Earth Day 2016 was Friday, and I thought of that the next day when we were lucky to experience a Saturday that was near perfect: clear blue sky with low humidity and temperatures which spent most of the day in the 70s before topping out (in Columbus) at 80º. The air was fresh and clean in the wake of Friday's showery cold front. And driving through Taylor County, Georgia I saw something I didn't know existed: massive solar farms consisting of arrays of solar panels designed to generate electric power in a (relatively) environmentally sound manner. This is a new development for this area, and Saturday was Taylor-made (sorry) for solar energy.
And I also thought about the air itself, the atmosphere which makes all life on earth possible. We tend to take this for granted, or maybe don't even realize it, but our air quality today is amazingly better than it was 50-60 years ago, and improved from even 20 years ago. Regulations such as the Clean Air Act and subsequent modifications are the reasons we're not choking on our air like they are in China and some other industrialized countries. Our politicians back in 1963 had the foresight (hard to believe, I know) to put in motion laws to clean up our air, and the news story you don't hear much about is how successful that effort has been. Sure, the South can have our share of hazy days in the summer when we get stuck in a stagnant air mass, and there are days when the wind brings smoke into Columbus from one of Fort Benning's controlled burns, but serious air pollution outside of large urban areas like Atlanta has almost disappeared.
A corollary to that is the reforestation of the eastern United States, a remarkable recovery in just a century from the era when we had to strip the land of every tree in sight. Those forests in north Georgia weren't always that nice, but they have come back - and now we know better. Trees help with air pollution, and in these days of global warming we know they play a large part in keeping the CO2 balance in the atmosphere and will be a part of any solution.
But this isn't a political rant - it's just a reminder to enjoy days like this weekend when the weather is almost ideal. We're in that transition season when cool, dry air masses are still available to the Deep South, giving us these cool mornings and warm afternoons. May is only a week away, and we'll increasingly begin to feel the influence of the Gulf of Mexico in our weather over the next month, with increasing humidity and heat as the long, hot summer eventually settles in. And what kind of summer will this be? We're in a transition from El Nino to a coming La Nina (the opposite), and those summers can sometimes be quite hot and loaded with tropical activity. NCDC will soon come out with its summer forecast, so we'll see what the experts have to say.
Also good for us: tornado season is shifting. For the most part, ours is over for the spring as the Plains region and Midwest become much more active, starting this week. That doesn't mean we won't have strong and even severe thunderstorms the next couple months, but the risk of a multi-tornado event has slipped to almost nothing for our local area, so tornadophobes can sleep easy from now on.
This week, we're going to be warm as our current surface high sticks around and heats up a bit each day. Our next chance of rain won't come until late in the week, and an early look at next weekend hints at a return to stormy weather as we move into May.
Kurt Schmitz, Senior Meteorologist