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October 25, 2014

Winter glossary: Umbles, sun dogs, ground blizzard and more

As record-setting weather continues to be the dominant topic of conversation, you’ll want to be well-versed on new – or newly used – terms to describe it. From the weather-nerd-technical to the slang mashup, we sourced a winter weather glossary you can stick in your 2014 time capsule so you can relive this record-setting season. (Yeah, right!)

You don’t need us to deconstruct snowmageddon, snownami, or coldnado for you. After all, this is the winter that when anyone who has been paying the slightest bit of attention not only learned what a Polar vortex is, but also that the plural of “vortex” is “vortices.”

Where are all these words coming from? Chris Vaccaro, spokesperson for the National Weather Service, tells National Geographic that after meteorologists use their technical jargon to describe unusual weather, use of the words go viral through social media. Like some of these:

Sun dogs: In its national weather story, the Associated Press included a photo of a Minnesota sun dog, along with the explanation that it is an atmospheric phenomenon that creates a halo around the sun. It is caused by the refraction of sunlight by small ice crystals. (Thanks to Beth Etter of Prior Lake for the accompanying photo submitted to BringMeTheNews.)

The Umbles:  NPR reported that this term was coined by an emergency room physician who specializes in treating patients with hypothermia. Dr. Campbell McLaren said people who’ve been out in dangerous temperatures too long lose fine motor skills, “and we start to fumble. And tumble. And stumble.” Then our cognitive abilities are compromised. “We mumble and we grumble.”

Ground blizzard: Writing and blogging for the Star Tribune, meteorologist Paul Douglas described a blizzard in the central, western and southwestern earlier this week that saw winds of 40-45 mph whip up snow already on the ground. WDAY in Fargo elaborated on the term, explaining that a ground blizzard does not involve snowfall; it happens later, when high winds kick up the fallen powder, leading to near-zero visibility.

Bombogenesis: National Geographic says the term describes a large, fast-moving snowstorm that follows a sharp drop in barometric pressure. The word was tossed around like a snowball by meteorologists on the East Coast.

Snownado or winter waterspout: The rare phenomenon was recently photographed over Lake Superior and posted on YouTube. The spouts only occur when air over the lake is considerably colder than the water temperature. On the December day they were recorded, the lake water was 50 degrees warmer than the 11 below recorded in clouds 5,000 feet above.

Chi-beria is a term that has become so prevalent in Chicago that the Chicago Sun-Times is selling “I Survived Chi-beria 2014!” sweatshirts, featuring a thermometer with a sub-zero reading and the Windy City skyline. (They think it’s cold there.) (Minneberia, anyone? St. Sibe-aul?)

The cold has prompted one website to come up with new names for entire regions of the country. According to Imgur, you are a resident of “How Do You People Live Like This?” Someone needs to come up with a flag, official seal and motto for our new territory.