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6 Lesser-Known Terms for Weather Phenomena

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This summer, you’re bound to hear emergency broadcasts, news reports, and videos of massive thunderstorms, with commentary and terminology you might not be familiar with. Knowing what those words mean can tell you a lot more about what’s going on than just what’s shown on the screen. Here are six lesser-known terms that are associated with the storm season.

1. Derecho

NOAA

Directly translated from Spanish, “derecho” means “straight,” and, fittingly, straight-line wind damage is a defining characteristic of this weather event. Derechos, like tornados, tend to accompany massive thunderstorms, and the storms that form them are frequently preceded by low, dark “shelf clouds” (arcus, as seen above). However, unlike tornadoes, the damage they cause is not from rotating wind or vortices. They’re formed by cold wind from thunderstorms being pushed downwards (a downburst) and rapidly spreading out in all directions once it hits the ground. This blast can lead to major damage over a large area.

Straight-line wind damage is common in thunderstorms, but a derecho is defined as a wind-damage swath that extends more than 240 miles (approximately 400 km), and which has wind gusts of at least 58 mph (93 km/h) throughout most of its length. Derechos are most common along the “corn belt” in the United States, but even where they’re most prevalent, there are rarely more than two in a year (compared to 10 to 15 tornadoes a year in the most vulnerable areas). Their rarity is due to the fact that, unlike tornadoes or hurricanes, they’re not a unified and singular event, but rather an uncommon phenomenon that was considered noteworthy enough to be given a name back in 1888. The damage and top wind speed of the derecho often varies along its length because of the fact that it isn’t a unified event, but rather a long line of individual downbursts, each with their own microbursts and microclimates.

2. Squall line

NOAA

Also known as multicell lines, squall lines develop from a common “lifting mechanism,” such as a cold front. Included in squall lines are multiple thunderstorm cells, all around the same stage in their lifecycle. They differ from other thunderstorm types, which are known as single cell (or pulse) storms, multicell clusters (where the storm cells are in different stages and don’t necessarily connect or move together), and supercell thunderstorms.

The greatest risk in squall lines tends to be the strong downdrafts, which can cause serious problems for aviation, and can cause major damage on the ground, such as in the case of derechos. Most derechos in North America develop from squall lines.

3. Virga

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From the Latin word meaning “rod, branch,” virgae often look like fuzzy rods or curtains hanging from clouds, and are a common meteorological phenomenon. These rods are shafts of precipitation that fall from clouds, but never reach the ground. They can be seen year-round, often over the desert or prairie, especially in temperate climates.

Precipitation often falls as ice crystals in the high atmosphere but melts as it falls. In the case of virga, this melted water eventually evaporates before hitting the ground. As one might expect, virga tends to develop from high-altitude clouds, when the atmosphere is somewhat warm and dry, allowing it to evaporate moisture easily. The evaporative cooling caused by virga can cause sometimes cause a dramatic temperature drop and strong convective surface winds or microbursts.

4. Crepuscular rays

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Like with virga, you’ve almost certainly seen crepuscular rays before, but might not have known the name. These rays are the “sunbeams” you see coming from the clouds, and the beams of light seen during the crepuscular (“twilight”—dawn or dusk) hours. They appear to converge at the sun, even though they’re actually parallel beams of light. The convergence is similar to how a train track appears to converge on the horizon, even though you know that it remains parallel.

These rays are formed due to the sunlight bouncing off of particulate matter and water vapor in the atmosphere. Since the sunlight passes through ten times the amount of atmosphere at dawn and dusk as compared to midday, there are many more particles for it to bounce off of before it reaches our eyes.

5. Haboob

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Despite its Arabic name (meaning “blasting”), haboobs are a worldwide phenomenon. In North America, “haboob” is occasionally used interchangeably with any dust storm, but it’s more frequently used in the context of a very intense dust storm wall that’s associated with the gust front of a severe thunderstorm. They can overtake a neighborhood or city in minutes, with wind speeds over 40 mph and dust so thick that there is zero visibility. As the haboobs can begin suddenly, be more intense than the average dust storm, and pick up any small particulate matter (such as infectious fungi and industrial metal waste) in their path, there is a serious risk posed to both transportation and public health when people don’t know how to react.

Protocol for haboobs is the same as other dust storms, but can be even more important, especially for those with chronic lung disease. If you’re outside, go inside if at all possible. If there are no indoor locations available nearby, cover your nose and mouth with fabric (such as a shirt). If you’re driving, pull over. Seriously, just wait out the dust; it won’t be that long. Despite the risk to lung health, nearly all deaths caused by haboobs are due to people continuing to drive through them, and getting into accidents.

