The Weather: On the Road from Michigan to Boston (Page Two)


Written by Robert J. Ruhf
Digital camera images by Patrick Newland

A micro-climatic influence is a small-scale factor that can cause the weather in a localized area to act radically different from the overall weather in the surrounding region. One such example is the "urban heat island" effect. Heat rising from buildings and streets can cause temperatures in urban areas to be considerably higher than temperatures in surrounding rural areas. This temperature difference can be at little as 2 degrees to as much as 10 degrees or more.

The influence of the "urban heat island" effect can be seen in Michigan by looking at the trees during the autumn season. As most people know, green leaves turn red, brown, and yellow when temperatures cool off in September until frost and freezing temperatures cause them to fall off the trees. However, leaves will fall off the trees in rural areas before they will fall off the trees in urban areas. This is because warmer urban temperatures in cities may prevent harder frosts in cities until later in the season. It may be 26 degrees in the country, but the "urban heat island" effect may cause the temperature in the city to stay above freezing at 33 or 34 degrees. This will cause the leaves to remain on the trees longer in urban areas.

I saw much evidence for this as we drove toward Boston through Michigan, Ontario, and New York. The trees were entirely barren in rural areas between cities. However, a good 20 to 25 percent of the leaves were still on the trees in urban areas such as Battle Creek, Jackson, Detroit, Windsor, Bradford, Hamilton, and Niagara Falls. I realize that 20 to 25 percent isn't much, but the fact that a small portion of the leaves remained on the trees in urban areas was a clear demonstration of the "urban heat island" effect.

(Note: These images are huge! Scroll to the right to see the entire image!)

This photo was taken at Niagara Falls and shows the influence of the "urban heat island effect" on the city. There are several trees that still have colorful leaves on their branches. In rural areas, however, the trees were totally barren.

I mentioned on the first page of this story that it rained for almost our entire 16-hour drive to Boston. It's interesting to compare the timing of our drive with the timing of the storm. We caught the storm at the exact perfect time to get the brunt of the rain for almost our entire drive to Boston! There were a few moments in the state of New York when the rain diminished to a light sprinkle or stopped entirely, but these moments lasted only a few minutes before the moderate to heavy rain returned.

There was heavy rain coming down when we arrived in Boston. Some of the heaviest rain that we encountered occurred while we were driving through the state of Massachusetts. We also encountered heavy rain when we passed through Niagara Falls, which I will go into more detail explaining on the next page of this story. I turned on the Weather Channel when we got to our hotel in Boston, and I noticed that the rain had let up back in New York and Ontario. We happened to catch the storm at the exact time to get the heaviest of the rain all the way from Detroit to Boston! It was perfect timing! This was probably not the best situation for Steve who was doing most of the driving. However, I am a complete and total "weather nut" and I was enjoying it! (Steve is also a "weather nut" and I'm sure that he got some enjoyment out of it even though driving through it may have been a little difficult at times.)

Patrick took this image while we were driving across a bridge from Canada to the United States at Niagara Falls. It's a good illustration of how hard it was raining.

The story doesn't end here! It continues on (PAGE THREE)