Wunderground Meteorologist Shaun Tanner

Help Weather Underground and IRC Fight Those Affected by the East Africa Drought!

By: shauntanner, 6:27 AM GMT on December 20, 2011

To donate to the International Rescue Committee and help Weather Underground fight hunger in East Africa, please visit our IRC donation page. All donations are tax deductible, but you have to use that page so your donation is added to our running tally. And of course, read on...

Weather Underground has teamed up with the International Rescue Committee to help raise funds for the hard hit region of the Horn of Africa, which has been struck by drought and devastating famine. Through various weather-related tragedies over the past several years, the Weather Underground community has been fabulous at offering support via charitable donations. We are asking you, that same community, to step up once again to help assist in the rescue effort currently ongoing in the Horn of Africa. Please, if you can donate at least $10 to this donation drive, visit the IRC/Weather Underground page here.

Our Goal

Weather Underground community, we have set a goal for you. Your goal is to raise $10,000 for the International Rescue Committee which will be used to buy the supplies needed to help save the lives of hundreds of thousands of refugees in the Horn of Africa. Thousands of lives have already been lost, but you can help those who are currently in dire need of assistance. Weather Underground will match every dollar donated up to $10,000 for a total of $20,000. If you want to know more about the region and what the IRC is doing with the donations, read on. Or you can visit their site. In fact, I encourage you to visit their site. Investigate their mission and see what they are doing to help the refugees in the Horn of Africa region.

The goal of this blog is to give you an idea of the humanitarian relief efforts in the Horn of Africa, so you can get an idea of what the conditions are like in the area. If you would like to know more about the weather and climatological conditions that contributed to the dangerously dry conditions in the region, please see Dr. Jeff Masters' latest blog.

Why the Horn of Africa?

The years of 2010 and 2011 have been two for the record books around the globe. From historic flooding in many different locations (Mississippi Valley, Pakistan, and Australia), to record-breaking snowstorms in the United States, to record low minimum ice extent in the Arctic, to intense droughts, arguably no region has been harder hit than the Horn of Africa.

The Horn of Africa is the northeast region of Africa composed of seven countries. Many of these countries have been news-makers in the past several decades for all of the wrong reasons. Somalia, with a long coast on the Indian Ocean is one of the most volatile countries in the world and is home to many gangs of pirates that cruise the waters of the Arabian Sea and hijack shipping vessels. After literally decades of civil war, Sudan finally came to an agreement to split into two countries, making it official just this year with the formation of a new country, South Sudan. Eritrea has been given the worst possible rating for media, below that of even North Korea. Situations and stories like these go on and on.

Map of the Horn of Africa. Source: http://www.persecution.org

The largest source of fuel for conflict in the region, whether it be pirating or civil war, is poverty. Keep in mind that poverty is a relative statistic. For instance, the poverty level in the United States is around $22,000 for a family of four. Any family of four making less than that on a yearly basis is considered to be in poverty. In 2011, the United States' poverty rate was 15.1% (Source). Richer countries tend to put their poverty level at a higher dollar amount.

In Somalia, however, the extreme poverty threshold is $1 per day. That means that an extremely-poverty stricken family in that country makes less than $365 per year. And the percentage of Somalians living in extreme poverty is a whopping 43% (Source). In rural areas, over 50% of people live in extreme poverty. That means that nearly half of the population of Somalia lives on the equivalent of less than $1 per day.

Ethiopia has made great strides in reforming its economy, focusing on reducing poverty and increasing education standards. Yet, 29% of Ethiopians live below the poverty line and it is still one of the world's poorest countries.

Rural poverty in Africa. (Source: http://www.ruralpovertyportal.org)

The economies in the Horn of Africa rely heavily on agriculture, which is highly dependent on weather. When extremes in weather, such as sustained drought or flooding, grip the region, the residents suffer greatly. And, as we have seen in 2011, a famine can occur. A famine occurs when there is an extreme shortage of food due to a variety of conditions such as suppressive governments, crop failure, or extreme overpopulation.

In July 2011, the United Nations (UN) declared a famine in Somalia. In certifying the famine, the UN stated "10 times the number of people are dying than the official threshold classifying famine." This was the first time the term "famine" had been officially used by the UN since the devastating famine in Ethiopia in 1984.

