Tuesday, January 7, 2014


As much of the U.S. is currently socked with a fearsome "polar vortex" of sub-zero cold temperatures and snow, here in Glasgow we're enjoying temperatures in the mid-forties Fahrenheit. Glasgow's average temperature in January is around 39 °F, with an average high temperature around 44 °F. The city gets little snow, and snow doesn't last long on the ground.

I have a bit of cognitive dissonance. Glasgow is substantially north of the lower 48 states in the U.S. It's north of almost all of inhabited Canada. Latitude isn't the only factor determining temperature -- things like elevation and vegetation are also factors -- but it is the main one. Given Glasgow's latitude, you'd expect it to be a lot colder.

Glasgow is the "A" on the map.
We moved to Glasgow from Raleigh, North Carolina, where the average temperature in January is 41 °F. At night, the average temperature in Raleigh is colder than in Glasgow. And Raleigh has a record low temperature of -23 °F, while Glasgow has a record low of only 5 °F.

I'm not trying to make Glasgow seem like a climatic paradise. It has cool summers, with average highs in the mid-60s Fahrenheit. (Though I like the cool summers.) The city gets a lot of rain, more than the Pacific Northwest in the States. I think it has rained here every day since late November. But the winter temperature is quite mild.

Why isn't Glasgow colder? Basically, the Gulf Stream. Its power is amazing. The current takes warm water from the Gulf of Mexico up the coast of North America, crosses the Atlantic, and sends a branch of warm water north up the Irish coast toward the Arctic Ocean and another branch south past Spain and down the African coast. All of Europe benefits from this warming current, especially the British Isles, particularly Ireland and the Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland. Norway's northwestern coast, which should be covered in ice and snow during the winter due to its proximity to the Arctic Circle, generally avoids ice and snow year round.

With the temperature so warm, I sometimes forget how far north Glasgow really is. The city sits at a latitude of 55°51′N. It's south of Oslo (59°57′N), St. Petersburg (59°57′N), and Stockholm (59°20′N) by a couple hundred miles (each degree of latitude is approximately 69 miles apart).

But Glasgow is a tiny bit further north than Moscow (55°45′N), which has an average January temperature roughly half of Glasgow's, at 20.5 °F. Glasgow also is slightly further north than Copenhagen (55°41′N), the capital of Denmark.

Coming from the United States, I tend to think of Canada as being quite north. However, all of Canada's major cities are 150 miles south or more of Glasgow, e.g., Edmonton (53°32′N); Saskatoon (52°08′N); Calgary (51°03′N); Winnipeg (49°54′N); Vancouver (49°15′N); Quebec City (46°49′N); Montreal (45°30′N); Ottawa (45°25′N); and Toronto (43°42′N).

As for the U.S., Glasgow lies hundreds of miles north of the lower 48 states. Seattle sits at 47°37′N. Other northerly U.S. cities are even further south, such as Bismarck, ND (46°49′N); Portland (45°31′N); Minneapolis (44°59′N); Augusta, ME (44°19′N); Montpelier, VT (44°15′N); Boise (43°37′N); Milwaukee (43°03′N); Buffalo (42°54′N); Boston (42°21′N); Detroit (42°20′N); and so on.

Having most recently lived in Raleigh, North Carolina (35°49′N) -- roughly 1,380 miles south of Glasgow -- I'm surprised that the average winter temperatures here are fairly comparable. It's definitely much wetter in Glasgow, but I expected it to be a fair bit colder, as well.

Would you have guessed that Glasgow stays as warm as it does in the winter? Me neither.

While those of you in the States are enduring a "polar vortex," here in Glasgow I'm often outside with only a fleece vest (called a "body warmer" in the U.K.). As you 'Muricans look like this:

(Photo courtesy of the AP.)
(Photo courtesy of the AP.)
we Glaswegians are out playing like this:

Remember the spatula-ball game I mentioned previously? It's good indoors and outdoors.
And now I'm lamenting we'll likely never get a good snowfall in Glasgow. Dang it.

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