Those of you that don’t live in the midwest United States can’t really relate to the phrase, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes and it’ll change.” Many people from other parts of the country hear us say that and figure we’re just full of beans. “The weather couldn’t possibly change in just a minute’s time”, they respond. “When you say ‘a minute’, you mean it changes quickly, but not in a 60-second timeframe…right?”
No, we mean the weather sometimes changes in a matter of a 60-second minute.
Here in Iowa, we’re particularly vulnerable to this going into, and coming out of, the winter season. We’ll occasionally see a day or two of moderate weather while off to the north, a strong ridge of high-pressure is setting up, its clockwise rotation pulling super-chilled air out of northern Canada. Then it comes sweeping down out of the Rockies and overnight, and the temperatures plummet. But still, that’s not really the whole “60-second” thing.
In recent memory, March 2, 2008 was one a day of drastic temperature change. At noon, it was 60°F. Shortly after nightfall, it was below 0. That’s pretty sharp. In the middle of December of that year, it did the same thing again. And when that front came through, the wind direction changed, and the temperatures immediately began falling. It was noticeably colder in just a minute or two. Back in early 1888, the Children’s Blizzard struck much of the Midwest in true “60-second” fashion, catching thousands of people off guard and killing more than 500.
On November 11, 1911 (11/11/11 if that matters to you), the Great Blue Norther came ripping through. Unseasonably warm temperatures were the order of the day as southerly air flows pulled warm, moist air far north. Many cities set record highs that day, with the mercury above 70°F in numerous places.
And then that ridge of Arctic air came ripping through, bringing winds that blew a gale and dropping temperatures like a stone. More than one town or city that recorded a record high had, within 8 hours, recorded a record low as temperatures fell more than 60 degrees. The warm weather that produced severe weather and tornadoes one day was replaced by bitter winter conditions and blizzards the next. That’s a pretty awful experience.
It’s dramatic to be sure, and it’s never pleasant, but that’s just the way weather on the plains sometimes is.