Friday, August 17, 2012

The Weather

* All art and photography courtesy of "Google Images". Titling by Felicity Blaze Noodleman

As the foundation of the NWS Digital Services Program, the National Digital Forecast Database (NDFD) consists of gridded forecasts of sensible weather elements (e.g., cloud cover, maximum temperature). NDFD contains a seamless mosaic of digital forecasts from NWS field offices working in collaboration with the National Centers for Environmental Prediction (NCEP). The database is available for members of the public to use in creating text, graphic, gridded and image products of their own. Over time, NWS will offer a wider array of gridded forecast elements and a larger set of graphical presentations.

By Felicity Blaze Noodleman

Since here in California we have entered into our "shake and bake" season ( very hot triple digit heat with a high possibility for earth quakes) and because hurricane season seems to be getting an early start in the south eastern US; I thought it might be useful to know how meteorologist prepare their weather forecasts.  Most people can usually agree about the weather!  There isn’t a wide variety of opinion.  It for the most part is an absolute.  The weather can’t be changed but will change of its own accord in the near future.  Ether you like it or you don’t.  But everyone agrees on what it is for the day.  Too hot or too cold.  Too wet or too dry.  This article will look at the forces behind out weather and how it is predicted, both in the past and up through today.

Bob Dylan wrote “you don’t need to be a weather man to know which way the wind blows” but if you want to know from which direction and at what speed the wind is going to blow from you will need more than a song.  Ancient weather prediction looked to the heavens for clues and can be traced back to the ancient Greeks and the Chinese.  Babylonian records date back to 650 BC as they applied astrology and examined cloud formations to predict the weather.  Tables and charts were kept tracking many different areas of celestial patterns and annual earthly conditions.  These records were assembled into an “Almanac” which was the standard for centuries in weather predicting until 1835 with the invention of the "Telegraph".

Three examples of 20th. century almanacsThese almanacs were the farmers
handbook as they pertained to forecasting the agricultural conditions for the
farming seasons.  Almanacs have been used for centuries since their conception
by the ancient Babylonians in 650 BC.

Thermometers or “Thermo Scopes” were developed in the early part of the 1600’s and the barometer was developed in the mid 1600’s.  As measurements were incorporated into the record keeping for almanacs other instrumentation was developed to calculate wind speeds and atmospheric data which all aided in tracking current and past conditions to predict future occurrences.
Early examples of thermometers from the 1600's (Galileo Galilei)
and barometers (Giovanni Baliani).

Oddly enough, it was the British Royal Navy which led the way in modern weather recognition and prediction.  Naval Officers need information on weather patterns to assist them in plotting their courses to navigate their wind powered sailing ships.  They need favorable wind conditions to fill their sails and they needed to know where bad or unfavorable weather conditions were so they could avoid them.  It was the Navy, both British and United States who would lead the way in "Meteorology" up until today.

The Telegraph was a revolution in information communications.  It allowed people to transmit information of all kinds from one area to another.  From east coast to the west, telegraphers could now dispatch weather conditions from one location to the next expected area or direction of a weather front. 

One other significant benefit of the telegraph which would come about was the unification of the country into what we now refer to as “time zones”.  Before the telegraph almost every town established its own time zone.  There was no central authority anywhere to organize what the time of day was!  This presented the Rail Road’s many problems in creating time tables and schedules for arrivals and departures to travel destinations.  You can imagine the resulting chaos. 

Fine example of a 19th. century train station from Chicago IL

Soon “Regulator” clocks were initiated by the Rail Road Company’s bringing uniformity to the nation.  The time in New York, for example, could be telegraphed to all the train stations along the east coast by which the Station Master would set the stations Regulator clock.  If people wanted to know what the time was they could set their watches by their stations Regulator clock.  The train station was the information center for a community dispatching the time, weather, mail and news of the day.

Satellites as they orbit earth.  We have littered our planet with them.
Satellites of many different varieties.

So now to quickly bring us up to date, as technology advanced, scientist and the military developed new instrumentation for gathering data about meteorological conditions and were able to track storms beginning with the old “Observation Balloons” predating the Civil War up through manned flight by airplane in WWII up to the “Weather Satellites” and "Doppler HD Radar" of today.  Meteorology has come a very long way.  I remember when the news weather forecast was a guy standing in front of a chalk board writing in temps. and that was it!  Today the "National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration"  of the US Department of Commerce is responsible for collecting all weather data across the US, compiling a weather data base and issuing our national forecasts.

Today's digital array of weather forecasting equipment:  Top left to bottom right
Doppler Radar station, Barometer & Atmospheric Pressure Gauge, Rain Gauge,
Thermometer, Anemometer (Wind Gauge) and Weather Satellite.  Many instruments
can be combined together as seen here.  Data all feeds to the meteorologists
computer for analysis to produce a visual weather report.

