When it’s -19 degrees actual temperature with a -35 degree wind chill that is what I call “nose hair freezing weather.” That’s what we’ve been experiencing on the Gunflint Trail this past week. Even in balmy Grand Marais where Lake Superior acts as a heater during the winter the temperature stayed mainly in the single digits. I guess we shouldn’t complain because after all, it could be worse.
Researchers announced two days ago a new record low temperature was recorded by satellite in Antarctica. The coldest temperature was recorderd on August 10th, 2010 but it was just announced(don’t ask me why). The temperature dipped to -136 degrees Farenheit or -93 degrees Celcius which is colder than dry ice! According to an article I read, “scientists do routinely make naked 100 degree below zero dashes outside in the South Pole, so people can survive that temperature for about three minutes. Most of the time researchers need to breathe through a snorkel that brings air into the coat through a sleeve and warms it up “so you don’t inhale by accident” the cold air, Scambos said.” That’s what I’m talking about, “nose hair freezing weather.”
These cold temperatures are responsible for creating some awesome scenes on the surface of Lake Superior. If you’ve looked out onto the Lake lately you would have noticed a fog or steam rising from the lake because the water temperature has been much warmer than the air temperature. If you looked even more closely on a day with a little bit of breeze then you may have seen waterspouts dancing across the surface of the lake. They have been abundant. If you watch this video then you’ll see a number of them starting after one minute.
Even though it has been “nose hair freezing weather” it has it’s benefits.
Why do waterspouts form in the winter? Here’s an explanation from a Scientist in Vermont.
A waterspout (Figure III-1) is a narrow, rotating column of air that forms over water, and appears as a condensation funnel which extends from the water surface to a cumuliform cloud above.
Formation typical requires a surface convergence line over the water, with some source of low-level rotation along the line that can be stretched vertically and strengthened by the convective cloud updraft itself. Waterspouts are generally of lesser intensity than a tornado, and similar to the strength of a dust devil. The formation mechanism is also thought to be similar to a class of weaker tornadoes observed over land referred to as landspouts.
Waterspouts are most common in tropical environs (e.g., near the Florida Keys), but have been documented in arctic air masses. Unlike tornadoes – which typically develop with supercell thunderstorms – waterspouts are commonly observed from just modest lines of cumulus congestus clouds, as occurred over Lake Champlain on 15 January 2009.
Arctic Sea Smoke or Steam Fog develops when very cold (arctic) air moves across relatively warm, open water. Strong upward fluxes of latent heat from the water surface result in water vapor quickly condensing as it is mixed and cooled with the adjacent cold air.
Since the air adjacent to the water surface is also convectively unstable, the arctic sea smoke or steam fog will be seen rising in turbulent plumes associated with shallow convective overturning of the very unstable air over the water (Lake Champlain in this case).
Upon further upward mixing, the fog will eventually evaporate and dissipate in the dry arctic air, on the order of 10 meters above the water surface. As such, arctic sea smoke is a relatively shallow phenomenon.
Arctic sea smoke and a narrow steam devil. (Image: Andy MacDougal via Burlington, Vermont NWS) A “steam devil” is similar in nature to a waterspout in arctic air. However, we might differentiate between a steam devil and waterspout by whether or not the condensation funnel is deep and strong enough to be attached to a convective cloud above.
Deeper convective motions and vertical stretching extending from the water surface to the convective cloud base would generally result in a stronger, longer-lived feature (waterspout) as compared with a shallower, shorter-lived feature (steam devil). We might expect the vertical depth of a waterspout to be on the order of hundreds of meters, while the vertical extent of a steam devil is on the order of tens of meters.