It was an active week along the ‘Ring of Fire’

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Weatherwise, it’s been an unusual January across North Idaho. There has been plenty of moisture, as Cliff has measured over 4 inches as of early Sunday. The normal for rain and melted snowfall is 3.77 inches.

However, much of the moisture that has fallen this month came in the form of rain. Only 10 inches of snow has been measured for this month, far below the 21.4 inch normal. Despite the January snow drought, we’ve seen over 52 inches of the white stuff for the 2017-18 season as of early yesterday. Believe it or not, that figure is slightly above the normal to date of 49 inches, thanks to the early snows in November and the big storms during last several weeks of December.

Snowfall has been limited this month as temperatures have been too warm, with average highs in Coeur d’Alene hovering around 38 degrees. Average temperatures are also running about 4-5 degrees higher than normal. But there have been many years when we start the snowfall year above normal, then don’t see too much in the middle of winter, and get an above-normal amount of the white stuff toward the end.

Remember, this crazy cycle of “extremes” will take our weather from one end to the other. While January was mild, things are looking a little different in early to mid February. Another round of frigid Arctic air will be invading our region that will noticeably drop temperatures, especially toward the end of next week. There also will be another chance for snow, as moisture from the Pacific Ocean will “override” the cold air.

Cliff and I see at least 2 more feet of snowfall before the season comes to end. However, we’re still holding on to the final total to be around 85 inches. Let’s see what happens, it’s going to be an interesting weather pattern coming up.

Speaking of interesting, many people have been wondering about the recent episodes of earthquake and volcanic eruptions along the so-called “Ring of Fire.” This is an area that looks like a horseshoe which extends up through New Zealand, Indonesia and Japan, to southern Alaska and down along the western U.S., Central American and the South American west coasts.

The Pacific “Ring of Fire” is the result of the movement and collisions of tectonic plates that have led to the creation of over 450 volcanoes, especially along the west coast of the U.S. Approximately 90 percent of the world’s earthquakes are recorded in the Ring of Fire.

Last Tuesday, Jan. 23, a magnitude 7.9 earthquake was measured 174 miles south of Kodiak, Alaska. Since then, there have been numerous aftershocks measuring between 4 and 5 magnitudes. The Alaskan earthquake last week also triggered a “ripple” effect of water levels in Florida, nearly 4,000 miles away. Within an hour after the quake hit, groundwater in Fort Lauderdale briefly dropped by an inch and a half. At a place called Blue Springs, northwest of Orlando, Fla., levels rose from 41.59 to 41.77 feet, then returned to normal.

“Water levels in wells respond to the seismic-wave, or vibrations in the earth, induced expansion and contraction of the aquifer tapped by the well, in turn causing step or oscillatory fluid-pressure changes,” the USGS says. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to see changes in groundwater levels are often seen thousands of miles away from the epicenter of an earthquake.

On Thursday, Jan. 25, a number of earthquakes rattled residents of California, including a 5.8 magnitude that struck 100 miles off the northwestern coast. There was another one last Thursday of 4.0 magnitude, about 31 miles southeast of Anaheim, in the southern part of the state. On Saturday, a 3.4 magnitude quake was reported in Southern California.

According to the United States Geological Survey, California has about 10,000 earthquakes each year. Most of them are so small that they are not felt. Only several hundred are greater than magnitude 3.0, and only about 15-20 are greater than magnitude 4.0.

And earthquakes were not confined to the U.S. last week. There was another one along the Ring of Fire that had a magnitude of 6.0. around Java in Indonesia on Jan. 22. Since that event, there have been over a half-dozen quakes ranging from 4.4 to 5.3 near Indonesia.

In addition to the earthquakes, there were also several volcanic eruptions. Mount Mayan in the Philippines spewed ash more than a mile, forcing 75,000 to flee last Thursday. This volcano has erupted 50 times in the past 500 years and officials warn that a major eruption could happen soon.

On Tuesday, Jan. 23, Japan’s Meteorologist Agency reported that Mount Kusatsu-Shirane, located about 120 miles northwest of Toyko, erupted and rained ash on the slopes overlooking a ski resort. This event likely triggered an avalanche that injured nearly a dozen skiers.

So, is this kind of activity along the Ring of Fire in a short period of time a normal sequence of events? It depends on who you ask. Many scientists believe the recent earthquakes and eruptions fall within the normal standards. However, there are a few others that warn we could see larger earthquakes and more volcanic eruptions down the road. Only time will tell.

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Contact Randy Mann at randy@longrangeweather.com

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