Here’s a look at the numbers that explain the 2018 flood of the Ohio River.
The Enqurer/Mike Nyerges
There is a 100 percent chance you’ve heard this joke before.
“Oh, that crazy Ohio weather! It’s four seasons in a week!”
“It’s winter now, but just wait five minutes and it will be summer! Typical Ohio!”
That weather wisecrack has been big in our small talk and our social media feeds this week.
We basically went from winter to summer in just four days, from snow on Saturday to a record high of 79 degrees Tuesday.
But are these dramatic weather shifts uniquely an Ohio thing? And does science and data actually support this climate comedy?
That’s exactly what we asked Jay Hobgood, associate professor in the geography department at Ohio State University.
Hobgood says there is something special about our location: We are basically where cold air and hot air come to hang out. (Technically, he says “we are in a transition area” where different warm and cold temperatures meet.)
See, Ohio is close enough to the Gulf of Mexico that we still get really warm, moist air heading our way during February. But then we are close enough to Canada that we get those blasts of arctic chill throughout the winter.
And those fronts are actually meeting on a daily basis here, he says. It’s just that temperature change isn’t always as dramatic as it was this week, he says, dropping some 40 degrees in a day or so.
We’ve also got to factor in the Great Lakes, Hobgood says.
If the wind is blowing the right direction, we can get that lake-effect snow here, some 300 miles away. (Lake-effect snow, by the way, is basically snow clouds that form after cold Canadian air passes over the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes.)
Lake-effect snow is also defined as a regional phenomenon. So does that mean this whole “that’s Ohio weather!” punchline belongs to the region, too?
Meteorologist Brian Coniglio thinks it is more of a Midwest claim than an Ohio-only thing.
Still, “this is probably one of the better areas to say that,” says Coniglio, who is with the National Weather Service.
“It would be really hard to pinpoint the exact area (that has the wildest weather fluctuations) though because it’s subjective,” he said.
But since math and mapping are Coniglio’s thing, he gave us a suggestion for a new metric we could use to answer these questions.
Subtract the record low from the record high for the month of February. If the answer is close to 100, then that counts as a drastic difference.
We did that math from some of our longitudinal neighbors.
Remember: We want to stay in that zone that’s not too far away from the Gulf of Mexico or Canada. And if we can’t get too close to either coast because the ocean moderates temperatures. (That;s because large bodies of water takes longer to react to temperatures.)
St. Louis comes in at a whopping 103. (That’s a high of 85, a low of -18.) Kansas City comes to 105. (83 high and a -22).
That total is a relatively piddly 96, event with the new record high of 79 from Tuesday. (The record low was -17, by the way.) It doesn’t even hit our made up marker of 100.
Looks like we just punched a hole in that punchline.
Cincinnati has had 105 floods since records started to be kept in 1858. Three of 10 have occurred in March, an Enquirer analysis of National Weather Service records shows. NWS forecasters also are projecting we have up to a 10 percent chance of a ‘moderate’ flood for the week of March 6.
The Enquirer/Mark Wert
Brian Donegan, a digital meteorologist for The Weather Channel, didn’t need to do any math to answer our question.
“I think pretty much anyone can make that sort of joke,” he says.
However, there is something that might be exceptional, according to Donegan.
We saw shockingly cold temperatures late December and early January. But we’ve also had more warm days this season and less snow than normal.
So, we are, in fact, having a truly atypical season.
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