"Clashing of Air Masses": Yet Another Lee Pet Peeve

By: Lee Grenci , 1:20 PM GMT on July 24, 2013

One of the common explanations that I often hear on television for the development of severe thunderstorms along or just ahead of a cold front is the "clash of warm and cold air." This oversimplification has always annoyed me because such "clashes" often exist without a peep of thunder or a flash of lightning.

There's probably not a better example of the frequent "clash" between air masses along the West Coast of the United States, where cool Pacific air (a.k.a., the marine layer) "meets" hot air over the interior during summer. Consider, for example, the 23Z surface station models (below) over northern California on Friday afternoon, July 19, 2013 (read more about station models).


The 23Z surface station models (read more) over California on July 19, 2013 (23Z corresponds to 5 P.M. PDT). Courtesy of Penn State.

To get your time-zone bearings, 23Z is 5 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time. Generally speaking, temperatures along the northern California Coast were generally in the 50's and 60's while the mercury soared toward and above 100 degrees not all that far inland from the coast.

Although the coastal mountains of California act as an obstruction to the inland advance of cooler maritime air, the two contrasting air masses "rubbed shoulders" in the lowest few thousand feet above the earth's surface. To see the vertical juxtaposition of the two air masses, check out (below; unannotated image) the 12Z skew-T (review this topic) at Oakland, CA, on July 19.


The 12Z temperature (red) and dew-point (green) soundings at Oakland, California, on July 19, 2013 (12Z corresponds to 5 A.M. PDT). At the time, surface temperatures were in the 50s while 900-mb temperatures were close to 80 degrees (26 degrees Celsius equals 79 degrees Fahrenheit). For the record, the height of 925 mb over KOAK was 781 meters. Original image. Courtesy of Penn State.

Note the dramatic temperature inversion from 950 mb to 925 mb (roughly from altitudes between 500 and 800 meters; see the raw data from the 12Z radiosonde at KOAK). I also note that there was a deck of low clouds at altitudes between roughly 200 meters and 450 meters, the layer of air where the relative humidity was 100% (the temperature and dew point were essentially equal; revisit the raw radiosonde data for confirmation).

This inversion was so strong that temperatures were in the 50s near sea level, while, in the nearby hills around the Bay area, temperatures were just shy of 80 degrees. In a nutshell, temperatures increased almost 30 degrees Fahrenheit in roughly the first 1000 feet above the ground. In my view, this juxtaposition qualifies as a "clash" between air masses. If not, then just put me out to pasture and let me graze for the rest of my twilight years.

Yet this clash between air masses (cool Pacific air and hot air over the interior of California) didn't initiate any storms. For confirmation, check out the 23Z mosaic of composite radar reflectivity, which indicates that the entire state of California was bereft of showers or thunderstorms. As an interesting aside, note, on the 23Z radar image, the thunderstorms over Arizona, which developed in concert with the Southwest monsoon and the nomadic 500-mb low that I talked about in my last blog (to follow the path of this 500-mb low, go to this WPC's Web page and start clicking on "Previous Day").

Why weren't there any thunderstorms over California on Friday, July 19? Referring to the 12Z skew-T at Oakland, CA, the vertical juxtaposition of the air masses...cool near the ground and much warmer aloft...created a strong temperature inversion, thereby suppressing any surface-based convection. In other words, air parcels rising from the earth's surface and cooling during their ascent never could become warmer than their immediate surroundings, thus preventing parcels from becoming positively buoyant through a deep layer of the troposphere. In effect, air parcels originating from the earth's surface could not reach a level of free (and deep) convection. For the record, the very warm air at 925 mb was the footprint of an area of high pressure aloft...check out the 12Z NAM model analysis of 500-mb heights below.


The NAM model analysis of 500-mb heights at 12Z on July 19, 2013. Height contours are drawn every 30 meters in order to identify the closed warm area of high pressure centered over the West. The 500-mb low is the same low that cut-off over the Middle Atlantic States last week and drifted southwestward over Texas and then to the position indicated by the blue "L." Courtesy of Penn State.

