The last wet summer, and other facts or myths

By mid-August of 2014, we had been hit by six upper-level lows that summer

A thermometer reads 113 F (45 C) on June 27 at Portland, Oregon.

Trying to come up with a topic for the latest issue of the Co-operator I decided to look back to see when we last had a wet summer. I have often been blamed for bad weather because I discussed it in a weather article, so instead of talking about the heat, I figured we should discuss wet weather for a change. But before that, I wanted to share a short quote from weather historian Christopher Burt, author of the book Extreme Weather, regarding the devastating heat wave that impacted a large part of Western Canada and the northwestern U.S. this late June and early July. “This is the most anomalous regional extreme heat event to occur anywhere on Earth since temperature records began. Nothing can compare.” I’d say that about sums it up rather nicely — what more can one say?

Looking back over the years, the last time we had a wet summer was in 2014, so I dug through some of the weather articles from that summer and came across several that discussed why that summer was so wet: upper-level lows. By the time mid-August 2014 had rolled around, we had been hit by six upper-level lows. The last of these lows was so large it extended from Alberta all the way to north-western Ontario. Looking at the weather data for that year, rainfall amounts from June to August ranged from 50 mm to over 150 mm above average — that’s right, above average. Temperatures, understandably, were near average that summer. Let us keep hoping and praying that we see some rain; I am doing my best. 

Facts and/or myths

Another article I came across in my search was one I did on weather facts and myths. So, to finish off on a little lighter note, here are some of those weather facts or myths. 

Fact or Myth? We are warm/hot in the summer because the Earth is closer to the sun. 

This is a myth. It is true that the orbit of the Earth is not circular, so at different times of the year we are closer or farther away from the sun. The average distance from the Earth to the sun is about 150 million kilometres. In the summer we are farther away from the sun, at about 153 million km, and in the winter, we are closest, at about 147 million. It is the increased day length, along with the higher sun angle in the summer, that gives us the warmer temperatures. 

Fact or Myth? El Niño brings warm winters to our part of the world. 

This is neither a fact nor a myth. El Niño can set up a general atmospheric circulation pattern that favours milder winter weather in our region, but this is not a guarantee. Looking back at the last dozen or so El Niño winters, we find just less than half of them had milder-than-average temperatures. The remaining years were almost split between being around average or colder than average. 

Fact or Myth? Red sky at morning, sailors take warning; red sky at night, sailors delight. 

This is another one that is not quite fact, but it is not a myth either. Weather patterns in our part of the world, for the most part, move from west to east. Sunrises and sunsets tend to be red if there are particles in the atmosphere that help to scatter the light coming in from the sun. These particles usually remain airborne due to the atmosphere being stable (high pressure). So, if we see a red sky in the evening it can often mean that stable air is located to our west and should be moving in. In the morning the stable air is to our east and is moving away. I have to add a little bit to the morning part. Often, in the morning, if clouds are moving in from the west as the sun is rising this will create a red sky and I think this is probably a better explanation for the second part of the quote. 

Fact or Myth? Low pressure inside of a tornado causes buildings to explode. 

This is a myth. While the pressure is lower inside a tornado, it is not that sudden drop in pressure that destroys buildings; it is the incredibly fast-moving winds that do all the damage. So, do not worry about opening your windows to try and equalize the pressure, just find the safest place in your home if you see a tornado approaching. 

Fact or Myth? The sky above you is clear so you cannot get hit by lightning. 

This is a myth. Ever hear the term “out of the blue,” as in “a bolt out of the blue”? 

That term originated from lightning that seems to come out of a clear-blue sky. While it is a myth that lightning can come out of a clear-blue sky, lightning can occasionally travel upwards of 30 km sideways from an existing thunderstorm. This means that while it might be clear where you are, it does not mean you cannot get hit by lightning from nearby storms. 

Fact or Myth? If a tornado is approaching take shelter in the southwest corner of your basement. 

This is a myth. Tornadoes can move in any direction and often change direction very quickly. Also, tornado winds are swirling around the tornado and therefore it is almost impossible to sit there and watch a tornado approach, figure out which part of the tornado will hit you, decide the wind direction, and then seek the appropriate location for shelter; by then it is too late, and you probably guessed wrong anyway. Find shelter in the sturdiest location of your home.

About the author

Co-operator contributor

Daniel Bezte

Daniel Bezte is a teacher by profession with a BA (Hon.) in geography, specializing in climatology, from the U of W. He operates a computerized weather station near Birds Hill Park.

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