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Rudi Kiefer: Air mass, not the hurricane, had a long lasting effect
Rudi Kiefer
Given all the death and destruction that Hurricane Michael inflicted on the U.S. Southeast, particularly Florida, it’s not surprising that some aspects weren’t addressed in most news reports. North Georgia was spared the brutal impact of the storm, but what’s surprising was the chilly nighttime weather we experienced right afterward.

Before Michael, we had warm nights. Then, suddenly, the thermometer dropped into the low 50’s by daybreak.

Hurricanes don’t bring cold weather. A look at the weather chart of October 10 shows a complex pattern. While Michael was making landfall in Mexico Beach, Florida, a complex frontal system was reaching us from the west. A large continental storm was centered over northern Iowa, extending a cold front all the way to the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. Just ahead of that front was a second one, with another low over Arkansas and Missouri. All of this was moving eastward.

A cold front is the leading edge of a heavy, cool, dry air mass coming from the northern part of our continent. The air mass is a “high,” meaning that its air is sinking to the ground and spreading out with a powerful push. On the weather map, October 11 resembled a pinball machine, with Hurricane Michael as the ball in play. The fronts, now merged into a single one, were the rubber slingshot located at the upper left of the flippers in pinball machines.

When a ball hits the left slingshot, it bounces off toward the top right. In a similar fashion, Michael got close to the front farther west, and was bounced northeastward by the heavy high pressure air pushing the front. The path from this “slingshot” sent it through the central Carolinas. Luckily, this spared the eastern Carolinas from a direct hit, where towns are still recovering from hurricane Florence.

Highs and lows don’t mix well, but lows can join other lows. The continental storm from Iowa joined the remnant low of Michael on October 12, and the whole system moved offshore near Cape Cod. The rain and wind we got late at night on the 10th were a combination of the hurricane and the cold front. Immediately afterward, the cool and dry air from Canada established itself, bringing us the strong temperature drop. The air mass from the north had a longer-lasting effect in North Georgia than the hurricane.


Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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