Kate Flora: It’s another foggy morning on the coast of Maine. The world is damp and gray and because it’s by the sea, still pretty to look at. The patterns on the water are silver and green and brown with ripples and eddys and swirls and floating patches of yellow-green seaweed. The sea is always in motion and the gulls cry while the little terns flit and dive and shrill.
Over the years, I’ve used fog a lot in my books because of the distortions it creates and because of the way we writers use natural phenomena to thwart our characters and create tension. I was deep into Led Astray, my fifth Joe Burgess police procedural, when I realized how much the cold, gray bad summer weather was echoing the sadness and darkness of the plot. It was at that point that Joe Burgess realized the rain wouldn’t stop and the fog wouldn’t lift until the bad guys were found and stopped.
That realization led me back, in my foggy day brain, to my very first panel at a national mystery conference, Malice Domestic, where the topic was the weather in mysteries. I was a wide-eyed newbie on a panel with writers I admired and scared to open my mouth. I was also a bit depressed to be on a panel with such a boring topic. It turned out to be fascinating, and a subject that has played a big role in my books over the years. If you’re going for a ride to talk to a witness in Arizona when the temperature is over a hundred, you’ll want to carry different items in your car for safety than if you take that same drive in Portland, Maine during a snow storm.
In my first Burgess book, Playing God, ice on the car window helps me to introduce my readers to Joe Burgess and how his mind works:
He leaned back, staring at the windshield. At the top, the sun peeping over the Old Port’s brick buildings illuminated icy etchings, elaborately and intricately beautiful. At the bottom, heat turned the beautiful detailing to opaque mush. Soon the slap of wiper blades would flick it all away, giving him back a clear view of the lot full of salt-rimed cars and dirty snow. Sic transit gloria mundi.
This wasn’t a day for reflecting on beauty anyway. This was a day for death.
One of the most beautiful forms of fog is sea smoke, which Burgess encounters as he drives to Cape Elizabeth to interview the victim’s widow:
On a morning like this, with the air so cold, great columns of sea smoke rose off the salt water, sunlight turning it a soft golden color, so that he might have been driving toward the gates of heaven instead of South Portland. The grim-faced drivers around him had their gaze fixed on the cars in front of them. God had laid on a spectacular performance this morning and no one was watching.
His mother would have noticed. She was the one who’d taught him to see, summoning him to the window and whispering, “Look, Joseph,” in her soft voice. He rarely mentioned his mother—once they grew up, men didn’t admit they had mothers, except to begrudge the services mothers required of them—but spending so much of his life dealing with death had reinforced the importance of honoring the dead. It was almost certainly his mother’s noticing and wondering that had made him a detective.
In case you’re curious about fog and want to know more, here’s what the government website has to say on the subject, and a link to learn even more:
Radiation Fog: This fog forms when all solar energy exits the earth and allows the temperature to meet up with the dew point. The best condition to have radiation fog is when it had rained the previous night. This help to moisten up the soil and create higher dew points. This makes it easier for the air to become saturated and form fog. However, the winds must be light less than 15 mph to prevent moist and dry from mixing.
Precipitation Fog: This is fog that forms when rain is falling through cold air. This is common with a warm fronts but it can occur with cold fronts as well only if it’s not moving too fast. Cold air, dry at the surface while rain is falling through it evaporates and causes the dew point to rise. This saturation forms fog.
Advection Fog: This type of fog forms from surface contact of horizontal winds. This fog can occur with windy conditions. Warm air, moist air blows in from the south and if there is snow or cool moisture on the ground it will come in contact with the warm, moist winds. This contact between the air and ground will cause the air blowing in to become cool. Then dew point rises and creates high humidity and forms fog.
Steam Fog: This type of fog is commonly seen in the Great Lakes but can be seen on any lake. This forms during the fall season. As summer ends, water temperatures don’t cool right away but air temperature does. As a mass of dry, cold air moves over a warmer lake the warm lake conducts warm, moist air into the air mass above. This transport between the lake and air evens out. This corresponds to the second law of thermodynamics and this law state “any two bodies that come into contact, the system will become equilibrium state.” Steam fog does not become very deep but enough to block some of the sunlight.
Upslope Fog: This fog forms adiabatically. Adiabatically is the process that causes sinking air to warm and rising air to cool. As moist winds blow toward a mountain, it up glides and this causes the air to rise and cool. The cooling of the air from rising causes to meet up with the dew point temperature. Fog forms on top of the mountains.
Valley Fog: Valley fog forms in the valley when the soil is moist from previous rainfall. As the skies clear solar energy exits earth and allow the temperature to cool near or at the dew point. This form deep fog, so dense it’s sometimes called tule fog.
Freezing Fog: Freezing fog occurs when the temperature falls at 32°F (0°C) or below. This fog produces drizzle and these tiny droplets freeze when they come into contact with an object. But at the same time there is sublimation going on.
Ice Fog: This type of fog is only seen in the polar and artic regions. Temperatures at 14 F (-10°C) is too cold for the air to contain super-cooled water droplets so it forms small tiny ice crystals.
More information here: https://www.weather.gov/media/zhu/ZHU_Training_Page/fog_stuff/fog_definitions/fog.pdf
In the fall, one of my favorite sights is the trail of fog hovering above a stream or river.
I’m in a MFA program and my paper for
AST semester was weather in mysteries, I think it’s fascinating how writers use it.
Sounds like a great topic….as I have learned over the years
This was a great post. I just loved reading about all the various kinds of fog…..who knew? Well I knew about some from living with them, but it was fun to see them laid out clearly. And I appreciated your meditations on fog and the bit of prose you shared about sea smoke. Lovely!