Two firsts for a weather nut

When you’re a weather nut, and I have been one since I was a little kid, rare weather events are really exciting, and recently, I got to experience not just one, but two, and they almost happened at the same time.

As I got to work on Tuesday, July 10, at around 2 p.m., showers and thunderstorms were on the approach.

After checking the radar and firing up the generator, I decided to step outside for a visual, and it was then that I noticed something unusual. At first, I saw an odd yellow tint, as I looked north toward Caribou. Then the “tint” became more opaque, and started reducing visibility quite rapidly. Initially, I thought that it might be smoke aloft, being transported to the surface by the downdraft in a nearby thunderstorm. But then my eyes starting getting grit in them and I realized I was experiencing a dust storm for the first time in my life.

Here’s how it happened: the downdraft had hit the ground, and then spread out. In doing so, it caused the very dry and loose topsoil to blow along the leading edge of the outflow, caused by the downdraft. Picture a pile of dandelion seeds and then imagine what would happen to them if a puff of air descended from above, right into the middle of the pile. The concept is the same. They’d get airborne, and spread away from the center.

For a few moments, the visibility became so poor that some people could not see further than the hoods of their cars on Route 1 between Presque Isle and Caribou.

By this time, a number of my colleagues had come out, after I banged on the window with a “You’ve got to come out and see this” look. As they emerged from the building, I suddenly noticed that the air had rapidly become much warmer, probably by about 8 to 10 degrees. This was to be another “weather first” for me — a heat burst. Heat bursts occur when descending air from a thunderstorm, under the right conditions, causes a brief, sharp spike in surface temperatures. The concept is sort of like the reason a bike hand pump starts to feel warm as you pump it. You are forcing air into a confined space, and the molecules collide, creating heat.

An incredible example of a major heat burst occurred in Hobart, Oklahoma, late in the evening of July 6, just two years ago, in 2016. The temperature went from about 81 degrees at 11 pm, to a scorching 106 degrees by 15 past midnight.

So a dust storm and a heat burst. Two firsts for me, and I’ve been a true weather nut for more than half a century.

Weather never ceases to amaze. It’s a free show and it’s playing every day. Start checking it out. All you need to do is look up.

Ted Shapiro holds the Broadcast Seal of Approval from both the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association. An Alexandria, Va. native, he has been chief meteorologist at WAGM-TV since 2006. Email him at tshapiro@wagmtv.com.

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