Word Watch: pneumonia front

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

“Pneumonia front” jumped out at me from the (web) pages of the Chicago Tribune last week when the U.S. National Weather Service reported a front moving from the north toward the Chicago area that was expected to drop temperatures by 20 degrees (F) within minutes, spawning thunderstorms.

Pneumonia really has nothing to do with it, except to play on the old saying that “you’ll catch your death of cold” if not dressed warmly enough. As pneumonia fronts generally occur in the spring and summer, a dramatic drop in temperature in likely to leave one inadequately dressed for the cold.

It also seems highly specific to what is sometimes referred to as The Greater Metropolitan Chicagoland Area.

Tom Skilling, WGN-TV’s chief meteorologist, explained the term in a blog post a few years ago as a “strong northeast-to-southwest-moving cold front occurring on the western shore of Lake Michigan in the spring or summer. It is accompanied by the sudden onset of gusty northeast winds and a sharp temperature drop at the lake shore, with readings sometimes plummeting from the 70s into the 40s in less than an hour. Temperature changes are less abrupt farther inland.”

Skilling said the term was first used by the Milwaukee Weather Bureau Office in the 1960s, and was probably coined by Rheinhart Harms who at the time was meteorologist-in-chief.

Harms was also credited with coining other weather-related terms including similarly geography-specific “Alberta clipper” and “panhandle hook.”

An Alberta clipper, the Trib reported, is a fast-moving low pressure system that moves out of the of Alberta, usually during the winter, although it is also known as a “Saskatchewan Screamer.”

A panhandle hook is a low pressure system originating in the panhandle region of Texas and Oklahoma,that  moves east and then hooks toward the Midwest or Great Lakes region.~TM

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