But it has proven to be hard to get aid into Somalia, which happens to be the hardest hit country during this famine. Somalia does not have good relations (to say the least) with many humanitarian agencies capable of providing aid to the country's residents. Thus, the most vulnerable people have an extremely hard time getting any sort of aid in a country where resources are already incredibly scant. If you put yourself in the position of these desperate people, it is very clear why millions of people have chosen to leave the country and enter bordering nations like Kenya and Ethiopia. These refugees put a tremendous strain on the already overloaded infrastructure of the receptive countries, further complicating the aid effort. As of December 12th, Kenya hosts 600,000 Somali refugees. Back in October, Ethiopia was hosting 256,000 refugees not only from Somalia, but also from South Sudan, due to the ongoing violence there.

To put that into context, think about how your country's government would be able to handle the flux of several hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into your country. With that context, its is no wonder why these poverty-stricken countries need help.

These refugees, who are already starving before they decide to leave their homes, face the daunting task of traveling across ground that is already parched from the lack of rain, dangerous due to the violence in their home country, and well-traveled from the hundreds of thousands to have traveled the same path before them. This is where the International Rescue Committee comes in.

Why the IRC?

The IRC was founded in 1933 at the request of Albert Einstein and is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization. 92% of its funds go toward programs "that directly benefit refugees and communities affected by war or disaster." In addition, the American Institute of Philanthropy gives the IRC an A+ rating. From their website:

In 2010, the IRC restored hope and opportunity for millions of conflict-affected people around the world. Here’s a look at some of our recent achievements:

* We gave over 4.4 million people access to clean drinking water and sanitation.

* Our doctors, nurses and community health workers served nearly 14.5 million people with primary and reproductive health care. We vaccinated 210,000 children for measles and other childhood diseases and our IRC-supported clinics and hospitals helped 152,000 women deliver healthy babies.

* We trained over 6,000 educators and supported 2,300 schools attended by 373,000 children, over half of them girls. We provided and supported skills training for over 11,500 young people while nearly 12,000 children participated in IRC sponsored child-friendly spaces and children’s clubs.

* We counseled and cared for nearly 12,000 survivors of sexual violence and educated and mobilized over 2.5 million men, women and children to lead prevention efforts in their communities.

* We assisted over 17,200 refugees who departed from camps and cities in East Asia to enter the United States and build new lives

* In the United States, we helped resettle some 9,600 newly arrived refugees and provided services to over 24,500 refugees, asylees, and victims of human trafficking.

By donating to the IRC via Weather Underground's donation drive, you will be helping the IRC provide assistance to those greatly affected by the famine.

To read about one of these great projects on how the IRC brought water to a village, go here. These types of projects are being undertaken throughout the area by the IRC and many other humanitarian organizations.

On a Personal Note

My wife and I have two biological children. After going through two painful, and unplanned c-sections during childbirth, we decided to forgo any idea of having a third child due to the stress involved with bringing the first two into the world. We also looked around the world and decided there were too many children in need to think about bringing another child into this already crowded place. Having still a desire and room for a third child in our life, we decided to look into international adoption. We aren't rich and we don't have a large house, but we did have some space in our hearts to help a child and raise him or her as our own. We began investigating various countries such as Haiti (after the earthquake of 2010), Russia (many children in need), China (the gender disparity in adoptions coming from here is alarming), but decided on Ethiopia as the birthplace of our future child.

In October 2010, we began the large and complex process of adopting a child from Ethiopia. We have been to numerous classes, sat through additional online courses, and attended parties and gatherings with other families who have adopted from Ethiopia. While we are under no assumption that raising an adopted child will be smooth sailing, it is heartwarming to watch children who had been malnourished and starving now playing, smiling, and thriving. This is what all children deserve.

We are still in the process of adopting as we are awaiting our referral for a child. Once that happens, we most likely will be on our way to Ethiopia for the first of two week-long stays where we will hopefully not only meet the child, but finalize the paperwork to call him or her our own.

We have already committed a healthy dose of our income to helping our future child. But, to show you that we will put our money where are mouths are, we are starting the donation drive off with a personal $200 donation. Please, help us grow that into our $10,000 goal.

We can't adopt them all, and neither can you. What you can do is donate to the International Rescue Committee so they can do their best to provide drinking water, food, and other simple amenities to children and adults affected by the famine.

All you have to do is make your tax deductible donation by going to the link here.

Again, thank you, Weather Underground community.

East Africa Drought Relief

Updated: 3:59 PM GMT on December 23, 2011


Lesson 3 part 1: Daytime Warming

By: shauntanner, 7:58 PM GMT on December 09, 2011

Hello everybody, and I apologize for the long delay.

Now that we have all learned about various things, including the greenhouse effect and how it is essential for life on Earth, we can move on to some actual meteorology.