The moral of my short story is that the "clashing of air masses" that many television weathercasters fall back on to "explain" the initiation of severe thunderstorms is not scientifically sound, in my opinion. Furthermore, this explanation suggests that severe thunderstorms cannot develop away from fronts (where the "clash" of air masses takes place), which, of course, is utter nonsense. Indeed, severe thunderstorms often occur in the warm sector of a mid-latitude low (example) or on the cool side of a warm or stationary front within 300 hundred kilometers of the fronts. This means that severe thunderstorms can erupt more than 150 miles away from a low's warm or cold front...no where near where the "clash" of air masses takes place.

I'm not done yet. The irony of using the word, "clash," in my opinion, suggests something violent must happen near the earth's surface in order to initiate tornadic thunderstorms (the expression "clash of air masses" really pervades the airways when big outbreaks of tornadoes are slated to occur). And yet, discrete or semi-discrete supercells with the capability of spawning tornadoes typically develop in areas where low-level lifting is relatively weak. Yes, I meant what I wrote..."relatively weak." Indeed, strong lifting along a cold front, for example, typically results in a line of thunderstorms whose primary threat is usually straight-line wind gusts (not tornadoes). Contrary to the impression lent by using "the clash of air masses," discrete supercells often form well ahead of a cold front (within the warm sector of a mid-latitude cyclone), where weak areas of low-level convergence can still get air parcels to the level of free convection (pre-frontal troughs, areas of subtle confluence of surface streamlines, etc.).

The bottom line here is that I never liked this explanation (gee, Lee, I really couldn't tell) :-). Yet I seem to hear this explanation more and more on television. Maybe it's just time for "old schoolers" like me to just grin and bear it.

I usually am ignored when I have these kinds of clashes with the media.

Lee

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34. WunderAlertBot (Admin)
1:57 PM GMT on August 09, 2013
24hourprof has created a new entry.
33. Lee Grenci , Retired Senior Lecturer and Forecaster
12:58 PM GMT on August 07, 2013
Quoting 32. TropicalDog:
Yes, the media simplifies with the "clash of air masses". I am a west coaster and I get what you're saying but I think the assumption is in the type of air, not the temperature. West coast cold and damp is not dry cold Canadian polar and the hot arid, bone dry air mass of our western deserts is a far cry from the volatile and moist, tropical air mass from the GOM. Our inversion cap on the west coast is usually three to four times stronger than the cap over the southern plains. So they may clash in the simplest of terms but in reality it's more like a gentle "butting of heads". It's absolute stability on the west coast versus the very unstable set up over the plains.


Well said. Thanks!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
32. TropicalDog
12:44 PM GMT on August 07, 2013
Yes, the media simplifies with the "clash of air masses". I am a west coaster and I get what you're saying but I think the assumption is in the type of air, not the temperature. West coast cold and damp is not dry cold Canadian polar and the hot arid, bone dry air mass of our western deserts is a far cry from the volatile and moist, tropical air mass from the GOM. Our inversion cap on the west coast is usually three to four times stronger than the cap over the southern plains. So they may clash in the simplest of terms but in reality it's more like a gentle "butting of heads". It's absolute stability on the west coast versus the very unstable set up over the plains.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
31. Levi32
11:20 PM GMT on August 05, 2013
Quoting 29. 24hourprof:


Thanks. You and I simply disagree.

I did a google search and found Dr. Charles Doswell's pet peeves. I think he captured what I was trying to say.

http://www.cimms.ou.edu/~doswell/peeves/peeves.ht ml

So I think I'm on solid scientific ground with my objection to "clash of air masses" if I have Dr. Doswell on my side.

Here is Dr. Doswell's succinct objection to the "clash of air masses":

21. The clash of air masses

In the context of the development of severe storms, the phrase "clash of air masses" (typically between warm and moist vs. cold and dry) is often invoked to "explain" the occurrence of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This is an idiotic oversimplification. Air masses "clash" all the time, even when severe thunderstorms are only the remotest of possibilities. If this were actually an "explanation" of the occurrence of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, we ought to have such violent weather almost continuously, and only along frontal (and/or dryline) boundaries. This balderdash is often spouted by the media in their misguided efforts to "simplify" the explanations of events to the public.