Are you poetic? Do you understand the importance of waiting out a haboob? Maybe you can help out the Arizona Department of Transportation—this is the second year they’ve had a “Haboob Haiku” contest to promote dust storm safety.

6. Petrichor

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The storm has passed, and the scent in the air says as much. While the smell before rain may be simple (it’s ozone, created when the atmosphere is electrified), the smell after a storm is a bit more complex, and it has a name: petrichor. Coined in 1964 by Isabel Joy Bear and R. G. Thomas of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Reasearch Organization, petrichor was originally defined as airborne molecules from decomposing plant and animal matter that have settled on mineral or clay surfaces. The molecules of decay recombine with the molecules naturally on the mineral surface during dry spells, and can be smelled after a storm because the addition of water allows the mixture of fatty acids, alcohols, and hydrocarbons to be released. The term petrichor now encompasses the entirety of the smell after rain, however, not just the sharp dusty-decay scent originally described.

One of the most abundant components of petrichor gives it a musty, earthy smell. This scent is the result of the molecule geosmin. It’s a metabolic by-product of blue-green algae in water, and of Actinomyces bacteria in the soil. While it may be a beckoning call to gardeners, it’s been known for almost a century due to the problems it’s caused in winemaking—geosmin contamination leaves a wine tasting “muddy” or “moldy.”

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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10 Badass Facts About Jason Statham
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Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for BET

Jason Statham is one of the preeminent action heroes of a generation—some would say he’s our last action hero. On the screen, he's been a hitman, a transporter, a con man, a veteran, and a whole host of other unsavory, but oddly endearing, tough guys. Before he stepped foot on his first movie set, though, Statham had a past life that would rival any of the colorful characters he’s brought to the screen. To celebrate his 50th birthday, we’re digging into what makes this English bruiser tick with these 10 fascinating facts about Jason Statham.

1. DIVING WAS HIS FIRST CALLING.

Before becoming a big-screen tough guy, Jason Statham exuded grace and fluidity as one of the world’s top competitive divers in the early 1990s. He spent 12 years as part of the British National Diving Squad, highlighted by competing in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

Though he was an elite diver, Statham never qualified for the Olympics, which he admits is still a “sore point” for him. "I started too late," he has said of his diving career. "It probably wasn't my thing. I should have done a different sport."

2. HE DABBLED IN MODELING.

With his diving career over, Statham entered the world of modeling for the fashion company French Connection. If his rugged image doesn’t seem to naturally lend itself to the world of male modeling, that was exactly what the company was going for.

“We chose Jason because we wanted our model to look like a normal guy," Lilly Anderson, a spokesperson for French Connection, said in a 1995 interview with the Independent. "His look is just right for now—very masculine and not too male-modelly."

3. HE DANCED HALF-NAKED IN A COUPLE OF MUSIC VIDEOS.

A word of warning: The internet never forgets. Back in 2015, two ‘90s music videos went viral—“Comin’ On” by The Shamen and “Run to the Sun” by Erasure—and it’s not because the songs were just that good. It’s because both videos featured a half-naked, and quite oily, Jason Statham curiously dancing away in the background.

Both make liberal use of Statham’s lack of modesty, which is a far cry from the slick suits and commando gear we’d later see him sporting in The Transporter and Expendables series. So which one is your favorite? Leopard-print Speedo Statham from “Comin’ On” or his Silver Surfer look from “Run to the Sun”? And no, “both” isn’t an option. (Though “neither” is acceptable.)

4. GUY RITCHIE CAST HIM BECAUSE HE WAS SELLING KNOCKOFF JEWELRY AND PERFUME ON THE STREET.

After years of high dives, modeling, and pelvic gyrations, Statham was still looking to make a real living in the late ‘90s. His next odd job? Selling knockoff perfume and jewelry on London street corners. Luckily, that type of real-world hoodlum was exactly what director Guy Ritchie needed for 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Ritchie was introduced to Statham through his modeling gig at French Connection and saw the potential this real-world con man had for the movie. He wrote the role of Bacon specifically for Statham, which would end up being the movie that propelled him to Hollywood stardom.

5. JOHN CARPENTER WANTED HIM AS THE LEAD IN GHOSTS OF MARS.

Though Statham gained acclaim for his role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he wasn’t quite a leading man yet. Director John Carpenter wanted to change that by casting him as James “Desolation” Williams, the main character in Ghosts of Mars.

