Flash to Bang – No April Fool’s Joke


My first contact with the term “flash-to-bang” was in a military context. But the phrase also relates to a well-accepted method for estimating the distance of an approaching thunderstorm.

The “flash-to-bang” (FTB) measures the time from when you see lightning to the time you hear the associated thunder. A measure of five seconds from FTB means lightning is about one mile away. This is because the speed of sound is approximately 1,000 feet/second. Thus, an FTB time of 10 seconds means that the lightning incident took place about two miles away.

If the next FTB is five seconds (assuming both flashes originated in the same electrical storm) that means that the electrical storm is one mile closer. An FTB of three seconds means that electrical event is only 3,000 feet away.

At about 2 a.m. on April 1, I was awakened by loud rolling thunder. The next clap of thunder was preceded by lightning, but I’m guessing the FTB was two to three seconds, meaning the bolt struck something (unless it was cloud-to-cloud) about a half-mile away. That storm continued for about an hour, with each succeeding FTB a little longer than the previous one. Most of our part of Central New York got about two inches of rain with this storm.

What caused this electrical storm was the southern branch of the northern jet stream surging northward. In this event, a moisture-laden air mass slammed into a drier cold air mass. This merger caused huge amounts of condensation, and similarly great electrical activity, as well as a rapid drop in air temperature. So exactly one-half year later, the jet stream is supposed to do the exact opposite, allowing a frigid air mass to plunge into our region. That said, we should experience a killer frost on/about Oct. 1.

Scientifically, here’s the basis for me making this first fall frost forecast (FFFF). The climatological factor calling the shots here is the jet stream polar drift rule. This states that the first serious electrical storm of springtime in latitudes near the 45th parallel – halfway between the Equator and the North Pole – will be followed a half-year later by autumn’s first killer frost.

That’s how the jet stream phenomenon is supposed to play out – unless El Niño or La Niña “misbehave.” El Niño is said to take place when the Pacific Sea surface temperature (PSST) rises by more than 1.5º C above normal for that particular time of year. La Niña is said to occur when the PSST is said to drop by more than 1.5º C below normal for that time of year.

We have just finished off a mild La Niña. In fact, climatologists are describing the situation now, and for quite a few weeks hence, as ENSO-neutral (ENSO being El Niño Southern Oscillation). With my assessment that the Little Girl’s behavior is more normal than not, I’m comfortable making my FFFF for Oct. 1.

On March 9, Reuters News Service wrote “La Niña has ended, and ENSO-neutral conditions are expected to continue through the Northern Hemisphere in spring and early summer 2023, a U.S. government weather forecaster said … with El Niño possibly forming during summer 2023 and persisting through the fall.”

La Niña made Northeast weather unusually mild up till March 9, but made autumn 2022 drought conditions in our Southwest worse than normal.

Having just made a hopefully intelligent estimate at how much frost-free growing season lies ahead, let’s examine another sign of spring awakening. That would be shad blossoms. Their full-bloom status means it’s time to get cold-tolerant plant seed in the ground, if you haven’t already done so. As I write (April 12), most shad trees are approaching (or have achieved) full bloom.

Heather Darby, Ph.D., University of Vermont Extension agronomist, wrote that spring-planted cereal rye won’t set seed and produce grain, but that it can be valuable as a forage crop. She recommends that folks needing high quality, rapid-growing roughage – mouth- or mechanically-harvested – plant such as soon as possible. Cereal rye seed germinates with soil and air temperatures in the 33º – 41º F range. Quoting Darby: “Due to its root system, which can grow one meter deep, cereal rye is drought-tolerant, and it requires 20% – 30% less water than does wheat. It is hardy with more frost tolerance than wheat too. Rye doesn’t need as much fertilizer as corn does.”

Caution: When grazing cereal rye forage, ruminants tend to need more supplemental magnesium, since this grain – and other small grain – forages tends to run low on that element. To this end, most livestock nutritionists prefer magnesium sulfate, although costlier, over magnesium oxide.

Another shortfall with cereal rye is a threat posed by Fusarium molds. These tend to be most visible as head blight, but their signature mycotoxins also appear in forages. The most graphic example of that problem which I encountered was with winter rye, planted as a cover crop, following glyphosate-tolerant corn on a large farm in Otsego County. The farmer in question round-baled what looked like perfectly normal rye forage. Fortunately, the cattle wouldn’t touch it, sensing that it was seriously tainted with Fusarium-based mycotoxins, which, according to Darby, “can impact immune, gastrointestinal and reproductive systems.”

In glyphosate-tolerant corn, that herbicide’s presence has been shown to disrupt the plant’s mineral metabolism (mostly manganese) – enough to derail its ability to fight off pathogens, which can infect the next crop in the rotation. The cattle in the above example were well-fed; had that not been the case, serious health issues would likely have occurred.

Fortunately, well-documented older research overseen by USDA as well as more recent studies conducted by the University of Argentina at Rio Cuarto have shown that several mustard species naturally exude biofumigants that stymy Fusaria and their toxic deviltry.

Here’s a suggested rotation for folks wishing to keep using glyphosate: Corn genetically engineered to survive glyphosate spray, fumigant-producing mustard, then cereal rye.

by Paris Reidhead

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