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During the upcoming 2012-13 winter season The Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation…"Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms" (Thanks, Gil Kaufman!)
This is an ambitious project. However, the benefits will be significant. Naming winter storms will raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall…
Finally, it might even be fun and entertaining and that in itself should breed interest from our viewing public and our digital users.
Winds from approaching Hurricane Sandy turned 1 WTC (previously known as the Freedom Tower) into an æolian harp. (via Doubtful News)
It can be a nice breeze, or a destructive storm, but either way wind is just moving air. And moving air is just moving molecules.
In an explainer for kids that's actually pretty helpful for grown-ups, too, Matt Shipman reminds us that the air around us isn't totally weightless. It weighs something, because molecules all weigh something:
They don't weigh very much (you couldn't put one on your bathroom scale), but their weight adds up, because there are a LOT of molecules in the air that makes up our atmosphere. All of that air is actually pretty heavy, so the air at the bottom of the atmosphere (like the air just above the ground) is getting pressed on by all of the air above it. That pressure pushes the air molecules at the bottom of the atmosphere a lot closer together than the air molecules at the top of the atmosphere.
And, because the air at the top of the atmosphere is pushing down on the air at the bottom of the atmosphere, the air molecules at the bottom REALLY want to spread out. So if there is an area where the air molecules are under high pressure (with a lot of weight pushing down), the air will spread out into areas that are under lower pressure (with less weight pushing down).
Last year, I wrote a piece for BoingBoing about destructive storm systems and why it's so difficult to say, in concise sound-bite form, what relationship that destruction has to climate change. In that case, we were talking about tornadoes. But over the last couple of days, lots of people have been having roughly the same conversations about Hurricane Sandy. When the clouds have passed and everybody is done sleeping in airports, people are going to want answers. Was this an unavoidable act of nature? Or was this something caused directly by changes to Earth's climate that have happened because we burn fossil fuels which increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere?
Again, there's not an easy answer. And, again, part of the problem here is that we're expecting science to operate on the scale of American media news cycles, which doesn't really work. We want to talk about this while the storm is raging or, barring that, at least immediately afterwards. But scientists aren't really going to have anything particularly deep to say about this specific storm for months, if not years. During that time, data will be analyzed and compared, and other events will happen, and that's really the stuff that we need in order to say much of anything other than, "We don't know for certain." In some ways, expecting anything else means forcing scientists to speculate and extrapolate in ways they aren't usually comfortable with and that aren't a terribly great way to understand the big picture.
But there's also something new, that I kind of didn't really think about when I was writing that post on the tornadoes. The answer to these questions also really depends on the motivations behind why you asked, and what it is that you really want to know.
Read the rest
Our readers along the East Coast of the US are in the path of Sandy, a storm expected to cause considerable rainfall, flooding, and high winds, with correspondingly high risk for property, structures, and life in more vulnerable areas. Sandy is now the largest tropical cyclone on record, with a radius of 520 nautical miles. The biggest threat? Too much water.
Turn off the breathless cable news coverage and instead read the reports from Dr. Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground. Snip:
It takes a while watching TWC before you realize that they are such weather nerds that they sometimes tend to see things from the storm's point of view. They talk about the shape of the storm as beautiful, or "great," or "improving," and what they mean is that the storm is thriving. It's along the lines of, "This storm is looking great. Your lawn furniture? Not so much." At first, when they say the storm is getting better, you the viewer assume it means "less fierce." But they actually mean "more efficient, in terms of destruction." This is how you know that they are true nerds, and not just poseurs. CNN anchors would never accidentally say a storm is great because it's so beautifully shaped that it will look great on the radar as it tears a few shingles off the Hot Dog Hut in Atlantic City.
(Via Jennifer Ouellette)
Tornado-loving BB pal Jody Radzik just turned me on to Extreme Instability, a collection of one intrepid storm chaser's breathtaking weather photography. The above photo that I've taken it upon myself to title "Act of God" is from a bow echo in Watertown, South Dakota on August 3. The photographer: "I'm driving along, having gained at least a small bit of ground again, when I see this white cross and a roadside chapel next to the road. No way. Slam on the brakes, pull over and jump out of the car and shoot fast fast." Extreme Instability