The North Wind … .

January 25, 2009


Variable Skies (image courtesy of

Variable Skies*

One thing on which you can always depend is that you never can depend on the weather in St. Louis. This fact keeps things interesting here and makes the inhabitants of this Heartland metropolis a fairly flexible population. If you are planning an outdoor event in St. Louis, always have a back-up plan! 


St. Louis is not unique in this meteorological unpredictability; it shares this feature with other cities that experience the very strong influences of the jet stream. The jet stream (for you weather neophytes) is defined by as, “A high-speed, meandering wind current, generally moving from a westerly direction … .”

The actual experience when you live in a U.S. city in its path is that it can arc north, which brings warm and moist air up from the Gulf of Mexico (to our south), or it can arc south, which brings cold and dry air down from the Arctic (to our north). It’s “arc” can change in a few hours, even a couple of times a week, and while the result is not always dramatic, it can be. It’s the force behind the tornadoes experienced in the central USA.   

Tornado (NOAA)

Tornado (NOAA)

The weather in Washington, D.C. is also influenced by the jet stream, and that city usually is about a day or so behind us in experiencing whatever the jet steam brings to St. Louis.  

As an example of the jet stream’s effect on our St. Louis weather, last week the temperature in St. Louis was in lower 60s (F) and the sun was shining—a beautiful day by any measure, what we would call “unseasonably warm,” and right in the middle of winter. This morning the temperature was 14 degrees (F), with snow flurries. I think the “high” is supposed to be 25 (F).

It looks, too, like there’s a brisk wind blowing from the north, as the US flag that we fly on our front porch is unfurled towards the south and snapping like a whiplash every few seconds. Here’s a picture of the scene from my front porch, and you can see the rooftops and streets dusted with snow. I had to step outside to take this, and it’s the only time I’m going outside today, if I can help it.  

Winter in St. Louis

Winter in St. Louis


As a child, I used to hear my father say the following rhyme as a cold front would move into the St. Louis area:

The North wind doth blow and we shall have snow,
And what will poor robin do then, poor thing?
He’ll sit in a barn and keep himself warm
and hide his head under his wing, poor thing.

Robin "red breast" (image courtesy of

Robin "red breast" (image courtesy of

I was thinking of it today, when I had my first cup of coffee and looked out my kitchen window to see what Mother Nature might have in store for us and saw the snow flurries. According to a nursery rhymes Web site I found,   


‘The North Wind doth blow’ is British in its origins and believed to have originated in the 16th century history. ‘The North Wind doth blow’ uses the olde English word ‘doth’. The purpose of the words to ‘The North Wind doth blow’ is to ensure that a child associates security with home whilst empathising with the plight of the robin.

*image courtesy of


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