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Weather Questions tagged “folklore”

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Question: Not a question. This weather reminds me of September Gales we use to have when I was a child; brings back good memories. — Linda

Answer: You're referring to the cool, breezy and wet weather we settled into for a while recently after a stretch of warm, dry conditions. We have to admit, we weren't familiar with a particular term for the pattern like "September Gales," but upon doing a bit of checking around, found that it was an old time term used in the eastern U.S. to describe exactly that kind of turn in the weather, often at least partially as a result of a tropical system passing by to the east. Accounts of the phenomenon mention a combination of welcome and concern on the part of farmers, who, for example, would be glad for the break from warm weather and the possibility of needed rain, but also wary of rain that became too heavy and winds too strong, perhaps damaging cotton crops just before harvest. The pattern that we recently experienced wasn't related to a tropical system, but rather to a front that stalled offshore and interacted with a non-tropical low pressure wave.
Oct. 1, 2015 | Tags: folklore, rain, winds

Question: Since we may not be able to directly view the lunar eclipse on Sunday due to the weather, can you suggest a website where we can watch a live picture of the eclipse? — Margie Cannity

Answer: We can indeed. NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center will stream live images accessed from several locations around the country (to better the chances of having cleasr skies in at least some of them) at beginning at 8PM EDT. You can read much more about the eclipse and some local events (just in case the anticipated clouds break up) in the recent WeatherCenter Blog post at
Sep. 27, 2015 | Tags: astronomy, atmospheric optics, folklore

Question: Some years back, I was staying the night with my mother. This was in a house in rural Franklin County that I grew up in. On this particular night we had a power failure but not from a storm. I looked out of the window to the West, up the hill. Between her house and the power lines were many, many lights, almost like fireflies but larger (it was not firefly season). I have always been curious as to what this could have been. The area was once used as a cow pasture. What would I google to try to find out what may have caused this. — Cathy Loy

Answer: We don't know the date, so couldn't check specific weather conditions for the time you're asking about. A follow-up message indicated you couldn't be sure if some storms were in the area, although the power outage was not storm-related. Any explanation we suggest looking into is pretty speculative, then, but a few things come to mind. First would be the idea of a display of St Elmo's Fire, a glowing electrical discharge that can occur under certain conditions involving a strong ambient electric field, usually when there are some storms in the vicinity. Under ideal conditions, which are very rare, there could have been glowing lights visible from the power lines, the tips of barbed wire fences, antennas, lightning rods, even some blades of grass or the corners of leaves. Although it seems even less likely and on the whole is not a well-understood or documented phenomena, you might like to read up on "swamp gas" or "will o' the wisp" sightings. Finally, we wondered if the hill you looked out upon might have been filled with any weeds or other plants with small white or bright yellow flowers, such that, in the absence of any powered lights indoors or out, your highly dark-adjusted eyes might have perceived them as glowing simply in light from the moon or even starlight, assuming skies were mostly clear.
Sep. 26, 2015 | Tags: atmospheric optics, folklore

Question: I just saw on Facebook that the time changes back next week. I live in Roanoke Rapids. Time usually changes in October. What is the time change? — Tracie Hammack

Answer: We've seen that pop up here and there as well. however, the actual date for switching from Daylight to Standard time is still a couple of months away. We will "fall back" to Eastern Standard Time on Sunday, November 1st at 2 AM.
Sep. 3, 2015 | Tags: folklore, preparedness

Question: I have been seeing on Facebook that on August 27th at 12:30 a.m you will be able to see Mars. Is this correct? — Tammy Scott

Answer: This answer comes a few days past the 27th, but we suspect you are referring to an old e-mail hoax about the appearance of Mars and the moon that has started floating around Facebook from time to time just about every August. The post gives the idea that Mars and the Moon will appear about the same size in the sky, which is simply an impossible situation. Just in case it makes the reounds again next year you can find more background on the hoax, and the corresponding reality, in these two blog posts -- and
Aug. 30, 2015 | Tags: astronomy, folklore

Question: I read an article on Facebook this morning that stated that NASA has confirmed that the Earth will experience 15 days of total darkness , between November 15 and November 29, 2015. The article stated that the world will be in complete darkness during these days. The article stated that the event is caused by another astronomical event between Venus and Jupiter. It stated that this event hasn't occurred in over 1 million years! I haven't seen this talked about anywhere on any network in TV. Is this just a hoax. I know you can't believe half of what you read on Facebook and the Internet! — Randy Walton