I'm not saying it should be accepted as the direct cause of all severe thunderstorms, but how many large-scale severe outbreaks east of the Rockies have nothing to do with a trough? Very few. This is why El Nino years tend to enhance severe weather in the south during the early spring due to a more southerly jet, while La Nina years enhance it farther north due to a greater "clash" between Pacific NW troughing and SE US ridging. Wind shear, large-scale lift, and unstable soundings commonly come into being because there is relatively cold air at least somewhere to the west or north in the form of a trough, being advected over warm, moist, low-level air.

My point is that to say a clash of air masses is the cause of supercells is wrong, but to exclude it from the causal pattern that leads to severe weather is also incorrect.

Quoting 30. 24hourprof:


Great suggestion!

I was disappointed that Levi32 apparently missed the point of my northern California example. I tried my best, George. Oh well.


I got your point just fine. I think it's okay to disagree a little on this.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 28. georgevandenberghe:
I was going to post about the very tight gradients with the shallow East Coast coastal fronts in winter associated with cold air damming but decided
it was too complex a topic to cover accurately so on second down I'm punting and suggesting Lee could cover it with better pedagogy sometime between now and next winter.


Great suggestion!

I was disappointed that Levi32 apparently missed the point of my northern California example. I tried my best, George. Oh well.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 27. Levi32:
I think the "clash of air masses" phrase in relation to severe weather came into being largely because of the tendency for a trough to be progressing into a region where severe weather occurs, and severe weather reports are usually concentrated near jet streaks. The jet stream represents a strong thermal gradient, so I think the common wisdom has been that big severe outbreaks are typically associated with a cold air supply to the north (troughing) available to "clash" with the warm, moist air mass in the southern US. The clash may not initiate individual supercells, but it provides the synoptic-scale setup that leads to the outbreak in the first place.


Thanks. You and I simply disagree.

I did a google search and found Dr. Charles Doswell's pet peeves. I think he captured what I was trying to say.

http://www.cimms.ou.edu/~doswell/peeves/peeves.ht ml

So I think I'm on solid scientific ground with my objection to "clash of air masses" if I have Dr. Doswell on my side.

Here is Dr. Doswell's succinct objection to the "clash of air masses":

21. The clash of air masses

In the context of the development of severe storms, the phrase "clash of air masses" (typically between warm and moist vs. cold and dry) is often invoked to "explain" the occurrence of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. This is an idiotic oversimplification. Air masses "clash" all the time, even when severe thunderstorms are only the remotest of possibilities. If this were actually an "explanation" of the occurrence of severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, we ought to have such violent weather almost continuously, and only along frontal (and/or dryline) boundaries. This balderdash is often spouted by the media in their misguided efforts to "simplify" the explanations of events to the public.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
28. georgevandenberghe
1:46 PM GMT on August 05, 2013
I was going to post about the very tight gradients with the shallow East Coast coastal fronts in winter associated with cold air damming but decided
it was too complex a topic to cover accurately so on second down I'm punting and suggesting Lee could cover it with better pedagogy sometime between now and next winter.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
27. Levi32
10:39 PM GMT on August 04, 2013
I think the "clash of air masses" phrase in relation to severe weather came into being largely because of the tendency for a trough to be progressing into a region where severe weather occurs, and severe weather reports are usually concentrated near jet streaks. The jet stream represents a strong thermal gradient, so I think the common wisdom has been that big severe outbreaks are typically associated with a cold air supply to the north (troughing) available to "clash" with the warm, moist air mass in the southern US. The clash may not initiate individual supercells, but it provides the synoptic-scale setup that leads to the outbreak in the first place.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
26. Lee Grenci , Retired Senior Lecturer and Forecaster
12:43 PM GMT on August 04, 2013
Quoting 25. barbamz:


Sure I appreciated your last blogs on the page of Dr. Masters, thank you. And good recovery to you!


Many thanks. Feeling a bit better today.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
25. barbamz
10:41 AM GMT on August 04, 2013
Quoting 23. 24hourprof:


Thanks so much for your interest.

I hope you saw the two blogs I wrote in Jeff's column while he was on vacation last weekend.

