Weatherwise | It's officially meteorological fall

Tim Thomas

Meteorological fall has begun and astronomical fall is slated to begin Sept. 22. What’s the difference? Astronomical fall is based on the position of the Earth in relation to the sun while meteorological fall is based on the annual temperature cycle.

After a blistering July and a warm August, I think most folks are ready for a dose of cooler weather. Personally, I like fall with the changing colors in our mountains and it’s a great time to head to the outdoors for more hiking and biking throughout the region.

With all festivals and football canceled, we are going to have to be creative to find a little something to do and there’s no better place than the great outdoors.

A couple of weeks ago the family decided to make a trip to Ohiopyle State Park to size up the area and see what was available to do. Much to our amazement, Ohiopyle was packed with people and we rode around for about 30 minutes just to find a parking spot. Beautiful area, lots to do so and I think we may return when the weather cools a bit.

I had the opportunity to visit the Flight 93 Memorial in nearby Pennsylvania with my niece Pam Kline Collins who returned to her roots here in the Queen City for a weeklong visit. Lots of catching up to do, a few side trips, and of course some of our local food was a must for Pam during her visit.

Much like July, rainfall in August was determined by a couple of heavy thunderstorms. Total precipitation for August was 4.97 inches compared to an average of 3.17 inches, so we were 1.80 inches above normal thanks to those storms.

The high temperature for August climbed to a hot 95 degrees while the minimum temperature slipped to a very refreshing 56 degrees. The average maximum temperature was 87.3 degrees and the average minimum was 65.2 degrees. Temperatures were in the 90-degree range for 10 days, 19 days remained in the 80s and just two days failed to get out of the 70s.

Forecasters at the Climate Prediction Center are indicating temperatures for September could be average, above average or below average, while precipitation is projected to be slightly above average. The 90-day outlook for September, October and November indicates temperatures are forecast to be above normal while precipitation could be above, below or about average for the period.

August saw an uptick in tropical activity with major hurricane Laura slamming the Louisiana coast as a category 4 storm ripping apart everything in her way and dropping a huge amount of rain as the storm finally crossed to our south and dissipated in the Atlantic a few days later.

Tropical depression Omar formed off the North Carolina coast and moved out to sea causing no damage. Meanwhile, Hurricane Nana was headed to Central America and forecasters at the National Hurricane Center were busy watching other areas of concern as we enter the height of hurricane season this month. Next storms to be named are Paulette, Rene, Sally and Teddy. The tropics are primed for development so be sure and keep your guard up and be ready to take action if necessary.

A lot of very good lightning pictures were seen this summer on social media, particularly a cloud-to-ground strike behind Wills Mountain.

In the most common type of lightning, a channel of negative charge, called a stepped leader, will zigzag downward in roughly 50-yard segments in a forked pattern. This stepped leader is invisible to the human eye and shoots to the ground in less time than it takes to blink. As it nears the ground, the negatively charged stepped leader causes streamer channels of positive charge to reach upward, normally from taller objects in the area such as a tree, house or telephone pole.

When the oppositely-charged leader and streamer connect, a powerful electrical current begins flowing. This return stroke of bright luminosity travels about 60,000 miles per second back toward the cloud. A negative flash consists of one or perhaps as many as 20 return strokes. We see lightning flicker when the process rapidly repeats itself several times along the same path. The actual diameter of the lightning channel is one to two inches, surrounded by a region of charged particles.

We often see a lot of heat lightning during the summer months and that is any lightning or lightning-induced illumination that is too far away for the thunder to be heard. It may have a reddish color, like sunsets, because of scattering of blue light. There are a lot of misconceptions about heat lightning, but it’s no different than regular lightning.

Lightning can also travel from one cloud to another or cloud-to-cloud lightning. Spider lightning refers to long, horizontally traveling flashes often seen on the underside of stratiform clouds. Spider lightning is often linked to cloud-to-ground flashes.

The summer of 2020 is now behind us and despite not taking our usual trip to the beach, we still had a great summer taking in the local goodies. No one is sure what next month will bring, so relax and enjoy and I’ll see you in October.

Tim Thomas is a graduate of Fort Hill High School and has been affiliated with the National Weather Service since 1965.

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