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Growing puddle potential

Today will be partly sunny, breezy and warm with a growing chance of bumping into a shower or thundershower as the day wears on. Come to think of it, does “partly sunny” mean the same thing as “partly cloudy”? I get this question a lot, and the answer may surprise you. I’ll delve into the slippery slope of weather linguistics in my column below. Thanks for asking, by the way.

Weather Headlines

• Stiff southerly breeze lures the mercury close to 70 later today, assuming a couple hours of sunshine.

• Growing shower risk from this evening through early Wednesday as a front approaches from the west. Computer models print out anywhere from .30″ (NAM) to .28″ (GFS).

• Windy Wednesday on tap, gusts to 30 mph?

• Quite, serene Thursday on tap, but more showers and T-storms arrive Friday.

• Cautiously optimistic for the weekend weather – mostly dry, sunshine prevails, highs in the low to mid 60s. Sunday appears to be the milder day right now.

Paul’s Outlook

Tuesday: Partly sunny, breezy and warm. A shower is possible by late afternoon. Winds: S/SE 15-25. High: 71

Tuesday night: Better chance of showers, isolated thunder possible. Low: 56

Wednesday: Damp start, turning windy with clearing skies. Winds gust to 35 mph. High: 66

Thursday: Plenty of sun, no complaints (at least none about the weather). High: 65

Friday: Unsettled, more clouds, a few hours of showers, possible T-storms. High: 62

Saturday: Breezy with sun much of the day, a few degrees cooler than average, but nicer than last Saturday. High: 62

Sunday: Sun giving way to partly cloudy skies, milder. High: 68

Paul’s Column

Today’s weather: “changeable”. Or I could go with “partly to mostly with a chance.” When in doubt…mumble. Meteorologists are masters in the art of obfuscation – we throw around jargon, from arcane computer models to the words we choose to describe what tomorrow’s sky SHOULD look like. That’s half the battle: effectively picking the right words and communicating what’s in our mind’s eye to you. I used to get irate when a radio disc jockey would translate a prediction of “flurries” into “snow!” The two mean something altogether different.

And no, partly sunny does not mean the same thing as partly cloudy. A prediction of partly sunny means that roughly 25% of the day will feature sunshine, while a forecast of partly cloudy implies 75%, a vast majority of the day will be sunny. We use the term partly cloudy at night for obvious reasons, but no, the terminology is not interchangeable. In an effort to clear the air I’ve included a chart that describes the amount of expected sunshine for each of the terms you’ll hear us use in these pages. Time to clear up any lingering confusion!

Sunny/Clear:   95-100% sunny
Partly cloudy:  75% sunny
Plenty of sun: 60% sunny
Mix of clouds/sun: 50% sunny
Variable cloudiness: 40% sunny
Partly cloudy (means the same as mostly cloudy): 25% sunshine
Lots of clouds: 10-20% sunny
Overcast: 0 to 5% sunny

Speaking of partly sunny, that pretty well describes what we’re expecting today: more clouds than sun, but with a stiff south wind gusting over 20 mph at times ANY sun will quickly boost the mercury well into the 60s to near 70. If you feel especially brave and daring you may be able to get off to work or school without waterproof clothing or an umbrella. The chance of showers should increase around the dinner hour (when the atmosphere is most unstable). SPC has a slight risk of severe storms for the Dakotas, but I doubt we’ll have to deal with any rough weather close to home, just a generic thunderstorm or two mixed in with the showers tonight, when a healthy quarter inch of rain will soak many farms and thirsty lawns.

This latest front will whisk any straggling showers eastward into Wisconsin first thing Wednesday, a gusty west wind reaching 30-35 mph at times. But skies should clear rapidly and after-school ball games are not in peril (with the exception of far northern Minnesota, closer to Grand Rapids and Duluth), where showers may hang on much of the day. A weak bubble of high pressure treats us to a tranquil Thursday, but our weather is cranked up into FAST FORWARD and the next surge of showery weather arrives Friday, accented by a few random thunder-claps.

I hate to jinx the weekend outlook but so far so good. The sun should be out much of the time, Saturday will a little on the cool side (holding in the 50s up at the northern cabin), but not as brisk and numbing as last Saturday (Fishing Opener) turned out. Sunday looks downright pleasant with enough sun for mid 60s, but an approaching warm front may ignite a stray shower or T-storm by late in the day Sunday. That said the vast majority of the weekend looks dry for your outdoor plans, temperatures pretty close to where they should be for mid May. Considering the brush fires plaguing the Santa Barbara, California area, exceptional drought conditions hanging on over south Texas (much of Wisconsin is in a severe drought), and the parade of severe storms, damaging winds and tornadoes ripping up much of the nation’s heartland, there’s precious little to complain about in this forecast. Spring comes only reluctantly at this latitude, but the threat of flurries and frost is behind us now (can’t entirely rule out frost) but I pray that’s the last of the snow. We got off to a slow start (9″ of snow on April Fool’s Day — as if you somehow forgot) but the maps are definitely looking like spring.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Betsy Haugen on 05/12/2009 - 09:38 am.

    Paul,
    In your chart above of terms, I’m wondering if you meant to write “Partly Sunny” when you say:

    Partly cloudy (means the same as mostly cloudy): 25% sunshine
    thanks for the helpful article!

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