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Weather Questions tagged “folklore”

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Question: Can a tornado pick up a cow? — Mike

Answer: That's been a pretty common image since the movie Twister popularized it. Like any other object or creature in some of the most intense tornadoes, there is no reason a cow can not be picked up and thrown considerable distances, and there are reports of this happening, much the same as with automobiles, trucks and other fairly heavy objects. Maintaining objects in the air and carrying them miles, or dozens of miles, away from where they were picked up is generally limited to much lighter and less dense objects, such as papers, photos, insulation, clothing and the like.
Jun. 10, 2014 | Tags: folklore, tornadoes

Question: Is it true that a tornado will not touch down at a location if it is currently raining there? — Laura

Answer: That is not a good assumption to make, as it is possible to have what are known as "rain wrapped" tornadoes that are heavily enshrouded in a curtain or shaft of rain. In addition, even in the case of a storm in which the tornado is exposed and located outside of an area where rain is reaching the ground, it is quite possible for that tornado to move across an area where rain was falling just minutes earlier.
May. 28, 2014 | Tags: folklore, preparedness, tornadoes

Question: We all know the saying.. Red sky at night, sailors delight Red sky in morning, sailors take warning. What is the significance of a red sky? — Anonymous

Answer: A very simple rule of thumb like that one can't be expected to verify in every case, but that doesn't mean it has no scientific basis. Since mid-latitude weather systems generally travel from west to east, early evening sunlight shining red upon clouds overhead or to the east can indicate a departing storm system that will continue to move away and leave "delightful" weather in its wake, and vice versa for reddened morning light shining from low in the east onto clouds ahead of an approaching storm system to the west. The complexity of the atmosphere ensures that there are many exceptions to this.
May. 18, 2014 | Tags: folklore, general meteorology

Question: Would love to know your thoughts on Blackberry Winter. Seems like we always have it around the first week of May, but this has been such an unusual winter/spring and your forecast looks great! — Binks Mew

Answer: That term is an informal reference to a period of notably cooler-than-normal weather that sets in during the later spring (sometime during the period of late April to early June) when blackberry plants tend to be either flowering or producing fruit. We've certainly had a few pushes of unseasonably cool weather lately that could conceivably fit the description, especially around mid-April and for a couple of days in early May.
May. 11, 2014 | Tags: cold, folklore

Question: I saw a red sky this morning. Any scientific support to the old saying "red sky in the morning, sailors take warning. Red sky at night, sailors delight? — Jason

Answer: A simple rule of thumb like that one can't be expected to verify in every case, but that doesn't mean it has no scientific basis. Since mid-latitude weather systems generally travel from west to east, early morning sunlight shining red upon clouds overhead or to the west can indicate an approaching storm system, and vice versa for departing systems in the evening, but there are many exceptions to this.
Apr. 5, 2014 | Tags: folklore, general meteorology

Question: I heard recently that if snow stays on the ground for three or more days it will snow again that winter. Is this true? — Nicki Ragland

Answer: We aren't aware of anyone having run statistics to confirm or refute that rule of thumb, but it seems like one that may have arisen simply because snows that linger on the ground for a longer period would often involve happening during the colder average temperatures of mid-winter (when there is ample time for more snow-producing systems to occur before winter is over), or a reflection of the occurrence of an especially heavy snow that may have been produced as one episode within a larger scale pattern that locks in for a stretch of time and is supportive of a cluster of closely spaced snow events. It seems quite likely, however, that there have been plenty of times when at least some snow on the ground for three or more days has turned out to be the last of the season.
Mar. 11, 2014 | Tags: folklore, snow

Question: I have lived on this property for 20 years. I have many oak trees, most kinds. Why do we have no acorns this year? Is it in some way weather related? — Druthers

Answer: Oak trees are known to produce acorns on a cycle that varies some among species, but generally involves one to four years of lean production followed by a "bumper crop." Efforts to tie this cyclical behavior to weather conditions preceding or following the heavy years have produced mixed results, making it hard to say what influence our weather in the past year or so may have had on acorns. While we can't rule out some weather-related impact, it may have simply been time for the oaks to cycle to an especially lean crop.
Feb. 10, 2014 | Tags: folklore

Question: Not so much a question as a comment. The tale goes that when it thunders in Winter, it will snow 10 days later. I actually remember a couple of time in the past that this has happened. I know it's coincidence, but I would like to point out that we had thunder on Jan 11th. As of today (January 20th) you have the chance of snow showers in your forecast for Jan 21 (10 days later). Now...this happening once or twice is surely a coincidence...but at what point do we start calling it a trend? — Gary

Answer: The day and following night that you're referring to did end up with some snow, with one-half inch at the RDU airport and a band of 1-3 inch totals from around Wilson northward in the northern coastal plain.

There is some physical reasoning behind the old "tale" you mentioned, although it certainly doesn't verify in every case, and even when it does the snow may take the form of unmeasurable flurries. Still, the same large-scale pressure patterns that bring warm, unstable air far enough north for winter thunderstorms here are also those that move cold air most deeply toward the south. Well-timed disturbances might then produce some snow.

The patterns in question involve sharp mid-level pressure troughs and ridges that drive airmasses strongly toward the north and south. This is known as "meridional flow," and tends to produce stormy weather involving large temperature swings. This can be contrasted to "zonal flow," in which airmass transport is mostly west to east, temperatures tend to be moderate, and disturbances are often weak, making both thunderstorms and snowfall less likely for our area.
Jan. 30, 2014 | Tags: folklore, snow, thunderstorms

Question: Old saying says fogs in August tell how many snows for winter. How many fogs did we have? — Pam Boggs

Answer: It depends on how you define fog. If you include any fog or mist that even modestly reduces visibility, then there were 20 times in August 2013 when that was the case at the RDU airport. If you restrict it to rather thick fogs in which the visibility is held to a quarter-mile or less, then the answer is two. You also have to ask what the old saying means by "snows." Does it include brief flurries that produce no accumulation, or only snows that result in a thick white coating? There isn't really a plausible causal connection between the number of fog days in August and snow days the following winter, but it wouldn't be surprising to find that for some locations those numbers happen to be similar on average. It's unlikely, though, that a statistical correlation would show above normal August fog days are consistently followed by more snow days than usual, or vice versa.
Dec. 25, 2013 | Tags: folklore, snow, visibility/fog/dust

Question: My family and I thought we heard thunder a couple times today, mid afternoon. Is it possible? Any snow forecasted in the next 10 days? — Kathy Holt

Answer: We didn't have information about where within our viewing area you were located at the time, but the day you wrote in (Sun, Dec 8, 2013) there were some convective cells in the area that produced a few lightning strikes, so it is quite possible you heard some thunder. Since that time, we haven't had snow in the same area to validate the old rule of thumb about snow within 10 days after a winter season thunderstorm. While there are some reasons why similar patterns, involving highly amplified wavy flow aloft that brings a lot of warm unstable air northward and cold air southward, can lead to both thunder and wintry precipitation, one doesn't always neatly follow the other and the rule of thumb is not an especially reliable one.
Dec. 19, 2013 | Tags: folklore, snow, thunderstorms

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