Daytime Warming

Have you ever wondered how and why the atmosphere gets warm during the day? Well, the obvious answer is the Sun. But, the exact way the atmosphere warms via the Sun comes in a roundabout fashion. You see, remember from the greenhouse effect lesson, the atmosphere is actually quite transparent to solar radiation. Thus, it passes right though many of the gases that make up the atmosphere. Instead, the way the lower part of the atmosphere receives warmth is by conduction. As a review, conduction is the form of heat transfer by molecules. So when cool molecules rub against warm molecules, that warmth is transferred from the warm to the cool molecules. During the day, the warmth of the Sun is transferred directly to the top layer of the surface, where it is absorbed. As the air molecules in the lowest layer of the atmosphere rub against these warm surface molecules, the heat is transferred into the atmosphere. Then, these newly-warm molecules rub against air molecules just above then and transfer that heat. In this way, heat is transferred from the surface well into the troposphere. It would not be hard to imagine then, that the warmest part of the atmosphere during the day is most likely going to be the lowest part of the atmosphere. Thus, during the day, temperature decreases with height. This is the normal state of things.

You may have noticed a beehive-looking thing sitting near-ish to the tarmac at your local airport. If you haven't noticed it before, take a look for one the next time you are on a plane. These white boxes are not beehives, rather they are the official NWS weather stations that are responsible for reporting weather to not only the NWS, but also to your favorite weather website, Weather Underground. The boxes are painted white and are 5.5 feet off the ground. Why these two things? Well, the boxes are pained white so the solar radiation hitting the box will be reflected instead of absorbed. If any solar radiation were to be absorbed, then it would give false readings on the thermometer. The box and thermometer is 5.5 feet off the ground because the warmest part of the atmosphere is actually below that. And 5.5 feet is actually around the region where we perceive heat. Thus, that is where we would like to have the most temperature readings.

Have you ever noticed that the air temperature during calm, Summer days can be actually quite warm compared to windy, Summer days? Why?

For that, I bring in a blender:

Note the blender in the picture is not turned on. Not only that, but it has a variety of ingredients just ready to be blended together into a delicious smoothie. Also note the warmer ingredients are on the bottom and the cooler ingredients, such as ice, is on the top. In other words, this setup mimics the lower part of the atmosphere during the day. Warmer on the bottom, colder on the top. Given no other forcing, the state of things will remain this way.

But, let's turn on the blender! The role of the blender is to act like wind in the environment. When the blender turns on, it mixes all of the ingredients in the blender together. If you were to take the temperature of the bottom of the blender and compare it to the temperature of the smoothie at the top of the blender, you will see there is very little difference. In other words, the smoothie is isothermal. Isothermal simply means the "same temperature". "Iso" means same, or individual, and "thermal" means temperature.

In the atmosphere, when winds picks up, it acts the same way as the blender does. It creates an isothermal atmosphere where the temperature near the surface is not much different than temperatures a couple hundred feet in the air. This is why calm, Summer days can be much warmer than windy, Summer days at the surface.

Last thing for the day. When is the hottest part of the day? If you said noon, then you are most likely incorrect. If you said later in the afternoon, such as 3-5 p.m., then give yourself a pat on the back. That time should raise a red flag in your head. Why is the hottest part of the day AFTER the time of maximum solar heating? Talk about weird!

To answer this question, you have to know one simple fact. The temperate of ANYTHING will rise as long as the incoming energy (absorption) is greater than the outgoing energy (emission). Right now, you are emitting radiation (outgoing energy). You are also absorbing radiation (incoming energy) from a variety of sources such as the Sun, a heater, a loved one, etc. If incoming energy is equal to outgoing energy, otherwise known as equilibrium, then temperature will stabilize. If outgoing energy is greater than incoming energy, then temperature will get colder. So forth.

Thus, the surface temperature will continue to rise as long as incoming solar energy is greater than outgoing surface energy. Maximum solar heating occurs around noon each day, but that is NOT the time at which incoming is balanced by outgoing energy. These two things are not balanced until around 3-5 p.m., making it the hottest part of the day. After that time, outgoing energy will be greater than incoming energy, and temperature will decrease.

Still confused? Let's talk money. The balance (temperature) in your bank account will continue to increase as long as the amount of money deposited (incoming solar energy) is greater than the amount of money withdrawn (outgoing Earth energy). The moment withdrawals exceed the amount of money deposited, your balance will decrease.

Thus, it simply does not matter THE RATE at which you deposit money or THE RATE at which it is withdrawn. The only thing that matters is when withdrawals exceed deposits. Does that make more sense?


Updated: 7:26 PM GMT on December 13, 2011


About shauntanner

Shaun Tanner has been a meteorologist at Weather Underground since 2004.

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