This last week has been really tough for me. I had to have a root canal on a crowned molar and surgery on my gums around another bad tooth. Between the pain, discomfort, and lack of sleep, I haven't been motivated to write, so please bear with me.

Thanks for understanding.

Lee


Sure I appreciated your last blogs on the page of Dr. Masters, thank you. And good recovery to you!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
24. Lee Grenci , Retired Senior Lecturer and Forecaster
12:45 PM GMT on August 03, 2013
Quoting 21. BaltimoreBrian:


I had no idea you wrote that article! How cool is that!


What's really cool is that you remembered the article!!!!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
23. Lee Grenci , Retired Senior Lecturer and Forecaster
12:45 PM GMT on August 03, 2013
Quoting 22. barbamz:
Lee, when will a new entry of yours be up? Your posts are always a very good tutorial as a background complement to the cherished main blog of Dr. Masters. Just want to say that I'm looking forward to it :)


Thanks so much for your interest.

I hope you saw the two blogs I wrote in Jeff's column while he was on vacation last weekend.

This last week has been really tough for me. I had to have a root canal on a crowned molar and surgery on my gums around another bad tooth. Between the pain, discomfort, and lack of sleep, I haven't been motivated to write, so please bear with me.

Thanks for understanding.

Lee
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
22. barbamz
9:13 PM GMT on August 02, 2013
Lee, when will a new entry of yours be up? Your posts are always a very good tutorial as a background complement to the cherished main blog of Dr. Masters. Just want to say that I'm looking forward to it :)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
21. BaltimoreBrian
1:46 AM GMT on August 02, 2013
Quoting 11. 24hourprof:


You have a great memory!!!!

I wrote the article circa 1995 (good grief...it's been that long!)

So you see, I have a long track record on this issue.

Many thanks for reminding me...I had forgotten that I wrote that article.

In many ways, I miss writing for and contributing to Weatherwise. I had some great writing experiences with some great people and editors.


I had no idea you wrote that article! How cool is that!
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 19. Thrawst:
One of the most interesting reads yet! Thanks Lee keep up the great research!! :)


Thanks a million for your kind words.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
19. Thrawst
4:46 AM GMT on August 01, 2013
One of the most interesting reads yet! Thanks Lee keep up the great research!! :)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
18. wxdude714
7:17 PM GMT on July 30, 2013
I've always been a fan of yours Lee, going back to my freshman year of Highschool when I was 14 y/o and my father bought me a subscription to Weatherwise magazine. I always looked forward to your articles. I'm bringing this to your attention given that this is an article about severe weather and inversions. On Feb 17,2013 I couldn't understand why the RAP was bringing significant snowfall to the Mid-Atlantic on it's hourly updates but nothing was happening. It was then that I noticed a complete well defined Fox Face over South Carolina. Ever since then I have been tracking these man made formations and have discovered that these are being caused by Microwaves from Polar Orbiting satellites. There are 7 of these satellites and can be timed over different parts of the US by tracking the signatures that they leave behind. This afternoon it is very active with 8's, 7's, E's and a 1...and there could be other numbers and letters. Each signature leaves a distinct signature on the IR and the WV...How would instantly warming the atmosphere in an conditionally unstable environment change the dynamics over a region for severe weather? Or how about using lower range Microwaves to create a warm air cap over developing cumulus clouds change the impact of the environment. Here's the 1730UTC for July 30,2013 to point out exactly what I am referring too...this definitely is not natural and it is completely man made and with a degree in Geography with a strong background in Remote Sensing along with watching and forecasting the weather for 29 years and 1000's of hours of archived satellite footage spanning 15 years. I'd seriously question the wisdom of anyone telling me that it's Mary in the potato chip or that I'm imaging things...
these are distinct and cannot be created by seeding, especially the "E 1" over Alabama, Georgia and Southern TN...

Thanks!
Paul Harris
Charles Town WV
Geography B.S. UMBC 2004

Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 13. georgevandenberghe:
I don't remember the parsec error but have not watched all
of the Star Trek movies. In the original series Kirk once used light
year as a unit of time and, even at age 13, I caught it as
a gross error.

