CLOSE
Original image
istock

5 Weather Events Worth Chatting About

Original image
istock

Usually, the weather is a subject for polite, uneventful conversation with people you don't know very well. But sometimes the weather is weird, or even downright scary. Here are a few examples of weather events that gave neighbors more than enough to awkwardly discuss.

1. Dramatic Changes

Midwesterners are accustomed to using both their heat and air conditioning in the same day due to dramatic temperature changes and unseasonable weather. The "Great Blue Norther" of 1911 was the most dramatic cold snap ever recorded—several cities set record high and low temperatures on the same day. On November 11, 1911 (yes, 11/11/11) a massive storm system separated warm air from arctic air, yielding violent wind and storms. Kansas City, Missouri reached a high temperature of 76° F (24°C), and by midnight, the temperature plunged to 11° F (-11 C°). The 65 degree difference was replicated in Oklahoma City and Springfield, Missouri.

In addition to the temperature changes, the front also caused dust storms, tornadoes, and blizzards from Oklahoma to Ohio. Nine people were killed by an F4 tornado in Janesville, Wisconsin; an hour later rescuers were working in near zero temperatures and blizzard conditions to rescue victims. 

2. Raining Rainbows

We've all heard about the damaging effects of acid rain, but what about colored rain? Over the course of an entire month in 2001, deep red rain fell in the Kerala region of India. Yellow, green and black rain was also reported. The rain was such a deep color, residents claimed it stained clothes and resembled blood. The official report found that the unusual rain was caused by spores of a lichen-forming algae sucked into the atmosphere by a waterspout, much to the dismay of many people who thought it was caused by extraterrestrial activity.

Siberia experienced a strange yellow-orange snow in the winter of 2007. The oily, smelly snow was feared to be caused by industrial pollution, a rocket launch or maybe even a nuclear accident, but was eventually blamed on a massive sand storm in Kazakhstan.

3. Disappearing Islands

A hurricane in New York is a pretty rare occurrence—they hit about once every 75 years. In 1893, a Category 2 hurricane made landfall near present-day JFK Airport and caused extensive damage to the city, uprooting trees in Central Park, tossing wrought iron gates through buildings, and destroying nearly every building on Coney Island. The storm also obliterated a mile-long barrier island known as Hog Island, which was home to several saloons and bathhouses. The storm seriously eroded the island and destroyed all of its buildings; a few years later it was reduced to a few mounds of sand. This storm struck well before trendy hurricane names, so it was known only as the West Indian Monster of 1893. Researchers discovered dozens of antique items buried in the sand when the Rockaway Beach shores were being rebuilt in the 1990s.

4. Raining Animals

iStock

Yes, it has rained frogs in real life, not just in the movie Magnolia. Birds, bats, fish and even worms have been reported to fall from the sky. Scientists theorize that fast-moving storms and waterspouts cross a body of water and sweep or suck up animals, then deposit them miles away. Residents of Honduras have celebrated the Lluvia de Peces (Rain of Fish) annually for more than a century. The fish are believed to be sucked up from the ocean and deposited 140 miles inland, while others have indicated that the fish may be from underground water sources.
 
Animals have been known to survive the traumatic process, appearing startled but otherwise fine. But usually, they aren't so lucky, and don't survive the fall. Two instances in the 19th century indicate that cows were sucked up into the sky during a storm, and returned to earth in tiny pieces. Animals can also freeze to death in the frigid temperatures of the atmosphere, some of them are encased in ice when they make landfall. 

5. Disappearing Seasons

iStock

Volcanic winters, a phenomenon in which volcanic ash obscures the rays of the sun and increases the earth's reflectivity, causes dramatic decreases in temperature. In 1816, a volcanic winter led to a year where temperatures were so low in Europe and the United States, it was dubbed The Year Without a Summer. Volcanic ash from several eruptions, including Mount Tambora in Indonesia, caused irregularities worldwide, but the affects were most severe in Europe, Canada and the northern United States. A harsh frost in May destroyed many crops, snowstorms hit New England in June, and ice on rivers and lakes was observed in Pennsylvania in July and August. Snow was reported in tropical climates such as Thailand, along with colored freezing rain and snowfall in Hungary and Italy.

Food shortages forced the price of the surviving crops to record levels, and the effect was particularly devastating in Europe, where countries were still recuperating from the Napoleonic Wars. Riots and looting of warehouses became commonplace, especially in Switzerland, where a national emergency was declared. An estimated 200,000 perished from hunger and the cold temperatures in Europe alone.

The strange weather is also credited with several cultural influences. Mary Shelley and John Polidori went on a vacation to Switzerland with their friends were forced to stay inside. To keep things interesting, they started a contest to develop the scariest story, leading to Frankenstein and Vampyre. Due to the lack of feed for horses, German Karl Drais was inclined to invent the velocipede, the predecessor of the modern bicycle.

Original image
Three Lions / Stringer / Getty Images
arrow
environment
Climate Change Could Resurrect the Dust Bowl
Original image
Three Lions / Stringer / Getty Images

The billowing dust storms we know from black-and-white photos of the Great Depression could become a reality for future generations, scientists warn. As Gizmodo reports, climate change is grooming the southwest and central Great Plains for a new version of the Dust Bowl that plagued the region in the 1930s.

