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Australian heatwave goes into the pink

Yesterday, Australia experienced its hottest nationwide average temperature ever — 40.33 degrees C (104.6 degrees F). Today, the country's national weather bureau added a new color to official weather forecast maps, reflecting a need to predict temperatures higher than 52 C (125.6 F). Insert your Spinal Tap jokes and terrified flailing here. Maggie

1 WTC (Freedom Tower) as æolian harp

Winds from approaching Hurricane Sandy turned 1 WTC (previously known as the Freedom Tower) into an æolian harp. (via Doubtful News)

What makes wind?

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).

Read the full story at Carolina Parent

Image: wind, katarinahissen, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from mararie's photostream

Chat about climate science and Sandy with Stanford's Noah Diffenbaugh

Yesterday, I told you that the relationship between Hurricane Sandy and climate change can be summed up with "It's Complicated". If you want a referendum on climate change, the data is in and we know it's happening. But if you're curious about this specific storm, what scientists know about hurricane systems, and how weather and climate interact, Scientific American has a live chat starting at 1:00 pm Eastern with Noah Diffenbaugh, a climate scientist at Stanford University. Check it out! Maggie

Dying old satellites jeopardize future storm coverage

In the NYT, a story about "endangered satellites" that orbit the earth and provide essential data for tracking storms like Hurricane Sandy. But because of "years of mismanagement, lack of financing and delays in launching replacements," they could begin falling apart—with no functional plan in sight to maintain those resources. Xeni

Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy? The answer depends on why you're asking

There are two answers here: One for the legitimately curious, and one for people who want a disaster to be a referendum on climate change.

Read the rest

Eastern US braces for "Frankenstorm" Sandy's strike

NOAA's GOES-13 satellite captured this image of Hurricane Sandy Oct. 28. The line of clouds from the Gulf of Mexico north are associated with the cold front with which Sandy is merging; the western cloud edge is already over the mid-Atlantic and northeastern US. Credit: NASA GOES Project.

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:

Read the rest

How to know when your epic storm weather news comes from nerds

NPR's Linda Holmes in an article about hurricane coverage written in August, 2011:

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)

Storm chaser's gorgeous photography

NewImage

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

Goodbye "Snowmageddon XIX", hello "Gandolf"

The Weather Channel has decided to begin naming winter storms the way we already name tropical storms. But while tropical storm nomenclature is an organized and official process, carried out by a branch of the United Nations, winter storms will be named apparently at the whim of The Weather Channel. The result: Not only can we move past calling every blizzard either Snowmageddon or Snowpocalypse, but we also get to hear news anchors discuss the damage caused by Winter Storm Gandolf. (Please note that this is Gandolf, not Gandalf. The former is a character in The Well at the World's End, an 1896 fantasy novel. The latter is probably tied up in intellectual property restrictions.) Maggie

Commodity market prediction takes the Internet by storm

Good news! There is not an unavoidable bacon shortage looming in our future. Bad news! What was actually being predicted was really an increase in meat prices across the board. Droughts have completely decimated this year's corn crop, and as corn is the stuff we usually feed our meat, it's going to cost more to raise a pig (or a cow, or a chicken) next year. Key takeaways: There will still be meat, it's just going to be more spendy next year, and also don't trust the British when they offer you "bacon" because they actually mean Canadian bacon, which is different (and inferior). Maggie

Building an indoor hurricane at the University of Miami

This is how Hurricane Isaac looked on Tuesday, as it made landfall on America's Gulf Coast. If you've never been to the Gulf of Mexico, here is a key fact you should know: The water there is warm. While Pacific coastal waters might be in the 50s during August, and the central Atlantic coast is pulling temperatures in the 60s and 70s, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is well into the 80s.

And that makes a difference. We know that water temperature affects hurricane strength. But we don't understand the particulars of how or why at a detail level. To learn more about this (and other factors that make each hurricane an individual), researchers at the University of Miami are building a simulation machine. When it's complete, it will be a key tool in improving forecasts.

Peter Sollogub, Associate Principal at Cambridge Seven, says the hurricane simulator is comprised of three major components:
The first is a 1400-horsepower fan originally suited for things like ventilating mine shafts. To create its 150mph winds, it will draw energy from the campus's emergency generator system, which is typically used during power outages caused by storms.

The second part is a wave generator which pushes salt water using 12 different paddles. Those paddles, timed to move at different paces and rates, can create waves at various sizes, angles and frequency, creating anything from a calm, organized swell to sloppy chaotic seas.

The third aspect of the tank is the tank itself, which is six meters in width by 20 meters in length by two meters high. It's made of three-inch thick clear acrylic so that the conditions inside can be observed from all sides.

