The most talked about topic these days seems to be the weather and its unpredictability, its destructiveness and disruption to health and home, and the absolute heartbreak of the lives of many Americans.
There’s nothing funny about people losing their lives or homes, but I found an article I thought would be interesting about past weather oddities and the latest on how to predict the weather.
“Everything is bigger in Texas,” they say, and the hail event may have been the catalyst for that distinction. In 1995, a storm battered North Texas with 70 mph winds, which isn’t surprising given what we see today, but the storm also produced softball-sized hail. Many still talk about it, and that within an hour, some roads in Fort Worth were buried under two feet of hailstones.
Perhaps the worst effects of the hurricane were experienced by Florida residents on August 23, 1992. Hurricane Andrew, a Category 5 hurricane, struck with sustained winds of 150 mph and destroyed several buildings, including a Burmese python breeding facility. . Many of them fled. As a result, even today the Everglades are still crowded with them. A female snake can lay up to 100 eggs per year, and they reproduce quickly. Although I do not condone the killing of any animal, I must bow to Florida legislators: To help control the growing snake population, Floridians are allowed to trap and kill them by almost any means necessary, without the need for a permit, especially on private land.
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More recently, but perhaps long forgotten except by wine producers, a Labor Day weekend heat wave in Northern California in 2017 turned grapes into raisins. When temperatures reached 109 degrees Fahrenheit, the scorching heat evaporated the water from the berries and halted the entire metabolic process in the vines. It is estimated that vineyards have lost up to 50% of their yields due to the unprecedented temperatures.
America sees more hurricanes than any other country, and they are stronger and more violent than anywhere else. We have averaged 1,274 tornadoes per year in the past decade.
According to the National Weather Service, approximately 16 million thunderstorms strike each year, with as many as 1,800 storms occurring at any one time. While 100,000 of those storms occur in the United States, only 10% of them are considered severe. These storms are defined as any event that produces winds of 58 mph or greater, hailstones measuring 3/4 inch or greater, as well as tornadoes. Other threats include dangerous linear winds, heavy rain, downed power lines and deadly lightning.
The odds of being struck by lightning are very small, but people are more likely to die from lightning than from other types of storms, with the exception of tornadoes. Lightning kills hundreds of people in the United States every year, with 10% of lightning deaths occurring in Florida alone. A direct hit is fatal. At 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperature of a lightning bolt is five times hotter than the surface of the Sun. There are about 55,000 lightning strikes every day in the United States.
Larger cities create more severe thunderstorms. Research has found that excess heat generated around cities makes thunderstorms more intense, known as the urban heat island effect. Heat from common activities such as driving cars and the huge amount of heat-absorbing concrete in major cities cause the air temperature to rise. This excess heat causes hot, humid air to rise and form clouds and thunderstorms. In fact, one study found that rainfall in Phoenix increased by 12% to 14% as the city’s population grew.
The latest in weather forecasting includes ASOS, Automated Surface Observing Systems, a joint initiative of the National Weather Service, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Department of Defense (DOD). It serves as the primary surface weather observation network in the United States with more than 900 stations across the country. ASOS is designed to report data on sky conditions, surface visibility, precipitation, temperature and wind. It is designed to support weather forecasting activities and aviation operations.
Advanced Weather Information Processing System is a technologically advanced computer processing system that integrates all meteorological and hydrological data with satellite and radar images that forecasters use to analyze the data and issue weather forecasts. It creates weather graphics, watches, and hazardous weather warnings after meteorologists prepare the forecast.
Meteorologists use Doppler radar systems to monitor severe storms that may occur. There are 159 Doppler radar towers across the United States. According to Science Daily, Doppler radar systems use the Doppler effect to measure the radial velocity of targets in the directional beam of the antenna. It can detect all types of tornado airborne debris, precipitation, thunderstorm cloud circulation, and wind strength and direction.
Weather satellites monitor the Earth’s atmosphere from space by collecting observational data that scientists then analyze. It plays an important role for all levels of the National Weather Service’s forecasting operations. Satellite data complements data from ground-based systems, such as weather radars, radiosondes, and surface observing systems.
But more often than not, it’s the least predictable thing about the weather, like the often overlooked pinecone. Yes, a pinecone can be used to predict rainfall. Pinecones open and close depending on humidity to help their seeds disperse. The light seeds are located inside the pinecone. When the weather is dry, the pinecone opens, so the wind can catch the seeds and allow them to spread into the air away from the parent tree. When the humidity rises and it rains, the pinecone is closed to prevent the seeds from escaping and becoming waterlogged.
Thank you so much to everyone involved in the weather information community – you help protect us, and for that we should all be eternally grateful.
Peg DeMarco is a Morganton resident who writes a weekly column for The News Herald. Contact her at email@example.com.