I did notice the 22'd century fabrics were remarkably fragile. I played
football in synthetic 20'th century shirts which held up much better. In the Next Generation series, the warp core seemed to be remarkably fragile, much
more so than the older ones in the original series.


Indeed. The warp core frequently was in trouble on Next Generation.

I was not as big a fan of Next Generation as I was of the original series, but there were some riveting episodes, including the one in which Riker exchanges positions with an officer aboard a Klingon ship, Data creates an offspring, and the best episode of the series, the one in which Picard lives an entire life on a planet long extinct after a probe penetrates the Enterprise's shields (The Inner Light).
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
16. georgevandenberghe
2:41 PM GMT on July 25, 2013
Sorry about mistaken quote in post 15. I meant to modify a mistake.


An on thread point. These marine layers create very strong horizontal surface temperature gradients. But they are very shallow. Because they
are shallow, there is not much Available Potential Energy for formation of baroclinic (the classic midlatitude type) cyclones such as occur along the deep temperature
gradients associated with the polar front. Of course since the cold
air is under warm air, they are also statically stable.

These marine layers are not as persistent on the East Coast in spring and early summer but they do sometimes occur and I think it is interesting to watch their evolution when they do.

In August 2002 I traveled to Berkeley CA for a conference. I left during a persistent heat wave in DC with temps in the LM 90s. It was truly refreshing to step outside in Oakland CA where I stayed and feel the
combination of midday August sun and temperatures in the upper 50s.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
15. georgevandenberghe
2:19 PM GMT on July 25, 2013
Quoting 14. georgevandenberghe:
The DCA minimum temperature this morning 7/25/2013 was 66F. So this month, like every other month, will have at least one period below 70F.

The record for highest MONTHLY minimum at DCA remains 67F set in July 2011.


You know you're getting old when you remember a large fraction
of the records being set (but this one is very recent and not a reminder
of ageing and the fact that I remember a larger fraction
of the heat records means something else)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
14. georgevandenberghe
2:18 PM GMT on July 25, 2013
The DCA minimum temperature this morning 7/25/2013 was 66F. So this month, like every other month, will have at least one period below 70F.

The record for highest MONTHLY minimum at DCA remains 67F set in July 2011.


You know you're getting old when you remember a large fraction
of the records (but this one is very recent and not a reminder
of ageing and the fact that I remember a larger fraction
of the heat records means something else)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
13. georgevandenberghe
12:51 PM GMT on July 25, 2013
I don't remember the parsec error but have not watched all
of the Star Trek movies. In the original series Kirk once used light
year as a unit of time and, even at age 13, I caught it as
a gross error.

I did notice the 22'd century fabrics were remarkably fragile. I played
football in synthetic 20'th century shirts which held up much better. In the Next Generation series, the warp core seemed to be remarkably fragile, much
more so than the older ones in the original series.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 10. Some1Has2BtheRookie:


I do so agree with you, Lee. Carl Sagan's son once said that his father became a bit upset while they were watching one of the Star Trek movies. In the movie the characters were referring to a parsec as a measure of time instead of as a measure of distance. His son had to remind him that it was just a movie. But, I very much understand where you are coming from. How much effort would it have taken for the script writers to properly use the word parsec? The improper use of the word only lead to those that did not know its meaning to think that a parsec was a measure of time and not as it is, a measure of distance. TV meteorologist should make the same efforts towards getting it correct as opposed to just using the words. How much does it cost to say it correctly? .... If I was not already in your age group I would offer to become your virtual son and to remind you, "It's a movie, Dad.". We can only hope that they get better with the lines in the script. Accuracy in the details is more important than the delivery of the lines.

I have been building, setting up, maintaining and repairing computers and small networks for 20 years. I am certain that you will understand when I will tell you that there are times when I wish to tell the end user, "Move. I'll do it for you.". :) Alas, have heart, Lee. Those with a desire to learn the fine details will learn them. Those that wish not to learn the fine details will not. There is not much we can do with those that have no interest in learning the finer details. If they are happy with just learning how to turn it on, we will turn it on for them.


Mike,

You are a wise man, my friend. I am passionate about weather and atmospheric science, so, when I get carried away, I'll try to remind myself about your sage advice.

