area don't go back that far).

On the subject of cooling, did you know this past spring ranked in the upper third in terms of coolest on record for the lower 48 states? It's true! Check out these stats from NOAA:

U.S. has 36th Coolest Spring on Record
The March-May spring season was the 36th coolest on record for the contiguous United States, according to an analysis by the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C. Separately, May ended as the 34th coolest May for the contiguous United States, based on records dating back to 1895.

The average spring temperature of 51.4 degrees F was 0.5 degree F below the 20th Century average. The average May temperature of 60.3 degrees F was 0.7 degree F below the 20th Century mean, based on preliminary data.

U.S. Temperature Highlights

• The March-May temperatures were cooler than average from the Northwest and extending throughout the central Plains and upper Mississippi Valley. In all, 19 states had a cooler-than-average spring.

• Twenty-five states were cooler than average for May. Pennsylvania was much cooler than average and ranked eighth coolest.

• Florida, Texas, and Washington were warmer than average for May.

U.S. Precipitation Highlights

• For the spring, Missouri had its fourth wettest, Arkansas its sixth wettest, Indiana and Iowa their eighth wettest and Illinois its 10th wettest. For May, Arizona, Maryland, and Nebraska were much wetter than average, with Nebraska ranking fourth wettest and Maryland fifth wettest on record.

• California had its driest spring on record, while Nevada and Utah had their 10th and 11th driest on record. For May, two states were much drier than average -- New Hampshire had its ninth driest May on record and Florida its 10th driest.

• Rainfall improved drought conditions across parts of the northern Rockies, but moderate-to-extreme drought continued throughout the Great Plains, Southeast, and Southwest. About 18 percent of the U.S. was classified in moderate-to-extreme drought at the end of May compared to 23 percent a month ago, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

• Several strong weather systems dumped heavy rains across parts of the central Plains, Ohio Valley, and mid-Atlantic states. In some areas, this pattern has continued for the last six months, with Missouri and Illinois having the wettest December-May on record. By the end of May, 24 percent of the contiguous U.S. was classified in moderate-to-extreme “wet spell” conditions compared to 16 percent six months ago, based on the Palmer Index.

The earth's balancing act continues, it's own "circus game" for you and me.

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