Light Rain


Low pressure centers key to predicting the weather

By A Contributor

What is the long term weather forecast? First, what do we mean by ‘long term’? Is that two weeks or 12 months? Seriously, people take stabs at predicting it for real money.

Some of them have been doing it for decades, even a couple of centuries. So I went on the internet (it was cheaper than driving anywhere, because to me $3.10 gasoline is not a bargain) for some answers. Turns out they were inconclusive.

However, one service forecast the average precipitation and temperatures for each month in 2012 for given cities in the region, so I clicked on Manhattan, and lo and behold, the boom town on the upper Kaw is supposed to receive slightly more moisture, including snow, this coming year and have slightly warmer temperatures in the hot months. Not a bad trade, given the last two years.

On the other hand, another service said that the effects of La Nina are with us yet, and Kansas, which is on the border of nearly every other region and culture, probably won’t see much snow, but colder temperatures will literally chill us. And it might be dry again.

A third service indicated that we were going to shovel lots of snow this winter, and it even showed a picture of a wintertime prevailing low pressure center hovering over the “four corners.” That is the unique touching in one bitty pinpoint the corners of four states—Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah. You think about it and wonder where does the tiny point leave off and the corners to those big states begin? No wonder the first surveyors often got drunk and lost track. That reminds me…

An old news editor always taught new reporters that whenever a low pressure system settled or passed slowly over the four corners, it probably meant that we would receive beneficial rain or piles of wet snow for the wheat crop. In the 38 years since he told me that I can say it has almost never failed. The trick is that the lows pump moisture out of the Gulf of Mexico and then dump it on us, often two or three inches at a time. By the same token, Pacific storm systems are usually spent by the time they reach Kansas, and usually less than a half inch falls.

The trick now is finding weather maps that show low pressure centers. Most local television weather announcers are too caught up in computers and radar swirls if they’re not crowing about what a nice sunny weekend of golf and tailgating is just ahead even if it hadn’t rained in six months and crops are dying. I do have to admit that most people are concerned about the weather and are doing a better job of keeping track, for safety reasons as much as anything. Most of us, I find, still like to go outside to see for ourselves what’s coming when the sirens wail. But we’re definitely doing a better job of ducking back into cover if it does look bad.

I used to know a half-dozen forecasting tricks, but they escape me now, having eroded away for lack of use. One involved a cross-sectional cut of a green persimmon’s seed chamber, where either a knife, fork or spoon image would be prevalent over the others. I think if the spoon was greatest, it meant lots of snow coming, but don’t hold me to that. Then there were hairy caterpillars falling off everything and those tortoises walking backward up hillsides. A late friend had a bum knee for short-range forecasting—if it was raining out it might hurt her like fire and that meant it was going to be a big rain. The aftermath of weather is fun, too. Ol’ Short was one of those—he’s gone now, but his legend lives on—whose rain gauge always had .15 to .20 inches more than yours. He was what you’d call an “aftcaster” as opposed to a “forecaster.” He was always right, but only up to a point, beyond which he was merely a winner in his own weather contest.

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