Does November Weather Deserve Its Bad Reputation?
Oct 31, 2019 06:05AM
By Jonathan Erdman and Chris Dolce from The Weather Channel - October 31, 2019
When you think of November weather, what crosses your mind?
In 1991, the legendary rock band Guns N' Roses released a song about cold "November Rain."
John Facenda, the iconic voice of NFL Films, once uttered the following in a song simply titled "November":
November can be cold and gray. November can be surly, with bitter rain upon the world and winter coming early.
Since it's the beginning of the handoff between fall and winter, November can be a trying month. But there are also some good aspects of November weather that some can't wait for.
Let's start with November's gloomy aspects.
It Kicks Off the Cloudiest Time of Year, For Some
By November, some in the northern U.S. may have to begin taking their vitamin D supplement.
It's typically the cloudiest month of the year in parts of the northern Plains and upper Midwest, including the Twin Cities and Milwaukee, Wisconsin, according to Alaska-based climatologist Brian Brettschneider.
In other parts of the Midwest and interior Northeast, that cloudy peak arrives in December, but November kicks it off.
An average November sky is at least 70% cloud-covered around the Great Lakes, interior Northeast and Pacific Northwest.
The Season's First Measurable Snow Arrives For Many
For many cities in the Northeast, Midwest and West, the average first measurable snow – defined as 0.1 inches or more – has historically arrived in November.
A few of the cities that, on average, see the first accumulating snow of the season in November are Boston (Nov. 29), Chicago (Nov. 16), Cleveland (Nov. 10), Pittsburgh (Nov. 14) and Salt Lake City (Nov. 5).
The date shown for each city is the historical average for the first date of measurable snow. Any given season can produce the season's first snowfall before or after that date, depending on weather patterns.
Lake-Effect Snow Ramps Up
The potential for lake-effect snow bands to develop downwind of the Great Lakes increases significantly in November.
Cold air flowing over relatively warm Great Lakes water is the key mechanism for lake-generated precipitation. Although lake-effect snow can occur in October, the chances increase in November given that cold air is generally more abundant the later we get into fall.
Great Lakes snowbelt cities such as Buffalo, New York, and Grand Rapids, Michigan, typically pick up 6 to 8 inches of snow each November. Marquette, in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, gets about two feet of snow in an average November.
The week before Thanksgiving 2014 featured an epic lake-effect snow event in the eastern Great Lakes. Localized snowfall totals of more than 70 inches were measured in the Buffalo Southtowns; an astonishing 88-inch total was reported in Cowlesville, New York.
November 'Witch' Storms
Some November storms don't make news from wringing out snow.
As temperature contrasts increase from north to south across the country, storm systems that develop are stronger in fall. The more intense those low-pressure systems become, the stronger the winds they can produce.
Early November – and late October, for that matter – has a long, notorious history of intense Midwest windstorms. If you live in that region of the country, you might have heard of the "Witches of November," used to describe these storms that often pack powerful winds.
Those low-pressure systems can have winds so strong that they cause tree damage and power outages. One such November Witch struck parts of the Midwest and Great Lakes in early November 2015, downing trees and causing power outages.
The storms are a major hazard for shipping on the Great Lakes. One of the most well-known storms sank a huge iron-ore ship called the Edmund Fitzgerald while it was on Lake Superior in November 1975.
Wettest Month in a Notoriously Wet Northwest
November also marks the intensification of the wet season along the West Coast.
For Portland, Oregon, and Seattle, November averages more precipitation than any other month during the year, although December and January aren't far behind.
From November through January, measurable precipitation typically falls 18 days per month in Seattle.
As Pacific storm systems plow inland, they can occasionally tap into a so-called atmospheric river, a narrow plume of moisture extending into the tropics or subtropics.
The atmospheric river provides extra juice for storm systems taking aim at the West Coast. Sometimes, the extra moisture can be overwhelming, with heavy rain causing flooding while feet of snow pile up in higher terrain.
(MORE: Atmospheric Rivers Explained)
Although these atmospheric river events can bring hazardous impacts, they are also beneficial since they help replenish the water supply in the West.
Severe Weather's Fall Peak
While severe weather can occur any time of year when favorable conditions are in play, November has often been a dangerous month for severe weather outbreaks.
With jet stream winds becoming stronger in the fall, and lingering warm, moist air available at times, the atmosphere can become unstable. As a result, severe thunderstorms with damaging winds, large hail and occasional tornadoes can develop.
Most of the time, these fall tornado outbreaks occur in the Gulf Coast states, where warm, moist air is more common, but they can sometimes spread farther north.
One such outbreak that occurred far from the Gulf Coast was on Nov. 17, 2013. Damaging tornadoes were spawned in several Ohio Valley and Great Lakes states.
The largest fall tornado outbreak struck the South Nov. 21-23, 1992. A total of 105 tornadoes touched down in three days, killing 26 people.
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