After gathering 12 years of satellite data (2003–2015), researchers at Princeton University and NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory predict that dust clouds will increase in parts of the U.S. in the latter half of this century. As they lay out in their study in Scientific Reports, prolonged drought and barren landscapes caused by deforestation are set to create the perfect conditions for the same type of storms that drove people from the Great Plains nine decades ago. At its worst, this phenomenon could be deadly; when they're not breathing in dust, residents in the affected areas could be exposed to dangerous pathogens and chemicals carried by air currents.

Dust storms occur when winds stir up dirt particles into dark, massive clouds. During the so-called Dirty Thirties, soil loosened by over-tilling was a major contributor to the dust that enveloped land. Even with more sustainable farming practices, dry summers could create the same arid, dusty landscapes required for a repeat of the Dust Bowl.

While there's still much research to be done on the subject, the study authors hope their findings will get people thinking about how to prepare for the consequences. "Our specific projections may provide an early warning on erosion control, and help improve risk management and resource planning," co-author Bing Pu said in a Princeton University press statement.

That seems like an improvement over ideas for fighting the Dust Bowl that were proposed in the 1930s, which included paving over the Great Plains and bombing the sky. Fortunately, we still have a few decades to come up with better strategies this time around.

[h/t Gizmodo]

Original image
NOAA
arrow
Weather Watch
These Scientists Intentionally Fly Into Hurricanes
Original image
NOAA’s WP-3D Orion (top) and Gulfstream IV-SP (bottom)
NOAA

Hurricanes are a terrifying display of nature's power. Even last century, a perfectly sunny day could turn into unimaginable horror without any warning at all, as storms leveled entire towns and upended thousands of lives. We've come a long way since those dark days, and now we can watch hurricanes churn over the ocean in weather broadcasts in time to get out of the way. One of the best ways we can follow these storms is thanks to the men and women who make up the so-called (yes, actually) Hurricane Hunters.

The Hurricane Hunters are scientists working for both NOAA and the United States Air Force who fly airplanes into the worst parts of a hurricane to tell us first-hand what the storm is doing. Bad-ass scientists began regularly flying into storms (on purpose) after World War II, and today the practice is a standard part of hurricane forecasting in the United States. If satellite and radar imagery of a storm are like doctors taking an x-ray of your body, the work of the Hurricane Hunters is like drawing blood, sampling the inside of the storm to get a good idea of what it's doing at the moment.

NOAA's two famous Hurricane Hunter aircraft are Lockheed WP-3D Orions—nicknamed "Miss Piggy" and "Kermit"—that are equipped with special sensors and devices that help the meteorologists look at the storm and understand what makes it tick. The U.S. Air Force's 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron also operates a fleet of 10 WC-130J Hercules aircraft that utilize similar equipment when they fly out into storms.

radar image of Hurricane Matthew, September 2016
A radar image of Hurricane Matthew over the southern Caribbean Sea on September 30, 2016, taken from a NOAA WP-3D Orion.
NOAA-AOC/Google Earth

All of the aircraft are equipped with Doppler weather radar that helps both the airplane crew and meteorologists back on dry ground understand the internal structure of a storm. This radar imagery is useful for seeing the structure of the eyewall—important for determining its strength and longevity—as well as information about rain bands and any intrusions of dry air that could affect the storm's future.

The most important feature of all Hurricane Hunter aircraft is dropsondes, or small tubes filled with weather sensors that are dropped from the aircraft into the storm. Dropsondes work on the same principle as weather balloons, but the sensors go in the opposite direction—up to down. These sensor packages measure conditions like temperature, dew point (moisture), and air pressure, while GPS sensors help determine wind speed and direction. This information is relayed back to the crew in real-time. Dropsondes help meteorologists measure the lowest surface air pressure within the eye of a storm as well as the highest wind speeds in the storm.

One of the most innovative tools the Hurricane Hunters use is a piece of technological wizardry known as a Stepped-Frequency Microwave Radiometer, or SFMR. The SFMR is a device attached to the wing of the aircraft that monitors the amount of microwave radiation being reflected beneath the plane by factors like waves, sea foam, and rainfall rates. Meteorologists are able to use data collected by the SFMR to accurately estimate the wind speed beneath the aircraft. In fact, the National Hurricane Center was able to use data collected by an SFMR on one of the Air Force's planes to determine that Hurricane Patricia's peak winds reached a record-breaking 215 mph [PDF] off the western coast of Mexico in October 2015, which is the highest wind speed ever recorded in a tropical cyclone anywhere in the world.

NOAA also uses a Gulfstream IV-SP aircraft to survey the environments around and ahead of tropical cyclones as they draw closer to land. These aircraft fly at high altitudes and release dropsondes to measure both moisture and wind speed and direction to help meteorologists better understand the environment into which the storm is heading. This data, along with more frequent weather balloon releases on land, can be ingested into weather models to help forecasters create more accurate predictions for the eventual track a tropical storm or hurricane will take—and help keep you safe.

SECTIONS

More from mental floss studios