Funny you should mention Star Trek. I was a HUGE fan back in the 1960s. I saw the latest Star Trek movie about a month or so ago, and I thought it was tremendous!!! Very, very entertaining. They were true to the original series, which made me happy. I'm hoping there will be a third Star Trek movie.

By the way, my favorite episode was "The City on the Edge of Forever." Joan Collins was a guest. To my knowledge, it's the only Star Trek episode in which a swear word was used...at the end of the show, Captain Kirk says: "Let's get the hell out of here."

I'm waiting patiently for Memorable Television to air this episode.

Thanks again, Mike, for a great discussion.

Best,

Lee
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 9. BaltimoreBrian:
Weatherwise magazine had an article on just this topic a long time ago, using the same example of enormous temperature contrasts in northern California. I think the article was in the 1980s.


You have a great memory!!!!

I wrote the article circa 1995 (good grief...it's been that long!)

So you see, I have a long track record on this issue.

Many thanks for reminding me...I had forgotten that I wrote that article.

In many ways, I miss writing for and contributing to Weatherwise. I had some great writing experiences with some great people and editors.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
10. Some1Has2BtheRookie
3:45 AM GMT on July 25, 2013
Quoting 8. 24hourprof:


Mike,

I completely agree with everything you wrote.

My problem is this: If the viewing audience just wants the facts, then just give it to them. I have no problems with such presentations whatsoever. In fact, I find them refreshingly straight to the point.

But TV stations are looking for ratings, and they want their meteorologist to sound scientifically knowledgeable. Fair enough. But, in the process of sounding scientifically knowledgeable, why not present accurate science instead of faulty or sloppy science (by taking shortcuts or oversimplifying)? This is where I get annoyed.

So I have no problem whatsoever with a presentation with just the facts. But if you're going to throw in some science so that you sound knowledgeable, at least make an effort to get the science right.

Do you understand where I'm coming from?

Again, I appreciate what you wrote and entirely agree with you. All I'm saying is that some TV weathercasters get into murky waters when they try to throw in some science and they take shortcuts to make it palatable.

Best,

Lee


I do so agree with you, Lee. Carl Sagan's son once said that his father became a bit upset while they were watching one of the Star Trek movies. In the movie the characters were referring to a parsec as a measure of time instead of as a measure of distance. His son had to remind him that it was just a movie. But, I very much understand where you are coming from. How much effort would it have taken for the script writers to properly use the word parsec? The improper use of the word only lead to those that did not know its meaning to think that a parsec was a measure of time and not as it is, a measure of distance. TV meteorologist should make the same efforts towards getting it correct as opposed to just using the words. How much does it cost to say it correctly? .... If I was not already in your age group I would offer to become your virtual son and to remind you, "It's a movie, Dad.". We can only hope that they get better with the lines in the script. Accuracy in the details is more important than the delivery of the lines.

I have been building, setting up, maintaining and repairing computers and small networks for 20 years. I am certain that you will understand when I will tell you that there are times when I wish to tell the end user, "Move. I'll do it for you.". :) Alas, have heart, Lee. Those with a desire to learn the fine details will learn them. Those that wish not to learn the fine details will not. There is not much we can do with those that have no interest in learning the finer details. If they are happy with just learning how to turn it on, we will turn it on for them.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
9. BaltimoreBrian
1:39 AM GMT on July 25, 2013
Weatherwise magazine had an article on just this topic a long time ago, using the same example of enormous temperature contrasts in northern California. I think the article was in the 1980s.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 6. Some1Has2BtheRookie:
Lee,

Lessons like this is the reason why I lurk here so much. Knowledge is to be gained!

I understand your frustrations when an improper use of terms is used in what should be a semi technical conversation. I blame this less on the media than I do on the audience that they host. I do not believe that they can stray too far from the "common understandings" of the audience before they have lost them in the details. I could hear the living room conversations now. "Just give me the weather report in terms that I can understand! I don't need to know why it is going to rain. Just tell me if it is going to rain. I don't have all day to see if I need my umbrella!" sigh

You are in luck here, Lee. Many of us here may not be any more knowledgeable than is the general population. However, the segment of the population that is here wants to know more than if an umbrella would be handy to have along today. :) Also it is worth noting that there are many knowledgeable people (not me) here already that you have detailed conversations with. That is probably not going to happen out in the pastures. :)


Mike,

I completely agree with everything you wrote.

