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Dave Speelman: Is It Indian Summer?

by ABC-7 StormTRACK Meteorologist Dave Speelman

Ever heard the term Indian Summer? What does it actually mean?

An early American writer described Indian Summer well when he wrote, “The air is perfectly quiescent and all is stillness, as if Nature, after her exertions during the Summer, were now at rest.” This passage belongs to the writer John Bradbury and was written nearly an “eternity” ago, back in 1817. But this passage is as relevant today as it was way back then. The term “Indian Summer” dates back to the 18th century in the United States. It can be defined as “any spell of warm, quiet, hazy weather that may occur in October or even early November.” Basically, autumn is a transition season as the thunderstorms and severe weather of the summer give way to a tamer, calmer weather period before the turbulence of the winter commences.

The term “Indian Summer” is generally associated with a period of considerably above normal temperatures, accompanied by dry and hazy conditions ushered in on a south or southwesterly breeze. Several references make note of the fact that a true Indian Summer can not occur until there has been a killing frost/freeze. Since frost and freezing temperatures generally work their way south through the fall, this would give credence to the possibility of several Indian Summers occurring in a fall, especially across the northern areas where frost/freezes usually come early.

While almost exclusively thought of as an autumnal event, I was surprised to read that Indian Summers have been given credit for warm spells as late as December and January (but then, just where does that leave the “January Thaw” phenomenon?). Another topic of debate about Indian Summer has been “location.” Evidently, some writers have made reference to it as native only to New England, while others have stated it happens over most of the United States , even along the Pacific coast. Probably the most common or accepted view on location for an Indian Summer would be from the Mid-Atlantic states north into New England, and than west across the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, Midwest and Great Plains States.

If Indian Summer applies to the Southwest, El Paso, as of this writing, has not had one. The coldest temperature we reached so far was 33 on October 31st.

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