Read more about the hurricane simulator at Popular Science

What is climate change ruining today?

Chocolate and high school football are being affected by climate change, according to two stories published on the Scientific American website yesterday. In the case of chocolate, the cocoa its made from is grown in several countries in West Africa, a region heavily affected by higher temperatures and extreme weather patterns. By 2020, there will likely be a 1.5 million ton shortage in cocoa production. As for football, the problem is the fact that, across the United States, cool weather season is kicking in later in the year than it used to. That affects football practice. Specifically, schools are increasingly concerned about the health risks of forcing high school students to get really physical, while fully suited and padded, in today's warmer Augusts and Septembers. So I think it's safe to say that climate change hates fun. It's a fun-hater. Maggie

Where extreme weather and infrastructure meet, bad things happen

I just posted the first part of a two-part feature about America's electric grid and the risk of blackouts. If this is something you're interested in, though, there's a New York Times piece from last week that you should really read.

When we lose our access to electricity, there's usually more than one thing that went wrong. But, one of the common things that does go wrong, especially in recent years, is extreme weather. The way the grid was built, and the way we manage it, was set up with predictable weather and climate norms in mind. When those things start to drastically shift—as we've seen over the last 10 years—the grid becomes vulnerable.

And electricity isn't the only infrastructure affected.

On a single day this month here, a US Airways regional jet became stuck in asphalt that had softened in 100-degree temperatures, and a subway train derailed after the heat stretched the track so far that it kinked — inserting a sharp angle into a stretch that was supposed to be straight. In East Texas, heat and drought have had a startling effect on the clay-rich soils under highways, which “just shrink like crazy,” leading to “horrendous cracking,” said Tom Scullion, senior research engineer with the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M University. In Northeastern and Midwestern states, he said, unusually high heat is causing highway sections to expand beyond their design limits, press against each other and “pop up,” creating jarring and even hazardous speed bumps.

The frequency of extreme weather is up over the past few years, and people who deal with infrastructure expect that to continue. Leading climate models suggest that weather-sensitive parts of the infrastructure will be seeing many more extreme episodes, along with shifts in weather patterns and rising maximum (and minimum) temperatures.

“We’ve got the ‘storm of the century’ every year now,” said Bill Gausman, a senior vice president and a 38-year veteran at the Potomac Electric Power Company, which took eight days to recover from the June 29 “derecho” storm that raced from the Midwest to the Eastern Seaboard and knocked out power for 4.3 million people in 10 states and the District of Columbia.

This story, by Matthew L. Wald and John Schwartz, will give you a great overview of the risks we're facing—and the high prices we're paying—as "the norm" becomes an old-fashioned concept.

Read the rest of Wald and Schwartz's story in the New York Times

Why is 98.6 just right for your body but too hot for the weather?

Slate has a nice explainer covering heat wave health problems. The central question: If my body temperature is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, why am I uncomfortable when it's 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit outdoors?

The answer is both basic and interesting. Sure, 98.6 degrees F is the healthy temperature for a human body, but that's only because we are pretty good at transferring heat away from ourselves. Your metabolism and your muscles generate more heat than that, but you get rid of it using tricks like breathing out hot air and sweating. Basically, your body works like a heat exchanger. It's the same sort of system that keeps your refrigerator cool—take the heat from inside a closed space and dump it into the surrounding environment.

Unfortunately, this system works best when the surrounding environment is cooler than the closed space. Your body is happiest when the air temperature is around 70 degrees F. That's when it's most efficient at getting rid of your excess heat. When the weather gets to warm, it's a lot hard to make the heat exchange. With nowhere else to put the heat, your body temperature starts rising.

Because exercise causes the body to generate so much extra heat, optimal temperatures for intense physical activity are lower than those for daily life. Athletes can raise their core temperatures six degrees just by working out. Add an environment that makes heat dispersal more difficult—not to mention possible dehydration from sweat losses that sometimes exceed six liters (for marathoners) or two liters per hour (team game players)—and performance can take a nosedive.

... For example, researchers in Darwin, Australia, observing a long-distance runner taking a 30-minute jog through the humid air, noted that his body temperature increased from 98.96 degrees to 105.8 degrees. When he’d gone on a similar jaunt under cooler conditions, his temperature had risen by just two degrees. Such a spike spells trouble for maintaining an optimal heart rate: The man’s soared to 200 beats per minute during the last 15 minutes of his run, where, previously, it was a more sustainable 154 beats per minute.

Read the rest of Slate's Explainer on body temperature.

Image: Suck It Heat Wave!, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from instantvantage's photostream