WeatherTalk: Weather is about variety, not averages

Long-term weather records show that weather is distinctly non-linear.

Cartoon of John Wheeler with a speech bubble depicting weather events
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It seems the weather gets cold for a while and then it warms up again, or it gets way too dry for a while and then rains or snows a lot. Back, forth, up, down; weather is always changing from one side of average to the other. This can happen on a time scale of a few days, but it can also happen on a time scale of weeks, months, years, and longer. There is a general misconception that these ups and downs balance out over time, but they do not.

Long-term weather records show that weather is distinctly non-linear. Over short and long periods of time, such as days and weeks or decades and centuries, the warm spells do not completely balance out the cool spells. Likewise, the wet cycles do not balance out the droughts. This means that our concept of “average," particularly in the Northern Plains and Upper Midwest, is of limited usefulness.

Related Topics: WEATHER
John Wheeler is Chief Meteorologist for WDAY, a position he has had since May of 1985. Wheeler grew up in the South, in Louisiana and Alabama, and cites his family's move to the Midwest as important to developing his fascination with weather and climate. Wheeler lived in Wisconsin and Iowa as a teenager. He attended Iowa State University and achieved a B.S. degree in Meteorology in 1984. Wheeler worked about a year at WOI-TV in central Iowa before moving to Fargo and WDAY..
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