Answer: This story seems to be a slightly altered re-hash of a similar tale that flew around the internet (and Facebook) about a year ago. In that case, the darkness was supposed to be for 6 days in December (there was also a very similar story before that back in 2012). Of course, that was a hoax based on a "fake news" web site, and the current story has similar origins according to This falls squarely into that "half of" stuff you mentioned that you can't believe from the Net!
Aug. 26, 2015 | Tags: astronomy, cool sites, folklore

Question: I understand that a blue moon is not actually the color blue. My question is "where did the expression come from?" — Michaela Juliana

Answer: It appears that long ago, the concept of the moon being blue was a phrase that was used as an expression of absurdity, so that saying something on the order of an event will happen "When the moon turns blue" would be akin to "When pigs fly." Over time, given the fact that rare combinations of dust or smoke emissions in to the atmosphere actually could result in a blue moon, it became an expression of general rarity. That's a very brief take on it, but you can find more detail in a good article on the subject at Sky & Telescope magazine, available online at
Aug. 10, 2015 | Tags: astronomy, cool sites, folklore

Question: Have we been using the term "Black Ice" incorrectly in the last years? I'm originally from MN and the first time I heard the term "Black Ice" was when I went down to AOCS (Aviation Officer Candidate School) in Pensacola, Fl. in 1979. Our drill instructor explained that in this part of the country, the pavement (black top) was made with shells and that with a light rain a small secretion of oil would come from this organic matter. When this happened, the streets would behave just as if they had ice on them and be very slippery. A harder rain would wash the oil but that light film was dangerous. I did experience this and was glad I was warned about "Black Ice". — Don Legun

Answer: We hadn't heard that use of the term, but in doing some digging, have turned up some spotty references to the slickness of road oils when a rain first wets down the surface. In most cases, the reference was to oils deposited on long-dry road surfaces by auto leaks, emissions and tire materials, rather than from shells incorporated into the pavement.

As with many words or phrases, this term has taken on several different meanings over time, as there is also reference to very thin ice on a deep (and thus dark-appearing) lake as "black ice" that should be avoided due to its inability to support weight.

These days, it would seem the reference to a thin film of clear, glaze ice on a road surface has become the most commonly used, and generally well understood, meaning of "black ice." As you noted, this refers to water that has frozen on a roadway and takes on essentially the same visual appearance as liquid water. One of the dangers of black ice is thus the difficulty in knowing whether the road ahead is simply wet, but with reasonably good traction, or ice-covered and very slippery. You noted in your (longer) message that the road may not be asphalt, and so the ice may not appear black, but rather since it is transparent, takes on the color of the surface below. This is true, of course, but the colloquial use of black to describe it probably arises from the appearance on roadways at night and on dark early winter mornings, when areas that are covered in a thin film of water (whether liquid or frozen) often appear very dark to a driver because instead of being able to clearly see the road surface beneath it, the top of the water layer acts like a mirror and reflects dark sky or a dark horizon.
Jun. 8, 2015 | Tags: folklore, winter weather

Question: I love golf this time of year with the extra sunlight in the afternoon and the high risk of thunderstorms. Is it true that when you hear thunder you can count slowly to 6 and that = 1 mile from where the lighting strike occurred? — O.B. Autry

Answer: It would all depend on how long it takes you to count to 6! Under the right conditions, you can make a reasonable estimate of how many miles away a lightning strike occurs. The sound waves (thunder) generated by the lightning strike travel about a mile in 5 seconds, so if you can time the number of seconds in the interval between seeing the lightning flash and hearing the first arrival of thunder, dividing that time by five will give you the rough distance to the lightning channel in miles. This works best when strikes are fairly infrequent, and can be more difficult to apply when there are many lightning flashes in a short time coming from a variety of distances and directions. For most people, counting something like "one thousand one, one thousand two, one thousand three," etc gives a good approximation of counting seconds, but it helps to practice a few times with a watch handy so you can sort of calibrate your counting speed.
Jun. 7, 2015 | Tags: folklore, lightning, thunderstorms

Question: Could the term back door cold front be explained? I keep hearing that but it is not clear exactly what that means. — Kent Riedling

Answer: The majority of cold fronts that cross our area, and the eastern U.S. in general, are oriented in a line that runs from north to south or northeast to southeast, and they tend to move through here from the west or northwest. This being the most common mode of arrival, the cold air behind the fronts can be figuratively said to enter through the "front door." Less commonly, a cold front will have more of a west to east orientation, and will push across our area from the north or the northeast, often because of a strengthening cold high pressure center over eastern Canada or New England. When the cold air arrives in this manner, the front that marks its leading edge is called a "back door" front.
Mar. 2, 2015 | Tags: folklore, fronts & airmasses, general meteorology

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