When it comes to interpreting Minnesota’s blustery weather, Mark Seeley is one of the state’s most well-known faces and voices. He’s quoted regularly on TV and radio, and is an educator and popular speaker. Here, he’s pictured in his classroom, where he uses projections like the one behind him to show current weather patterns via the Internet.

David Joles, Star Tribune

Climatologist Mark Seeley: Eyes on the sky

  • Star Tribune
  • January 13, 2009 - 11:46 PM
What's the coldest day in Minnesota history? What's the biggest snowfall ever dumped on the Twin Cities? Which city has the lowest probability of white Christmases?

Most Minnesotans would rush to Google to find the answers to such questions. But Mark Seeley, a University of Minnesota climatologist and longtime St. Paul resident, is a human encyclopedia of such weather facts.

With another Minnesota winter upon us, Seeley shares his predictions for this season and explains how he wound up fascinated by this state's wild weather history.

Q What does winter have in store for us this year?

A It looks like it's going to be a long winter. We just had the 14th-coldest December in about 100 years. I expect January to be similar to December -- namely colder and snowier than usual. I think it's going to be generally colder this winter, although not necessarily record setting, and the cold will linger into March and April.

Q And how about the rest of the year?

A We can't really say because the models don't indicate one [clear] direction or the other. But there is a trend toward "amplified variation'' -- wetter periods are wetter and dryer periods are dryer. I expect that pattern in '09.

Q Why are you so fascinated by the weather?

A Weather relates to everything. For example, it affects our health in profound ways. I've lectured at the Mayo Clinic about the impact of our longer spring and fall seasons: The number of their patients showing symptoms brought on by allergies and molds was getting greater.

Farmers need some realistic ideas for what their yield goals will be each year, and knowing weather and climate changes help them. ... And if you're a roofer or a paver, or someone outdoors most of the day, you want to know about summer dew points. Those have direct impact on what we call the "heat index.'' If you're a roofer working in a high heat index, you'd better drink lots of water and take frequent breaks in the shade.

Q You are a U of M "education specialist'' based on the St. Paul campus. Describe your work life.

A I'm teaching a class on atmospheric science for school science teachers this winter. I'm on "Morning Edition" every Friday [on Minnesota Public Radio] and I do a podcast called "Jet Streaming" every Wednesday afternoon also for public radio. And I do a lot of public speaking.

In February, for example, I'm talking to the Minnesota Irrigation Association ... and at an annual Energy Exposition in Duluth. Next week I'm meeting with a group of dance artists writing a piece about the weather.

A lot of what I do is extension outreach education. Counties and regions of the state host meetings on weather and agriculture, weather and snow control, weather and energy use. That's why I travel so much.

Q You did some work with Minnesota's Sesquicentennial Commission. What's a weather highlight from Minnesota's early statehood?

A The winter of 1856-1857 was one of the harshest winters of the 19th century. There was 104 inches of snow in downtown St. Paul, where a committee was drafting the first Minnesota constitution. And some people had to come from afar to these meetings. Temperatures got below -30 on at least one day in December, January and February. We've never had a winter like that.

Q What are some of the more unusual assignments you've had?

A About four years ago, I did a show on MPR, "In the Loop" ... along with some rap artists. Unbeknownst to me, they invited me to be part of the rap they contrived with weather jargon in it. I wasn't prepared to be a rap artist. But we had fun with it. They probably still have that audio. I told them, "Burn it please.''

Q Did you expect this to be your career path?

A No. I was going to be a lawyer. But after I graduated from college, I worked while my wife [Cindy Bevier] finished her master's degree. I became a volunteer weather observer for a television station in Salt Lake City, and ended up taking some classes in meteorology. That's where I started my journey toward weather. I got my master's degree in meteorology at Northern Illinois University [in DeKalb] ... and a Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska in climatology, or weather history.

Q Your interest in history goes beyond the weather.

A I'm interested in genealogy. My great-great-grandfather was a member of Minnesota's first state legislature. ... And my grandfather farmed in Appleton. During the drought of 1910, he gave up farming and moved out of Minnesota. He ended up in California. That's where I was born [in 1947]. I lived there the first 22 years of my life.

Q What do you do in your free time?

A I'm an avid biker -- I bike or walk to work most days. I'm active in Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I'm the church historian at Fairmont Avenue United Methodist Church [in St. Paul]. I'm on the faculty golf league, even though I'm a lousy golfer.

Q What about family?

A My wife is Cindy Bevier. She's a social worker in senior care. We live in St. Anthony Park. I have two sons -- Adam and Alex -- and a daughter, Emma. They all live in St. Paul.

Q What's on your horizon for the future?

A I'm still enjoying my job ... And I hope to continue writing. I've served as chief editor for two series of children's books. I've written the Minnesota Weather Almanac, and I'm in the midst of co-authoring a book on Voyageurs National Park. It's a lot of fun.

Jean Hopfensperger • 651-298-1553

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