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Saturday, February 10, 2007


A couple posts ago I mentioned how I thought the cloud of water vapor and carbon dioxide coming from the UND Steam Plant looks neat when the temperature drops to the 0°F mark. But what happens when the temperature gets, let’s say, 30 degrees colder than that? The answer was seen in Grand Forks this last Monday when the thermometer at the city’s airport reached a record-setting -31°F, one of the coldest readings Monday morning in the entire United States, including Alaska. A temperature like that combined with nearly calm winds allowed some interesting man-made clouds to appear over Grand Forks.

Firstly, here’s a video I shot of the cloud emanating from UND’s steam plant during the walk to my 8 AM organic chemistry class. The airport was reporting its minimum of -31°F at the time. Of course it was a cold walk, but, being that there wasn’t any wind, it didn’t seem as bad as some of my other (foolish?) outings in wind chills between -40°F and -50°F. Since I had planned to take pictures for a bit after I got out of class at 9 AM, I was also dressed in a few more layers than usual at the time.

By 9, the temperature had begun rising and had reached -27°F. The first cloud I noticed was a long, massive one in the general direction of Crystal Sugar’s plant in East Grand Forks. I made the trek over to where I knew I would be able to get a good picture – the top floor of UND’s Medical School.

On closer inspection, that cloud is too far north to be coming from Crystal Sugar’s plant; it’s more likely to be from one of the potato processors in East Grand Forks.

After this, I walked a little farther north to the Ralph Engelstad Arena. Here, the cloud coming from the Simplot potato processing plant north of the university could be easily seen. Ironically, I took some pictures from the Simplot-sponsored parking lot at the arena.

And here’s another picture from the plaza in front of The Ralph.

It was treacherous to have anything made out of glass exposed to the cold air at the time. Moisture had started to condense on my glasses, forming a layer of ice similar to what would need to be scraped off of a car window on a cold morning. The same thing was beginning to happen to my camera’s lens, but, luckily, I protected it before it got too bad.

The first 10 days of February have been particularly cold, not just in Grand Forks, but for much of the Upper Midwest east of the Missouri River. For the most part, the cold hasn’t been record setting (I think global warming can be blamed, in part, for that), but it has been one of the coldest stretch of temperatures in the last few years. Grand Forks stayed below 0°F for 6 whole days – 144 hours – between the 2nd and 8th of the month. And even when the temperature did manage to break 0°F, it only got to 1°F and only remained that warm for less than an hour. The cold has been so pronounced that even the “urban heat island” of Minneapolis has recorded an average temperature of -2°F for the first 10 days of the month.

The cold has been accompanied at times with even colder wind chills. As the cold front that ushered in the cold-weather pattern passed through Grand Forks, wind chills dropped to the -30°F mark. This meant that bundling up was a necessity when walking to or from class at the university.

One of the more beautiful things that the cold weather brought in was some impressive optical illusions with the sun. Sun dogs, sun pillars, and halos around the sun became commonplace as the cold weather was settling in.

Sun dogs and sun pillars form when a low-angled sun reflects light off of ice crystals in the atmosphere. That picture above shows the leftmost sun dog (there was an equally as striking sun dog to the right of the sun, but I didn’t have a wide enough lens to get both in the frame). Additionally, the beginnings of what would become an even larger sun pillar can be seen right above the setting sun.

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Mitch's Blog began on December 23, 2001