Friday, September 12, 2014


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

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
Los Angeles, CA

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 almanacs.  These 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.

Why Do We have Seasons?

Earth's orbit of the Sun

As the image shows, the rays received from the Sun vary at different times of the year. In June, the Northern Hemisphere (containing places like North America, Europe, Russia and China) is tilted towards the Sun. This means that the Sun shines more directly on this part of the planet in June, meaning that the Sun's rays are more intense and the temperature is hotter. The days are also long because more of the Northern Hemisphere is pointing towards the Sun so the Sun is able to cover a large area. At the same time, the Southern Hemisphere (containing countries like Australia, New Zealand, Argentina and South Africa) is pointing away from the Sun. This causes the Sun's rays to be less direct, resulting in colder and shorter days. This means that in June, it is summer in the Northern Hemisphere but winter in the Southern Hemisphere. The complete opposite happens in December when the Northern Hemisphere is tilted away from the Sun and the Southern Hemisphere is pointed towards it. This causes it to be winter in the Northern Hemisphere and summer in the Southern Hemisphere.

As the earth spins on its axis, producing night and day, it also moves about the sun in an elliptical (elongated circle) orbit that requires about 365 1/4 days to complete. The earth's spin axis is tilted with respect to its orbital plane. This is what causes the seasons. When the earth's axis points towards the sun, it is summer for that hemisphere. When the earth's axis points away, winter can be expected. Since the tilt of the axis is 23 1/2 degrees, the North Pole never points directlyat the Sun, but on the summer solstice it points as close as it can, and on the winter solstice as far as it can. Midway between these two times, in spring and autumn, the spin axis of the earth points 90 degrees away from the sun. This means that on this date, day and night have about the same length: 12 hours each, more or less.

Why should this tilt of the Earth's axis matter to our weather? To understand this, take a piece of paper and a flashlight. Shine the light from the flashlight straight onto the paper, so you see an illuminated circle. All the light from the flashlight is in that circle. Now slowly tilt the paper, so the circle elongates into an ellipse. All the light is still in that ellipse, but the ellipse is spread out over more paper. The density of light drops. In other words, the amount of light per square centimeter drops (the number of square centimeters increases, while the total amount of light stays the same).

The same is true on the earth. When the sun is overhead, the light is falling straight on you, and so more light (and more heat) hit each square centimeter of the ground. When the sun is lower in the sky, the light gets more spread out over the surface of the earth, and less heat (per square centimeter) can be absorbed. Since the earth's axis is tilted, the sun is higher when you are on the part of the earth where the axis points more towards the sun, and lower on the part of the Earth where the axis points away from the sun.

For the Northern Hemisphere, the axis points most toward the sun in June (specifically around June 21), and away from the sun around December 21. This corresponds to the Winter and Summer Solstice (solstice is Latin for "the sun stands"). For the Southern Hemisphere, this is reversed.

For both hemispheres, the earth is 90 degrees away from the sun around March 21 and then again around September 21. This corresponds to the Fall and Spring Equinox (equinox is Latin for "equal night"). Everyplace in the world has about 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. 

So Why Are Sunrise And Sunset Not Exactly 12 Hours Apart On The Equinox?

Day and night are not exactly of equal length at the time of the March and September equinoxes. The dates on which day and night are each 12 hours occur a few days before and after the equinoxes. The specific dates for this occurrence are different for different latitudes.

On the day of the equinox, the geometric center of the Sun's disk crosses the equator, and this point is above the horizon for 12 hours everywhere on the Earth. However, the Sun is not simply a geometric point. Sunrise is defined as the instant when the leading edge of the Sun's disk becomes visible on the horizon, whereas sunset is the instant when the trailing edge of the disk disappears below the horizon. At these times, the center of the disk is already below the horizon. Furthermore, atmospheric refraction (or bending) of the Sun's rays cause the Sun's disk to appear higher in the sky than it would if the Earth had no atmosphere. Thus, in the morning, the upper edge of the disk is visible for several minutes before the geometric edge of the disk reachs the horizon. Similarly, in the evening, the upper edge of the disk disappears several minutes after the geometric disk has passed below the horizon.

For observers within a couple of degrees of the equator, the period from sunrise to sunset is always several minutes longer than the night. At higher latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the date of equal day and night occurs before the March equinox. Daytime continues to be longer than nighttime until after the September equinox. In the Southern Hemisphere, the dates of equal day and night occur before the September equinox and after the March equinox.

When Are The Times And Dates Of The Next Equinoxes And Solstices?

The chart shown below shows the dates and times for the equinoxes and solstices through 2012. Times listed are in Eastern Time.  Subtract one hour for Central Time.
Spring Equinox
Summer Solstice
Fall Equinox
Winter Solstice
Mar 20 -- 12:57pm
June 21 -- 6:51am
Sept 22 -- 10:29pm
Dec 21 -- 6:03pm
Mar 20 -- 6:45pm
June 21 -- 12:38pm
Sept 23 -- 4:21am
Dec 21 --  11:48pm
Mar 20 -- 12:30am
June 20 --  6:34pm
Sept 22 -- 10:21am
Dec 21 --  5:44am
Mar 20 -- 6:29am
June 21 -- 12:24am
Sept 22 -- 4:02pm
Dec 21 -- 11:28am
Mar 20 -- 12:15pm
June 21 -- 6:07am
Sept 22 --  9:54pm
Dec 21 -- 5:23pm
Mar 20 -- 5:58pm
June 21 -- 11:54am
Sept 23 -- 3:50am
Dec 21 -- 11:19pm
Mar 19 -- 11:50pm
June 20 -- 5:44pm
Sept 22 -- 9:31am
Dec 21 -- 5:02am

Is It True That You Can Stand An Egg On End During The Spring Equinox?

The answer is YES. However, you can stand an egg on end, with a large amount of patience, on any day of the year. This myth seems to pop up every year around the equinox. The thought that an egg can only stand on end on the spring equinox due to gravitational forces of the sun being aligned with the earth sound like science, but it isn't. According to Chinese tradition, an egg can be made to stand on end at the precise moment winter ends and spring begins. But, the Chinese calender had this transition occurring at a variable time each year, determined partly by the Chinese lunar month, usually in early February. More recently, this myth became fixed to the time of the spring equinox.

The underlying assumption relating to standing eggs on end is that there must exist some special gravitational balance. There are many forces acting on an egg when you try to stand it on end on a flat surface. Some people think that the gravitational pull of the Sun becomes balanced with that of the Earth to allow for this phenomenon to occur. However, the moon exerts a much stronger gravitational effect on the Earth than the Sun, dominating the ebb and flow of the ocean tides. The moon's effects are different at each of the equinoxes however. The most dominant force of gravity on a standing egg is the one between the Earth and the egg itself. This is determined by the weight of the egg and the force pulling the egg to the counter top. To assume that some celestial balance occurs only on the spring equinox (but not on the fall equinox!), is to fall prey to bad science.

If you want to prove this to yourself, take a fresh, uncooked egg and hold it with the larger end resting on a table or counter top. Wait for the fluid content of the egg to settle, then carefully test the balance. Be patient as you find the point where you can ever so gently let it go to remain standing on end.

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 knownto 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!

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