What a historic Spring for weather!

What a historic Spring for weather!

A friend of mine asked me on Friday if I knew the last time it snowed in May in Southwest Missouri. I did not. So using the Internet, I found some facts from the National Weather Service.

The last time there was measurable snowfall in our corner of the state in May was May 2, 1929. That was just a significant year all around, what with the stock market crashing later that October and bringing on the Great Depression. I hope the snowfall in May back then wasn't a sign of ill things to come. It's a good thing I'm not superstitious – the old Ozark superstitions that I like to share notwithstanding.

According to the National Weather Service, the last time there was any kind of May snowfall at all, but with no accumulation, in Southwest Missouri was May 6, 1944.

We also broke some records. The recorded high for the Neosho area this past Friday, May 3 was 37 degrees Fahrenheit (one degree warmer than Springfield). The previous record for the lowest maximum temperature for May in our area was 46 degrees, set on May 16, 1945.

Our low on Friday was 32 degrees. The previous historic low for May in the Neosho area was 33 degrees, set in 1907. We broke a 106-year-old record.

While my trusty "Old Farmer's Almanac" did not predict snowfall for the first week in May, it did correctly predict rain. The Almanac claims an 80 percent accuracy rate with its weather forecasts, which are made more than a year in advance. Although they won't divulge the exact formula they use, it has nothing to do with wooly worms or any other folk superstitions. The Almanac forecasts weather by observing solar activity, by studying historical weather data and by monitoring the atmosphere. In short, they use solar science, climatology and meteorology, combined and calculated via the same secret formula they have used since 1792.

An interesting article in this year's edition concerns the waning of solar flares, or "sun spots," which occur when hot, magnetically-charged gas bubbles burst through the sun's surface, sending energized particles to Earth, and helping warm it. Solar activity occurs in cycles, and the current cycle's peak is the lowest it has been in 80 years, say some scientists. The last time there was a series of very quiet cycles, the Earth experienced the "Little Ice Age," which lasted from 1550 to 1850. Average temperatures, you see, were cooler during that period than they are now, according to the article. It is documented that the Rio Grande actually froze over at least one winter in the late 1600s. In England, the Brits would hold annual ice festivals on the frozen Thames River in London. In New York City, the harbor froze over in 1780, and people could walk from Manhattan to Staten Island. The weather has always played a role in human events, and cooler temperatures on Earth resulted in crop failure, which led to famine, which led to social unrest (think French Revolution.)

On the flip side, solar activity from 1940 to 2005 was the highest it had been in 1,000 years, reported researchers with the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany. Now that activity seems to be slowing down.

I don't know if solar activity, or the lessening thereof, had anything to do with our recent May snow. But it's interesting to think about.

Wes Franklin serves on the board of directors of the Newton County Historical Society. He is also public relations/events coordinator for the City of Neosho. Call him at 658-8443 -