My problem is this: If the viewing audience just wants the facts, then just give it to them. I have no problems with such presentations whatsoever. In fact, I find them refreshingly straight to the point.

But TV stations are looking for ratings, and they want their meteorologist to sound scientifically knowledgeable. Fair enough. But, in the process of sounding scientifically knowledgeable, why not present accurate science instead of faulty or sloppy science (by taking shortcuts or oversimplifying)? This is where I get annoyed.

So I have no problem whatsoever with a presentation with just the facts. But if you're going to throw in some science so that you sound knowledgeable, at least make an effort to get the science right.

Do you understand where I'm coming from?

Again, I appreciate what you wrote and entirely agree with you. All I'm saying is that some TV weathercasters get into murky waters when they try to throw in some science and they take shortcuts to make it palatable.

Best,

Lee
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 5. ISeeTheRainAgain:
Just curious, what do you think would be a better short description of the conditions for severe thunderstorm development?

Or is it simply too complex a process, with too many variables, for a "soundbite"?


A fair and great question. Thanks.

How about this?

An area of relatively weak lift about 50 miles ahead of the cold front will likely promote discrete thunderstorms capable of spawning tornadoes.

...maybe "separated" is a better word here than discrete???...I stuck in "50" as a representative distance; it would change in each case.

For a line of severe thunderstorms, how about this?

Strong lift along the cold front will promote a line of severe thunderstorms whose primary threat will be damaging winds.

What do you think about that one?

Again, thanks for a fair and insightful question.



Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
6. Some1Has2BtheRookie
8:54 PM GMT on July 24, 2013
Lee,

Lessons like this is the reason why I lurk here so much. Knowledge is to be gained!

I understand your frustrations when an improper use of terms is used in what should be a semi technical conversation. I blame this less on the media than I do on the audience that they host. I do not believe that they can stray too far from the "common understandings" of the audience before they have lost them in the details. I could hear the living room conversations now. "Just give me the weather report in terms that I can understand! I don't need to know why it is going to rain. Just tell me if it is going to rain. I don't have all day to see if I need my umbrella!" sigh

You are in luck here, Lee. Many of us here may not be any more knowledgeable than is the general population. However, the segment of the population that is here wants to know more than if an umbrella would be handy to have along today. :) Also it is worth noting that there are many knowledgeable people (not me) here already that you have detailed conversations with. That is probably not going to happen out in the pastures. :)
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
5. ISeeTheRainAgain
8:26 PM GMT on July 24, 2013
Just curious, what do you think would be a better short description of the conditions for severe thunderstorm development?

Or is it simply too complex a process, with too many variables, for a "soundbite"?
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 3. Astrometeor:
It seems like you "clash" with the media a lot on these topics Lee.

Thanks for the blog post.


:-)

Many thanks for your kind words.

Best,

Lee
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
3. Astrometeor
6:29 PM GMT on July 24, 2013
It seems like you "clash" with the media a lot on these topics Lee.

Thanks for the blog post.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
Quoting 1. georgevandenberghe:
Don't get discouraged. Keep up the educational endeavours. And it's very important we never grin and bear it when the science gets corrupted or distorted.


Thanks George.

Television tries its best to make science palatable (and I can appreciate their position up to a point), but, too often, the oversimplifications they use, or the shortcuts they take, distort the science, as you so well put.

In my opinion, viewers are smarter than a lot of TV people give them credit for.

Thanks again for the encouragement.

Lee
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:
1. georgevandenberghe
3:36 PM GMT on July 24, 2013
Don't get discouraged. Keep up the educational endeavours. And it's very important we never grin and bear it when the science gets corrupted or distorted.
Member Since: December 31, 1969 Posts: Comments:

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About 24hourprof

Retired senior lecturer in the Department of Meteorology at Penn State, where he was lead faculty for PSU's online certificate in forecasting.