I think we all understand how satellites can improve weather prediction but what about Doppler HD radar?  This is a ground based radar system which has been finely tuned to recognize weather phenomenon such as cloud formations and atmospheric storms.  Trained Meteorologist then interpret this data and make their predictions.  Combining this information with data produced from satellites the Meteorologist can highly focus their forecasts for what will be happening in their area. 

Calipso 4 which stands for (Cloud - Aerosol - Lindar and Infrared - Pathfinder - Satellite Observation) weather satellite launched in 2006 operates with four other satellites and
operates as a "train" configuration.

Now on to the driving force behind the weather.  It is the Sun.  The Sun is the star of our solar system.  The “sky bull”!  The Sun dictates not only what will happen on earth but all of the other planets and celestial bodies in our solar system, the “Milky Way”.  It is a very big player determining planet rotations, seasons and atmospheric conditions for all the planets.  Actually “Meteorology” is a misnomer.  It would more correctly stated as “Sunology"; it's not even a correct word!  The ancient Egyptians worshiped the Sun believing it was responsible for everything which occurred in their world and spurring their succession of Goddesses, the most notable being “Isis” who gave birth to “Ra”.

Once we understand the basics of heating and cooling the weather becomes very simple.  It can be easily illustrated with a tea kettle.  By heating and cooling the atmosphere, wind is generated.  Water is changed from a liquid state to a gas or frozen into its solid ice form.  When warm moist formations of air collide with cool dry areas storms of all kinds can occur.  Throw in the earth’s rotation and presto!  Track the winds forces pushing cloud formations and we can see what’s going to happen.

Satellite views of earth. Always fascinating to see!  Satellite composite
of hurricane systems.

Can the Sun cause other effects on the earth's surface?  Yes it certainly can.  Solar “flares” can cause a great deal of trouble to earth and the surrounding atmosphere.  An excerpt from Wikipedia explains why:
"Solar flares strongly influence the local space weather in the vicinity of the Earth. They can produce streams of highly energetic particles in the solar wind, known as a solar proton event, or "coronal mass ejection" (CME). These particles can impact the Earth's magnetosphere (see main article at geomagnetic storm), and present radiation hazards to spacecraft, astronauts, and cosmonauts.
Massive solar flares are sometimes associated with CMEs which can trigger geomagnetic storms that have been known to knock out electric power for extended periods of time. According to Matthew Stein, many hundred thousands of miles of high voltage lines would act like an antenna drawing the electro-magnetic pulse from a solar flare toward thousands of transformers on the world's power grids. Many transformers could burn out and be difficult to replace.
The soft X-ray flux of X class flares increases the ionization of the upper atmosphere, which can interfere with short-wave radio communication and can heat the outer atmosphere and thus increase the drag on low orbiting satellites, leading to orbital decay. Energetic particles in the magnetosphere contribute to the aurora borealis and aurora australis. Energy in the form of hard x-rays can be damaging to spacecraft electronics and are generally the result of large plasma ejection in the upper chromosphere."

Solar flares have also been known to pass into the earth's atmosphere and trigger forest fires in the western US.  Lightning generated high in the atmosphere has also been known to ignite forest fires as well.

The United States is situated between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans which gives us some of the most unusual weather patterns in the world.  With a variety of regional weather patterns we see meteorological systems which are not seen in other parts of the world.  Here in California we have something which is known as “the pineapple express” bringing rain from the Pacific ocean and dispersing moisture from coast to coast.  In California its rain but as it moves across the continent to the east it turns to snow.

The United States as seen from space with the Moon in the background, between
the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

In the mid west from Michigan to Texas we have a swath of country which is known as “Tornado Ally”.  Every spring cold air collides with warmer air producing Tornadoes.  In the south eastern US Hurricanes develop as warm air moving from Africa over the cooler Atlantic Ocean creating Hurricanes which head north ward to North America and can ride up the east coast to New York battering everything in their way and they can devastating the Gulf coast from Florida to Texas.  We have all kinds of twisters in the US: Hurricanes, Tornadoes, Cyclones and Waterspouts!

So the next time you see the weather forecast on TV,  see it on the home page of your favorite computer web browser on look it up on your hand held you will know the evolution of the meteorological science and the billions of dollars that are spent to bring you a quality weather forecast!  I'm Felicity Blaze Noodleman hoping you will have a wonderful day as we begin to head off into the Autumn.

If you don't like the weather, well, stick around because it always changes!

*  “The Noodleman Group” is pleased to announce that we are now carrying a link to the “USA Today” news site.  We installed the “widget/gadget” August 20, and it will be carried as a regular feature on our site.  Now you can read “Noodleman” and then check in to “USA Today” for all the up to date News, Weather, Sports and more!  Just scroll all the way down to the bottom of our site and hit the “USA Today” hyperlinks.  Enjoy!

No comments:

Post a Comment