Just in case you wonder how “Har!” made it into my vocabulary?

There is nothing quite like a bit of spring sunshine for raising the spirits. It seems instantly to chase away the gloom that has descended during the dark winter days, and most of us will have been invigorated by this year’s Easter sunshine.

For those who live near the east coast, however, it was not a case of wall-to-wall sunshine. From time to time, there were unwelcome visits from an old friend, the haar

In Scotland, a haar is a kind of sea fog which creeps in from the North Sea to cover the area near the east coast when the rest of the country is basking in brilliant sunshine.

An east coast haar, pronounced like far, is a deeply depressing experience. It is not as if any warmth remains amidst the fog. Far from it. A haar is not only dark, dank and damp, but often so cold that it seems to penetrate your very bones. Those of us who live in haar country should be used to it by now, but it often catches us by surprise…

Sometimes the haar deals out even crueller treatment. We awake to rejoice in the brilliant sunshine – then the haar descends about mid-morning, just as we have assembled the picnic things and the beach umbrella. The sunshine that we were enjoying has been callously taken away from us…

The word haar originally referred to a cold easterly wind before it took on its cold fog meaning, and it is derived from a Low German and Middle Dutch word hare, meaning a biting cold wind. The biting cold part has stayed with us.

When I left the northeast coast of the United States – as my grandparents left the east coast of PEI – I discovered that a cold easterly wind, quite common in a New Mexico winter, often gives way to a clearing breeze from the northeast and eventually sunshine and warming. I have tempered what is a dour comment in my ethnic past with clear skies and sunlight – which is after all a sign of hope.

Har has become reasonably positive – with a remembrance of irony.

Landlubbers haven’t a clue about Arctic sea ice this winter

During the Northern Hemisphere winter of 2010–2011, unusually cold temperatures and heavy snowstorms plagued North America and Europe, while conditions were unusually warm farther north. Now the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has reported that Arctic sea ice was at its lowest extent ever recorded for January (since satellite records began).

This image shows the average Arctic sea ice concentration for January 2011, based on observations from the Advanced Microwave Scanning Radiometer for EOS (AMSR-E) aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite. Blue indicates open water; white indicates high sea ice concentrations; and turquoise indicates loosely packed sea ice. The yellow line shows the average sea ice extent for January from 1979 through 2000…

NSIDC offered two possible explanations. One reason is the Arctic Oscillation (AO), a seesaw pattern of differences in atmospheric pressure. In “positive” mode, the AO includes high pressure over the mid-latitudes and low pressure over the Arctic, setting up wind patterns that trap cold air in the far North. In “negative” mode, air pressure isn’t quite as low over the Arctic and isn’t quite as high over the mid-latitudes. This enables cold air to creep south and relatively warm air to move north.

The AO was in negative mode in December 2010 and January 2011, according to the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). At mid-latitudes, the negative mode resulted in extremely cold temperatures and heavy snow in Europe and North America. At the same time, warm air over the Arctic impeded sea ice growth. NOAA has forecast that the AO should return to positive mode in February 2011, but for how long was unclear.

Another factor in the low Arctic sea ice extent, NSIDC explained, could be that the areas of open ocean were still releasing heat to the atmosphere. Due to its bright appearance, sea ice reflects most of the Sun’s light and heat back into space. Dark ocean water, by contrast, absorbs most of that energy and reinforces the melting process.

Both conditions are comparatively short-term in affecting climate. Not that reality means much to congenital weather whiners. Those accustomed to searching for every possible rationale to support positive cashflow for fossil fuel profiteers will steer this bit of data to whatever is this month’s Chamber of Commerce talking point.

It does allow for better understanding for folks interested in climate, meteorology and science.

Do you do the dracula when you cough?

If you like the idea, you can even buy buttons, neckties, etc. to spread the word.
A cause for every fool?

Medical students secretly watched hundreds of people cough or sneeze at a train station, a shopping mall and a hospital in New Zealand…

The work was done in the capital city of Wellington over two weeks last August…

The good news is that about three of every four people tried to cover their cough or sneeze, in at least a token attempt to prevent germs from flying through the air.

The bad news is that most people — about two of three — used their hands to do it.

“When you cough into your hands, you cover your hand in virus,” said study author Nick Wilson, an associate professor of public health at the Otago University campus in Wellington.

“Then you touch doorknobs, furniture and other things. And other people touch those and get viruses that way,” he explained.

Health officials recommend that people sneeze into their elbow, in a move sometimes called ‘the Dracula’ for its resemblance to a vampire suddenly drawing up his cape. But only about 1 in 77 did that.

Using a tissue or handkerchief is another preferred option, but only about 1 in 30 did that…

The study was presented Monday at an infectious diseases conference in Atlanta.

When you begin to think that there is only one right way to cough, it’s time to go out and pet a puppy dog or something. At least in my world.

