Despite its radical benefit to humankind, meteorology still attracts criticism and remains the butt of jokes, mostly because its weather predictions could go wrong. Even as seasoned weather forecasters could announce a 100 percent chance of rain in a city, it wouldn’t rain at all afterwards!
To be fair, weather forecasting has significantly improved in the last 20 years or so. Experts are much better equipped in providing advanced warnings of severe weather events, doubling the lead times when it comes to tornado warnings, and offering people about 40 more minutes to escape flash floods.
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In addition, accurate weather forecasting will depend on how many eyes are on the sky. More than 11,000 observation stations across the world, for instance, take hourly measurements of temperature, humidity, air pressure, and wind speed and direction. Meteorologists are tasked to interpret computer-generated forecasts, comparing among different mathematical models and interpreting the amount of real-time data coming from the ground.
In reality, conflicting predictive models may result in contrasting views. Pinning down the exact location of a weather event, too, can be notoriously difficult. Weather prediction tools monitoring vital weather signs are far from perfectly accurate.
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But count on the whole science to improve over time, as witnessed the past decades. Supercomputers and other advanced technological tools, after all, are lending a hand in cranking out the calculations to reduce or eliminate guesswork. Keep in mind, though, that predicting the future will be sorely difficult not just for meteorologists, but for humankind as a whole.
Jim Byrne is a consulting meteorologist at the Weather Channel program “So you think you’d survive.” An alumnus of San Jose State University, he had also been the chief meteorologist for KCOY CBS-12 and a freelance weekend meteorologist at NBC Bay Area. Read more about his work on this page.
The forming of tornadoes is both an amazing and frightening thing, happening in a four-step process that requires the perfect natural conditions. Below is a closer look at how this powerful force of nature is created.
Firstly, warm, moist air (usually coming in from the Gulf of Mexico) is lifted by a warm or cold front (cool, dry air from Canada) causing an updraft. This collision leads to an atmospheric instability; the moisture condenses into clouds and precipitation and forms a thunderstorm. Most tornadoes form from these thunderstorms.
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Usually, precipitation should counter the updraft. However, when winds blow precipitation out of the rising air, the updraft strengthens. This change in wind direction and an increase in wind speed with increasing height creates an invisible, horizontal spinning effect in the lower atmosphere. Beneath the storm, winds of different speeds called shear form horizontal tubes of rotating air.
When these tubes are ingested into the updraft, they become vertical, and the storm acquires rotation, forming what is called a “supercell.” Rising air within the updraft tilts the rotating air from horizontal to vertical. An area of rotation, 2-6 miles wide, now extends through much of the storm.
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The rotating tube is stretched, and the supercell becomes a giant vacuum, sucking air up and away. As air rushes in to equalize the pressure, the tornado is then completely formed.
It can be easy to misconstrue that thunderstorm, tornado, and hurricane are interchangeable terms because all three are characterized by strong winds and are considered severe, violent weather formations. Learn the differences among these three below:
A thunderstorm is a type of storm with heavy rain showers, thunder, and lightning. It is produced by cumulonimbus clouds and lasts an average of 30 minutes, although there are extreme instances where a thunderstorm can last more than an hour. Strong thunderstorms, called supercells, rotate like hurricanes. This is probably the reason it is mistaken for the other.
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A tornado is a violent spiraling funnel cloud that most of the time forms due to a thunderstorm, and can last from mere seconds to over an hour. It can mostly be seen in land, because the solar heating of the land surface contributes to the spawn of the vortex. There are times, though, that over-water tornadoes occur. Meteorologists say that tornadoes are one of the difficult to predict natural phenomena.
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A hurricane is also known as a tropical cyclone. It is a swirling low pressure system made up of clouds and thunderstorms that form over tropical or subtropical large bodies of water. It has a size that spans hundreds of miles and can last for a few hours up to a couple of weeks.
Weatherman Jim Byrne used to work as the chief meteorologist for KCOY CBS-12. At present, he is a consulting meteorologist for the Weather Channel program “So you think you’d survive.” Learn more about the weather by visiting this website.
For all her beauty, Mother Nature can often be terrifying. Calamities such as volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and tsunamis have wreaked havoc on human civilization. News reports of extreme weather have captured the imagination of people worldwide, even making their way into pop culture in the form of disaster movies.
On that note, let’s take a look at three records of extreme weather that would frighten just about anyone.
It’s no surprise that the lowest temperatures in the world would be recorded in Antartica. But on July 21, 1983, the temperature in Vostok, Antartica plunged to -89.2 C, which is an unbelievable -128.5 F.
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For years, Death Valley in California has held the record for being the hottest spot in the world. When summer hits, average temperatures can be an unforgiving 46.7 C, or 116 F. However, in the summer of 1913, the temperature spiked to a searing 56.7 C, or 134 F, the hottest ever recorded in history.
Most rainfall (one minute)
In a place like Hong Kong, when the rainfall goes over 70 millimeters an hour, which is 2.75 inches in 60 minutes, the black rainstorm signal is immediately sent up. This is the most severe rain can get. In Unionville, Maryland, on the 4th of July, 1956, 31.2 millimeters (1.22 inches) of rain fell in sixty seconds, which was record.
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Weatherman Jim Byrne is a consulting meteorologist at the Weather Channel show “So You Think You’d Survive.” He used to be the chief meteorologist for KCOY CBS-12 and a freelance weekend meteorologist at NBC Bay Area. For more updates and informative articles about meteorology, visit this page.
It’s common practice to check weather conditions before leaving the house as this would dictate one’s commute to work or school. However, because of climate change, weather conditions are more unpredictable than before, leaving individuals clueless by the end of their workday as to how they’re going to get home safe.
Driving in the rain is sometimes unavoidable given that thunderstorms may strike in the middle of one’s drive home. A usual storm may last for about 30 minutes, and the best thing to do—when possible—is to park on the side of the road to let the storm pass. This isn’t the best choice for many as they’d rather tough it out and make it home as fast as they can. If one decides to brave the heavy rains, they must be mindful of visibility. In cases of low visibility, keep the fog lights on and be sure to have a tight grip on the steering wheel.
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A car has very low traction during a thunderstorm, and it is advised not to drive at speeds that can be dangerous to the driver and the surrounding cars. Brakes won’t bite as fast as they should, requiring the driver to have full control of the car. Driving through puddles of water should be done carefully as this could cause harm to a car’s engine. What appears to be safe to drive through may actually bring more damage than imagined.
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