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Posts Tagged ‘weather

“You have to be in the right place at the right time. Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your perspective”*…

 

Hailstones

 

Hailstones are balls (or spikes, or flattish pancakes) of frozen precipitation that measure at least 0.2 inches across, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Severe Storms Laboratory. Several other types of smaller frozen precipitation are known as “ice pellets,” reports the National Snow & Ice Data Center, and may take the form of graupel (soft balls of water droplets clinging to a snow crystal and looking like Styrofoam) or sleet (essentially icy raindrops). In the sky, either of these can serve as an “embryo,” the little nucleus around which a hailstone can grow. The longer a fledgling hailstone stays lofted in a thunderstorm’s fierce updraft, the bigger it gets. Beyond that minimum 0.2-inch threshold, there are a few finer distinctions between hailstones, thrown around by researchers and sometimes forecasters at the National Weather Service. “Severe” hail has a maximum dimension of one inch or more, “significantly severe” stones are larger than two inches, and “giant” hail is bigger than four inches.

“Giant” sounds pretty big, but this crop of researchers didn’t think it seemed quite big enough. A hailstone of more than four inches is “certainly very large,” says Matthew Kumjian, a meteorologist at Penn State University and lead author of the paper. But, he adds, while stones of that size are rare, “they are not exceptional.” Hailstones bigger than four inches are reported 30 to 40 times a year in the United States alone, he says. Stones larger than six inches, though, are few and far between. Kumjian’s co-author, graduate student Rachel Gutierrez, combed through reports and found about 10 confirmed instances in the last 10 or 15 years, mostly in the U.S. (There were a handful of unconfirmed reports in Australia, Africa, and Asia, but photos or official measurements were missing.)

The researchers suspect that there are probably more of these spectacularly sized hailstones dropping down across the country, but they’re likely going unnoticed. When measuring hail, time is of the essence: Hailstones vanish fairly quickly, especially in hot or humid conditions, or if they shatter on impact; even large ones with cushioned falls might be overlooked. The most severe hailstorms in the United States are in the Great Plains, Kumjian says, where people are spread fairly far apart…

They’re huge; they’re rare; and they’re melting all the time: “The Slippery Problem of Measuring Enormous Hunks of Hail.”

* Matthew Kumjian, a meteorologist at Penn State University, on measuring hailstones

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As we check the weather, we might recall that it was on this date in 1883 that the volcano on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa began to release huge plumes of steam and ash. Roughly three months later, on August 27, it erupted in earnest– with a sound so loud that it circled the earth four times.  (As big as the explosion was, it was not the biggest in history: experts suggest that Santorini’s eruption in 1628 BCE was three times as powerful.)

300px-Krakatoa_eruption_lithograph source

 

Written by LW

May 20, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”*…

 

selectric

Selectric I Typewriter, 1961 aluminum, steel, molded plastic.

 

The Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum’s diverse collection, spanning thirty centuries of historic and contemporary design, includes the world’s coolest office, a large snail shell, snakes, a dragon and four bearded men, a cone propped up on a bench, a pair of colorful hands, a mysterious tv and a perpetual calendar.

The selection above is from the Digital Collection, which one can browse in full here… or just dive into the collection in full.

* Frequently attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, but likely first used by Clare Boothe Luce in her 1931 novel Stuffed Shirts

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As we let form follow function, we might recall that it was on this date in 1875 that the first “weather map” ran in a newspaper (The Times, London).  It was the creation of polymath Sir Francis Galton, an explorer and anthropologist who was also a statistician and meteorologist.

The map was not a forecast, but a representation of the conditions of the previous day. This is known as a synoptic chart, meaning that it shows a summary of the weather situation. Readers could make their own predictions based on the information it provided.

Galton’s chart differs from the modern version only in minor details. It shows the temperature for each region, with dotted lines marking the boundaries of areas of different barometric pressures. It also describes the state of the sky in each land region, with terms such as “dull” or “cloud,” or the sea condition – “smooth” or “slight swell”… [source]

weather source

 

 

 

Written by LW

April 1, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Sopping, and with no sign of stopping, either- then a breather. Warm again, storm again- what is the norm, again? It’s fine, it’s not, it’s suddenly hot: Boom, crash, lightning flash!”*…

 

Farmers Alamanac

 

Americans are highly dependent on weather forecasts. Today, most of us rely on modern technology for predictions about the weather—forecasts based on readings of countless measuring tools, fed into computer models, then analyzed and broadcast or sent straight to our smartphones. But I had other tools of weather prediction, small enough to fit in my backpack: two farmers almanacs. They’ve been around hundreds of years, since before the Civil War, and have survived the advent of modern technology.

