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NOAA/NASA
NOAA/NASA

Matthew Moves Through the Bahamas and Heads for Florida on Thursday

NOAA/NASA
NOAA/NASA

Hurricane Matthew is slowly moving northwest through the Bahamas this Wednesday afternoon, October 5, as it gains back the strength it lost earlier this week when it battered Cuba and Haiti with devastating flooding and intense winds. The hurricane is on track to reach Florida on Thursday as the worst storm the state has seen in more than a decade, potentially exposing densely populated cities to extreme winds, a dangerous storm surge, and flooding rains.

The latest update from the National Hurricane Center shows that Matthew was still a major hurricane early this morning with maximum sustained winds of 120 mph, making it a Category 3 on the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Wind Scale. The hurricane weakened from its long-held Category 4 intensity after interacting with rough terrain in eastern Cuba, but a favorable environment ahead of the storm—light winds, warm water, and ample moisture—will likely allow it to restrengthen into a Category 4 as it approaches Florida.

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast for Hurricane Matthew as of 11:00 AM October 5, 2016. Image credit: Dennis Mersereau

 
The Bahamas will take a serious hit from this major hurricane. The country’s capital of Nassau is forecast to be in the worst part of the eyewall on Thursday morning, potentially causing major damage and cutting off the country’s population center from the outside world for a time after the storm. Significant flooding will also pose a serious threat to life and property across the country’s many tiny islands.

Florida is covered with watches and warnings in anticipation of Matthew’s arrival on Thursday and Friday. A hurricane warning is in effect from Miami’s northern suburbs up the coast to Daytona Beach. Even though most hurricane forecast maps show these alerts along the immediate coastline, hurricane watches and warnings also extend inland—this hurricane warning also includes Orlando, its suburbs, and the Walt Disney World Resort. Tropical storm warnings cover southern Florida and inland parts of the state between Tampa and Orlando.

Great uncertainty exists in the forecast right now beyond Friday. The weather models are still having a hard time trying to figure out how Hurricane Matthew will interact with a ridge of high pressure parked over the western Atlantic right now. The hurricane will travel around the outer edge of the ridge as if it were a monorail. How far to the east or west the ridge extends later this week and this weekend will determine how close Matthew will come to land, as well as what it will do this weekend and early next week. Even though the Carolinas seem to be in a better position today than previous forecasts, this could change as models get a better handle on the situation.

The National Hurricane Center’s forecast probability for tropical storm–force winds (39–74 mph) as Hurricane Matthew approaches the United States. Warmer colors indicate higher odds for strong winds. Image credit: Dennis Mersereau

 
Strong winds and heavy rain from Hurricane Matthew extend almost 200 miles from its eye, so even if the storm doesn’t officially make landfall, the coast will still feel major impacts. Flooding rains are likely along the coast from Florida to South Carolina, possibly farther north if Matthew travels up the coast more than currently expected. Wind damage is likely, which will result in widespread power outages across the affected areas. Depending on the scale of the damage, power outages could last for several days and may stretch weeks in the hardest-hit areas.

A storm surge of 3–5 feet is possible along the coast where the hurricane warning is in effect. A storm surge, which is historically the deadliest part of a hurricane, is the flooding that results from high winds pushing seawater inland. The depth of a storm surge can be extremely localized—flooding from one spot to the next depends on the shape of the coastline, the depth of the water near shore, how strong the winds blow, and how long the strong winds last.

Hurricane Matthew has a history of destruction that should give hesitant coastal residents all the more reason to prepare for this storm’s arrival. The Weather Channel reports that Haiti and Cuba suffered “catastrophic" damage when Matthew passed through the Greater Antilles earlier this week. The most heavily damaged parts of Haiti are cut off from the outside world right now, limiting our knowledge of the potential destruction and casualties there, but photos and videos coming from the country show widespread damage from wind and flooding.

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science
What’s Really Happening When You "Smell" Snow
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Does snow have a scent? The logical side of your brain may say no: Snow is just frozen water, and therefore odorless. But if you’ve ever predicted a big snowstorm based on a familiar tickle in your nose, you know the answer isn’t so straightforward. So what exactly is happening when you “smell” a meteorological event? The answer has less to do with specific odor molecules as it does with the climate in which you smell them.

For an episode of the podcast Physics Central, olfactory scientist Pamela Dalton laid out the perfect storm of physical conditions you interpret as the smell of snow. When temperatures approach freezing right before it snows, it’s actually harder to detect scents in the air than it is during milder weather. Cold weather slows down molecules in the air, and with less molecular activity, certain smells become less pungent. That means “smelling snow” is, in part, just smelling fewer odors outdoors than what you’re used to.

But if there was nothing else to it, a snowstorm would smell no different than a cold, dry day. The factor that determines the difference is humidity. Right before a snowstorm, the air is more humid than usual. This is what causes the flakes to fall: When the atmosphere hits the maximum amount of moisture it can hold, it reacts by dumping some of the moisture—whether in the form of rain, sleet, or in this case, snow—back onto the ground. That humidity has the added effect of giving your olfactory system a quick boost. To many people, the sensation of being able to smell with a warm, moist nose in freezing weather is linked with the promise of snow.

As all of that’s happening to the world around you, there are mechanisms at work inside your body that also help to explain the unmistakable scent of snow. You sense the cold air you breath with your trigeminal nerve, the same nerve that interprets sensations caused by tingly hot peppers or cool mint toothpaste (it also interprets other facial sensations and is why you might sneeze in sunlight). This is separate from your olfactory system, but you still lump the information it gives you with conventional scents like coffee or pine.

These elements—cold weather, humidity, and a stimulated trigeminal nerve—combine to create something that isn’t an odor, but a sensory experience you’ve come to associate with snow. That’s why when asked to describe the scent, people often use words like “clean,” “fresh,” and “cold"— a.k.a. things that don’t have much of a scent at all.

[h/t Physics Central]

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Art
The Getty Center, Surrounded By Wildfires, Will Leave Its Art Where It Is
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The wildfires sweeping through California have left countless homeowners and businesses scrambling as the blazes continue to grow out of control in various locations throughout the state. While art lovers worried when they heard that Los Angeles's Getty Center would be closing its doors this week, as the fires closed part of the 405 Freeway, there was a bit of good news. According to museum officials, the priceless works housed inside the famed Getty Center are said to be perfectly secure and won't need to be evacuated from the facility.

“The safest place for the art is right here at the Getty,” Ron Hartwig, the Getty’s vice president of communications, told the Los Angeles Times. According to its website, the museum was closed on December 5 and December 6 “to protect the collections from smoke from fires in the region,” but as of now, the art inside is staying put.

Though every museum has its own way of protecting the priceless works inside it, the Los Angeles Times notes that the Getty Center was constructed in such a way as to protect its contents from the very kind of emergency it's currently facing. The air throughout the gallery is filtered by a system that forces it out, rather than a filtration method which would bring air in. This system will keep the smoke and air pollutants from getting into the facility, and by closing the museum this week, the Getty is preventing the harmful air from entering the building through any open doors.

There is also a water tank at the facility that holds 1 million gallons in reserve for just such an occasion, and any brush on the property is routinely cleared away to prevent the likelihood of a fire spreading. The Getty Villa, a separate campus located in the Pacific Palisades off the Pacific Coast Highway, was also closed out of concern for air quality this week.

The museum is currently working with the police and fire departments in the area to determine the need for future closures and the evacuation of any personnel. So far, the fires have claimed more than 83,000 acres of land, leading to the evacuation of thousands of people and the temporary closure of I-405, which runs right alongside the Getty near Los Angeles’s Bel-Air neighborhood.

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