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Weather Talk: Snow cover makes weather colder

Albedo is a word describing the portion of the sun's radiation reflected from a surface.

Most sunlight passes directly through air with relatively little absorption. The reason it is usually warmer in the afternoon than at night is because of solar radiation heating the ground and the ground then heating the air via convection.

Snow-covered ground has an albedo between 0.40 and 0.90, meaning snow cover reflects between 40 and 90 percent of the radiation, or light and heat, coming in from the sun. This is why a snow-covered field is so bright on a sunny day and also why snow cover makes our weather colder.

Dark, wet soil, on the other hand, has an albedo near zero, meaning it absorbs almost all the solar radiation it receives. This time of year, it is likely that all the record highs were recorded on days without snow and all the record lows were recorded with snow on the ground.

John Wheeler

John was born in Baton Rouge, LA, and grew up near Birmingham, Alabama. As a teenager, his family moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and later to a small town in northeast Iowa. John traces his early interest in weather to the difference in climate between Alabama and Wisconsin. He is a graduate of Iowa State University with a degree in meteorology. Like any meteorologist, John is intrigued by extremes of weather, especially arctic air outbreaks and winter storms.  John has been known to say he prefers his summers to be hot but in winter, he prefers the cold.  When away from work, John enjoys long-distance running and reading.  John has been a meteorologist at WDAY since May of 1985.

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