Almanacs occupy a special place in the history of weather prediction. In the 1700s and 1800s, scores of publishers printed almanacs, and they were trusted widely enough as a source that Abraham Lincoln once won a murder trial using an almanac as evidence. Today, though, there are easier, more modern, and more scientific—simply, better—ways to tell the weather. Yet The Old Farmer’s Almanac, founded in 1792, is among the longest-running continuously published periodicals in the United States. The Farmers’ Almanac, which began publishing in 1818, is not far behind it. Which led me to wonder: Who still reads farmers almanacs?

As it turns out, a lot of people. The Old Farmer’s Almanac’s editors say it prints and distributes around 3 million copies a year, selling them at retail locations across the U.S. and in Canada. Its parent company, Yankee Publishing Inc., which also publishes Yankee and New Hampshire magazines, and several forms of Almanac-adjacent products like calendars and versions for kids, is profitable, according to its editors. In October, The Old Farmer’s Almanac topped the Boston Globe’s regional bestseller list in paperback nonfiction…

Modern media is a mess and weather prediction remains a crap shoot, but the only kind of publication that combines both—almanacs—are not only surviving, but thriving in the 21st century: “The Surprising Success of America’s Oldest Living Magazine.”

* The Old Farmer’s Almanac

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As we turn the page, we might send cultivated birthday greetings to Sir Joseph Paxton; he was born on this date in 1803.  In 1826, Paxton, a young gardener, began work as Head Gardener to William Cavendish, the 6th Duke of Devonshire, possessor of one of England’s premier gardens on his estate, Chatsworth.

Paxton settled into his job and became the Duke’s right-hand man for projects on the estate.  Paxton noticed the need of a conservatory, so designed and built one: The Great Conservatory at Chatsworth.  Paxton took advantage of the then-recent introduction of the sheet glass method into Britain by Chance Brothers to construct what was, at the time, the largest glass structure in England.  It was lit with twelve thousand lamps when Queen Victoria was driven through it in 1842, and she noted in her diary: “It is the most stupendous and extraordinary creation imaginable.”

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So, when Prince Albert hatched plans for The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of all Nations– or the Great Exhibition, as it was more familiarly known– to be held in 1851, Paxton was recruited to design its central building: The Crystal Palace.

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Paxton was knighted, and went on to cultivate the Cavendish banana, the most consumed banana in the Western world, and to serve as a Member of Parliament.

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“You’d be surprised how much it costs to look this cheap”*…

 

Fast Fashion

 

Remembering that the world has roughly 7.7. billion inhabitants…

In 2015, the fashion industry churned out 100 billion articles of clothing, doubling production from 2000, far outpacing global population growth. In that same period, we’ve stopped treating our clothes as durable, long-term purchases. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation has found that clothing utilization, or how often we wear our clothes, has dropped by 36% over the past decade and a half, and many of us wear clothes only 7 to 10 times before it ends up in a landfill. Studies show that we only really wear 20% of our overflowing closets.

For the past few years, we’ve pointed the finger at fast-fashion brands like H&M, Zara, and Forever21, saying that they are responsible for this culture of overconsumption. But that’s not entirely fair. The vast majority of brands in the $1.3 billion [sic- it’s $trillion] fashion industry–whether that’s Louis Vuitton or Levi’s–measure growth in terms of increasing production every year. This means not just convincing new customers to buy products, but selling more and more to your existing customers. Right now, apparel companies make 53 million tons of clothes into the world annually. If the industry keeps up its exponential pace of growth, it is expected to reach 160 million tons by 2050….

Churning out so many clothes has enormous environmental costs that aren’t immediately obvious to consumers. But it is becoming increasingly clear that the fashion industry is contributing the the rapid destruction of our planet. A United Nations report says that we’re on track to increase the world’s temperature by 2.7 degrees by 2040, which will flood our coastlines, intensify droughts, and lead to food shortages. Activists, world leaders, and the public at large are just beginning to reckon with the way the fashion industry is accelerating the pace of climate change…

It’s not just our closets that are suffering: “We have to fix fashion if we want to survive the climate crisis.”

The apparel industry is not, of course, unaware of all of this.  For a look at how they are responding, see Ad Age‘s “How Sustainability in Fashion Went From The Margins To The Mainstream“… and draw your own conclusion as to efficacy.

