It’s not too early to think about North Georgia’s severe weather season. Historically, it lasts from the month of March all the way through April and into May. Before that time, we also have a chance at a storm that brings the usual trouble associated with winter conditions. In 2020, we saw strong temperature contrasts playing out between the continents and the oceans. Wildfires exploded in half a dozen western states. In the Atlantic as well as the Pacific, the number of named storms went above 30. This suggests that there’s enough energy in the atmosphere and sea water to bring severe weather to the U.S. Southeast this spring.
Currently, at the southern end of the Gulf, the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico reports 80 degrees water temperature. On the Texas and Florida coasts, it’s between the mid and upper sixties. Giant water bodies like the Gulf of Mexico hold their temperature for a long time. The air sweeping across the waves picks up a lot of moisture in the form of water vapor. That’s like a piggy bank of energy, ready to open up and build a storm when it encounters cold weather.
Unlike the oceans, the continent is cooling quickly. Nome, Alaska is dipping into the single digits. Fairbanks is dropping below the zero mark. Farther east, in the Canadian Northwest Territories, the mercury is reaching into the mid-teens below zero. As the cool-down continues, the frigid air pushes across the lower 48 states and meets its warmer colleague that’s coming from the Gulf. In January and February, the strongest storms bring snow and freezing rain as long as the cold air mass is still dominant.
In March, the moist Gulf air becomes more aggressive. It releases megatons of energy in the clash with the air mass coming from Canada. The weeks that follow show the largest temperature and moisture differences between those systems. That’s why tornadoes are most likely during early and mid-spring.
That’s nothing new for Georgia. But if the trends from the past few years continue, the battle between air masses may get very strong. It will be good to err on the side of caution and be prepared. Several mobile apps that provide live updates are available, and of course the National Weather Service continues its 24/7 Weatheradio broadcasts with alerts and warnings.
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.