Thursday, February 7, 2013

Weather Talkin'

On our recent trip to visit family in Georgia, I was amazed to see their Japanese magnolias, daffodils and spring flowering shrubs blooming beautifully.  It was a tug at this gardener’s heart and started the yearning for our own spring.  Their spring was about a month ahead of time and this recent storm pushed their temperatures below freezing.  It’s going to be another unusual weather year.  Or, is unusual weather actually normal?  Apparently, extreme weather conditions aren’t all that uncommon.   

Weather predictions and reporting was originally passed through generations by lore or sayings.  Even though we have advanced methods for predicting weather, the old sayings have scientific proof and most are still spot on.  An example:  “Birds fly low - expect rain and blow.”  Birds do fly lower when the air pressure is low (and full of rain.)

Along with the lore sayings, weather historians use records in books, diaries and documents regarding good and bad harvests, unusual happenings, and daily events such as the first day flowers bloomed, when lambing took place, and etc. 

In 900 BC, Babylonians recorded wind directions.  In 500 BC, the Greeks recorded rainfall.  An English gent recorded weather data in the 1330s. 

“Proxy” measurements to reconstruct weather events prior to record keeping uses tree ring widths, coral growth, isotope variations in ice cores, ocean and lake sediments, cave deposits and others tests covering the last 2,000 years.  Some specific ice core drillings have revealed temperature back 800,000 years.

Although the formulating of equations of atmospheric motion used in forecasting was devised in 1922, it wasn’t successfully used until 1950.  The computerized numerical weather prediction system is now standard.  Did someone once say, “There’s nothing new under the sun.”?

Methodical thermometer-based records detailing weather information started in 1850.  This is the data used when weather records are broken or compared.

1950 also saw the first operational meteorological weather monitoring radar used by the US.  First used to track icebergs for shipping purposes, it was quickly realized it had more potential for such things as storms. This was also the era to start using balloons to measure weather data.

April 1960 was the launching of the first weather satellite showing cloud movement.  Now they are used not only for cloud movement but data to monitor vegetation growth, plague damage, track migrating birds, bats and can map forest fires.

To address some weather predicting as it pertains to us locally:

The US is the only nation that issues tornado warnings nationwide.  Tornado prediction employs all the current devices plus good old guess work.  It’s not possible to predict positively if a weather system will produce a tornado.  The day we left from Georgia, weather officials said there was a good possibility of tornados around the Atlanta area.  Indeed it proved true the next day.  We also experienced how turbulent that system was when we shook, bounced and shimmied through it ascending and descending in our small jet.

China and Greece have records of earthquakes dating back as far as 1800s BC and those countries continue to have severe ones.  The first recorded US earthquake was in California in 1769 but settlers talked about them in the early 1600s.   The first device to measure earthquakes was developed in the 1700s.   Our area sits above the New Madrid fault and the Mississippi Valley experienced some very powerful earthquakes in the early 1800s.  If you’re afraid of earthquakes, the safest states are: Florida, Iowa, North Dakota and Wisconsin. Stay clear of Alaska for the highest magnitude and California for quantity (averaging 10,000 annually.)   The Chilean earthquake in 1960 caused seismic waves traveling over the entire earth for many days.  Should you want to impress friends and trivia buffs, this was called “free oscillation of the earth” and it’s rare. 

Another old saying is “Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it.” is true today.  Even amid our vast weather devices, predicting weather is often a best guess occupation.  Prevention or reversal of major weather is seldom possible even though the ecology can be damaged by man.  One thing for sure, the weather provides some pretty amazing talk around a cup of coffee at the local restaurants.

Resources:  Explorit Science Center, Wikipedia, NOAA,,

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