[photo above: Flickr user Tofuprod]

* Dolly Parton

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As we wean ourselves from whopping-great wardrobes, we might spare a thought for a man who contributed t our ability to measure our progress (or lack thereof) in addressing climate change: George James Symons; he died on this date in 1900.  A British meteorologist who was obsessed with increasing the accuracy of measurement, he devoted his career to improving meteorological records by raising measurement standards for accuracy and uniformity, and broadening the coverage (with more reporting stations, increasing their number from just 168 at the start of his career to 3,500 at the time of his death).  The Royal Meteorological Society (to which he was admitted at age 17) established a gold medal in his memory, awarded for services to meteorological science.

150px-GeorgeJamesSymons(1838-1900) source

 

“Enter RUMOUR, painted full of tongues”*…

 

ftd-logo

 

FOIA The Dead is a long-term transparency project that uses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request information from the FBI about the recently deceased.

That law requires certain government agencies to produce records upon a request from the public. One significant exception to that requirement is that, to protect the privacy of individuals, federal agencies may not release information about living people. But after their death, their privacy concerns are diminished, and those records can become available.

FOIA The Dead was founded to address that transition. When somebody’s obituary appears in the New York Times, FOIA The Dead sends an automated request to the FBI for their (newly-available) records. In many cases, the FBI responds that it has no files on the individual. But in some cases it does, and can now release those files upon request. When FOIA The Dead receives it, the file gets published for the world to see…

A project of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, written and maintained by Parker Higgins, FOIA the Dead is here.

* Shakespeare (stage direction:  Henry IV, Part 2)

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As we look to our legacies, we might recall that it was on this date in 2010 that the largest hailstone in (recorded) U.S. history fell in Vivian, South Dakota.  Weighing 1 lb 15 oz, it was 8.0 inches in diameter (18.6 inches in circumference. It broke the former U.S. record set on 3 Sep 1970 in Coffeyville, Kansas by a stone weighing 1 lb 11 oz that had a 5.7 inch diameter.

A larger hailstone– 2 lb 4 oz– is said to have fallen in Bangladesh on April 14, 1986 in a hailstorm that killed 92 people.

hailstone

The Vivian hailstone

source

 

Written by LW

July 23, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Disasters are called natural, as if nature were the executioner and not the victim”*…

 

The United States is an enormous country, spanning mountains, deserts, forests, prairie, tundra, and more. This varied terrain is also home to many natural hazards spawned by air, water, fire, and forces beneath the Earth’s surface.

Some of these threats are dramatic; the United States and its territories have the greatest number of active volcanoes of any country except Indonesia, as well as the most tornadoes. Other hazards, like heat waves, are less flashy but can still kill you.

Different regions of the country face very different hazards. But which part of the United States is the most dangerous? It turns out there’s no simple answer, although the south does have a particularly generous share of hazards…

See how the country’s natural menaces differ by geography at “Where in the United States is nature most likely to kill you?

* Eduardo Galeano

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As we calculate our odds, we might recall that it was on this date in 1899 that New Richmond Tornado– an estimated F5 storm, formed in the early evening, and went on to tear a 45-mile long path of destruction through St. Croix, Polk and Barron counties in west-central Wisconsin, leaving 117 people dead, twice as many injured, and hundreds homeless.  The worst devastation wrought by the tornado was at the city of New Richmond, Wisconsin, which took a direct hit from the storm.  In all, more than $300,000 ($8,825,000 in today’s dollars) in damage was reported.  Still, it ranks as only the ninth deadliest tornado in United States history.

The ruins of New Richmond Methodist Church after the tornado

source

 

Written by LW

June 12, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Making ornaments / Of accidents and possibilities”*…

 

This solemn group of posters teaching safety to British citizens comes from the archive of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents. The images are from the Wellcome Library’s website; I first saw them on the blog the Passion of Former Days.

The RoSPA displayed a series of its 20th-century posters in a 2012 exhibition, after rediscovering a small archive of them in an outbuilding. In the exhibition notes,RoSPA curators noted that the society, which dates back to World War I, focused on road safety and pedestrian awareness in the 1920s and 1930s (much like analogous American safety organizations).

From the redoubtable Rebecca Onion: “Stark, Spare, Beautiful Midcentury British Safety Posters.”

* Vladimir Nabokov, Pale Fire

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As we put safety first, we might recall that it was on this date in 1938 that the Great New England Hurricane (AKA, The Long Island Express) dissipated.  It had made landfall on Long Island on September 21. With impact felt from New Jersey all the way north to Canada, the storm was estimated to have killed 682 people, damaged or destroyed over 57,000 homes, and caused property losses estimated at $306 million ($4.7 billion in current value).

Storm surge from the 1938 hurricane at the Battery, New York City

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