While Carpenter was convinced that Statham was ready for the role, the producers weren’t. They pushed the director to cast someone with more name value, eventually settling on Ice Cube. Statham stayed in the movie in a smaller role as Sgt. Jericho Butler.

6. HE REGULARLY DOES HIS OWN STUNTS.

Jason Statham in Wild Card (2015).
Lionsgate

In addition to being in impeccable shape, Statham also takes pride in doing many of his own stunts in his movies, from hand-to-hand combat to dangling from a helicopter 3000 feet above downtown Los Angeles. In fact, he’s almost dogmatic in his belief that actors should be doing their own stunts.

“I'm inspired by the people who could do their own work,” the actor said. “Bruce Lee never had stunt doubles and fight doubles, or Jackie Chan or Jet Li. I've been in action movies where there is a face replacement and I'm fighting with a double, and it's embarrassing.”

The worst offenders? Superhero movies. And Statham isn't shy about sharing his thoughts on those:

"You slip on a cape and you put on the tights and you become a superhero? They're not doing anything! They're just sitting in their trailer. It's absolutely, 100 percent created by stunt doubles and green screen. How can I get excited about that?"

7. FILMING EXPENDABLES 3 ALMOST KILLED HIM.

For all the authenticity that Statham likes to bring to the screen by doing his own stunts, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. While filming an action scene for Expendables 3, the brakes failed on a three-ton stunt truck Statham was driving, sending it off a cliff and into the Black Sea.

If you've ever wondered if the real Statham was anything like the movie version, his underwater escape from a mammoth truck should answer that.

"It's the closest I've ever been to drowning,” Statham said on Today. “I've done a lot of scuba diving; I've done a lot of free diving ... No matter how much of that you've done, it doesn't teach you to breathe underwater ... I came very close to drowning. It was a very harrowing experience."

8. HE PRACTICES A RANGE OF MARTIAL ARTS.

Statham’s fitness routine is about more than just weights and core work. The actor is also involved in a variety of different fighting disciplines like boxing, judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Out of everything he does to stay in shape, it’s the martial arts that have the been most helpful for Statham’s onscreen presence. “That’s what I have to give most of my time to these days: training for what I have to do in terms of providing action in an authentic manner," he told Men's Health

Statham is not alone in his passion for martial arts; director Guy Ritchie is also a black belt in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in karate. When Men’s Health asked Statham if the two ever sparred, he responded, “I remember when we started out, we’d go on a press tour for Lock, Stock… and we’d be moving all the furniture out of the way in the hotel room, trying to choke each other out.”

After all, what are collaborators for?

9. HE’S WELL AWARE SOME OF HIS MOVIES HAVE BEEN DUDS.

When asked by Esquire if he ever watched one of his movies during the premiere and thought "Oh, no ...," his response was a very self-aware: "Yeah, I think I've said that more often than not. Yeah."

He went on to rattle off his Guy Ritchie movies, The Bank Job, Transporter 1 and 2 (not 3), and Crank as being among his favorite films. As for the others, the actor joked, “And the rest is sh*t."

He clarified that remark as a joke and said, “I mean, you do a lot of films. You're always aiming for something and trying to push yourself to do something good.”

He then compared his work to the inner workings of a watch, saying, “A movie, it's like a very complicated timepiece. There's a lot of wheels in a watch. And some of those wheels, if they don't turn right, then, you know, the watch ain't gonna tell the time."

10. HIS MOVIES HAVE MADE MORE THAN $1.5 BILLION IN THE U.S. ALONE.

Statham's films may have a tough time impressing critics, but audiences and studio executives can’t get enough. Taken as a whole, Statham’s filmography has raked in just a touch more than $1.5 billion in the United States, with the worldwide total standing at $5.1 billion.

A lot of this is due to his more recent entry into the Fast and Furious franchise, but he’s also had seven movies cross the $100 million mark worldwide outside of that series. This isn’t an accident; Statham knows exactly what type of movie keeps the lights on, as he explained in an interview with The Guardian.

“So if you've got a story about a depressed doctor whose estranged wife doesn't wanna be with him no more, and you put me in it, people aren't gonna put money on the table. Whereas if you go, 'All he does is get in the car, hit someone on the head, shoot someone in the f*cking feet,' then, yep, they'll give you $20 million. You can't fault these people for wanting to make money.”

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