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As Others See It: The fog of fog forecasts

Weather folklore includes the wildly unscientific notion that fog will be followed in about 90 days by storms. By that reckoning, fog in early April means nasty thunderstorms in late June or early July; and fog in early October is a warning to prepare for a blizzard in late December. And what’s the deal if a fog slides off the Red River in eastern Cass County, but no fog occurs in western Cass? Will that storm 90 days hence affect only that part of the county that was fogbound?

It’s harmless nonsense, but it contributes to myths about one of the most unpredictable of weather phenomena, fog.

Folklore aside, it is unrealistic to expect the National Weather Service to be exact about the when and where fog will develop. It is as unrealistic to demand that schools and highway departments issue advisories and warnings about a fog bank that might be there at 8 a.m. and gone at 8:15.

That’s the fallout from a crash a year ago near Kindred, N.D., involving a school bus and four semi trucks that happened in a pea-soup morning fog. (See a revisit to the story in the Dec. 27 Forum.) The bus driver was injured and later died. There were no other serious injuries. The crash generated discussion about how and when travel advisories for fog should be issued. A year later, there has been no change in fog policies at Kindred schools or from the state Department of Transportation.

First reaction might be: Why not? Why no firm policy about sending out school buses in fog?

The answer goes to the unpredictability of fog. While the National Weather Service issues dense fog advisories, the states of Minnesota and North Dakota typically do not issue travel advisories for fog. Technology is not good enough, transportation officials say, to give precise, real-time warnings about fog

– formation, density, duration, dissipation. Certainly, rural school districts have no such technology.

Until forecasting and detection technologies are good enough to identify relatively small localized fog formation – and transmit data quickly to schools, road agencies and law enforcement – the responsibility for safety on roads will remain with drivers. Precise fog forecasting is still very much – well – foggy.

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