When did Brits become weather wimps?

Click on the image for a version NSFW

Fresh snowfall is forecast to hit parts of Britain today, with up to 5cm predicted in northern Scotland and in northern and western Wales, bringing warnings of icy roads.

5cm of snow. That’s about 2 fracking inches! That qualifies as snow flurries.

Lighter snow showers are expected in Merseyside, Shropshire and Derbyshire.

Temperatures dropped well below freezing overnight with a low of -7C recorded in Benson, Oxfordshire…

There were five separate crashes on Bonemill Lane in Sunderland yesterday morning and police were forced to close the road for an hour and a half. And an icy road surface led to a three-vehicle collision at a roundabout near Crowther Road in the city. Nobody was injured in any of the incidents, police said.

Is this the weather forecast from the UK – or Mexico?

“Temperatures will return towards the seasonal average of 4C to 6C, but it will remain quite chilly in Scotland with the potential for snow over the hills.”

It’s always chilly in Scotland except when it’s fracking freezing. But, my kin in the Outer Isles don’t panic over a snowstorm unless it produces serious accumulation.

My relatives up on PEI still tell of the winter a bear fell into the tunnel they would dig every winter between the house and barn – to get out to milk the cows. And my dad didn’t take me out to teach me how to drive in the snow until we had a “decent” 6-inch snowfall in Connecticut.

C’mon, folks. Whatever happened to those brave barechested bruisers I see on the telly cheering on Newcastle? Did the whole nation get relegated?

Police foil German children’s dash to African warmth – and marriage?

Three German children aged five, six and seven who said they were fed up with cold weather at home set off on a voyage to Africa but only got as far as the local train station, said local police.

The boy and the older girl were planning to get married in Africa and brought the girl’s five-year-old sister along as a witness. They left their home in the city of Hanover, which they shared with the boy’s father and the girls’ mother, early on New Year’s Day as their parents slept.

“They said they wanted to go to Africa ‘because it’s so nice and warm there’,” Jureczko said. The boy had once been to Italy and convinced the girl that Africa would be even warmer.

The police told the trio that it would be difficult to get to Africa without money or tickets and instead gave them a tour of the police station before handing them over to their parents.

What a sense of propriety.

Another movie plot. “Well, children. What did you do over winter holidays?”

Pilots survive watery crash landing, night on ice floe

Click on image to enlarge

Two men who crash-landed their plane in freezing waters survived 18 hours on a tiny sheet of ice “huddled together like penguins”.

The two – one Australian and the other Swedish – endured temperatures of -20C (-4F) after their Cessna plane ran into trouble over the far north of Canada.

Their survival equipment sank with the plane and rescue aircraft responding to their Mayday call failed to find them.

Australian Oliver Edwards-Neil, 25, and his Swedish flying partner Troels Hansen, 45, had been flying a Cessna Skymaster from the US to Sweden when both its engines failed over the Hudson Strait, just south of the Arctic Circle.

As the cockpit quickly filled with freezing water, they managed to scramble through a window and on to an ice sheet about 5m wide and 10m long before the plane sank, with all their equipment on board.

Mr Edwards-Neil said that their survival suits saved their lives. “But I never thought I could freeze that much. I was shivering non-stop,” he said.

They were found by a fishing boat that had heard their Mayday call and headed to the scene.

Mr Edwards-Neil and Mr Hansen were later transferred by helicopter to a hospital in Iqaluit, Nunavut.

The photo tells the whole tale. A couple of very fortunate guys.

Loneliness makes you cold

Loneliness and coldness are often associated in everyday language, but psychologists have found that social isolation does make people feel cold. A University of Toronto team found people feeling excluded said a room was colder than those feeling included. And people who felt left out also chose comforting hot soup, rather than an apple or soft drink…

Dr Chen-Bo Zhong, who led the research, which is published in the journal Psychological Science, said: “We found that the experience of social exclusion literally feels cold. “This may be why people use temperature-related metaphors to describe social inclusion and exclusion.”

Writing in the journal, published by the American Association of Psychological Science, they say: “An interesting direction for research would be to determine whether experiencing the warmth of an object could reduce the negative experience of social exclusion.

“Such an implication has been used metaphorically in the self-help literature, but our research suggests that eating warm soup may be a literal coping mechanism for social exclusion.”

They also suggest that raising the temperature could help someone who is feeling low – in the same way that people with seasonal affective disorder (SAD) are helped with light therapy.

So, turn up the thermostat – or in my case, put an extra log in the woodburning stove – and make a pot of soup, when you hit those gray, cold winter days. And all the news from Congress is about tax breaks for millionaires.

Joking aside, the research and where it may go certainly is interesting. I wonder if they’ll differentiate between frugal types like me who’d rather put on a sweater than add wood to the fire – and my wife who always adds another wood chunk to the stove – just in case the dogs are cold.