Shaun Tanner has been a meteorologist at Weather Underground since 2004.
By: shauntanner, 2:49 PM GMT on April 28, 2011
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By: shauntanner, 4:44 AM GMT on April 27, 2011
As a meteorologist (and a good-looking one at that), I am often asked how I do my job. You see, meteorology is a bit mysterious and common at the same time. Everybody knows something about weather because, well, we all live in the atmosphere. As such, everybody has their own little story of how an unexpected thunderstorm ruined their picnic, or a lightning strike prevented them from making birdie on the 9th hole, or how they slipped on a morning ice patch just outside their door. We are all experts. So it makes it that much harder to prove that, as a meteorologist, we are experts too.
To that end, my fellow Weather Underground meteorologists have brainstormed a way to bring that expertise to you on a global scale. We will try to highlight one particular area of global weather throughout the workweek to let you know what might be happening in the weather world beyond your local weather. Within this discussion, we will try to highlight certain things using not-too-technical meteorological terms that will also help you understand the atmosphere above you. How can we live in the atmosphere yet not understand how it works? Never fear we are here!
European Drought 4/27
Droughts are a common, natural phenomenon, but when they happen, they can be very devastating. People in Texas and the Southern Plains are especially in tune with droughts right now as they are battling not only intense wildfires, but an especially intense drought as well (Figure 1). Some areas have received less precipitation this year that in the Dust Bowl era. You got that right, it is drier in some parts of the Southern Plains right now that during the Dust Bowl.
Figure 1. Drought Monitor map showing Extreme and Exceptional drought conditions for many areas of the Southern Plains and Southwest.
But, of course, the United States not only is not the only place on the planet, but other countries experience droughts too!
Parts of Europe are experiencing their worst drought in over a century. Area of the United Kingdom are only 40% of normal, and the Netherlands have banned barbecues, camp fires, and outdoor smoking, and public figures have implored the public to pray for rain. Now, for those of you in the United States, imagine for a moment that a state or the federal government said to the general public that they were not allowed turn on their BBQs to indulge in America's favorite pastime. Oh the humanity! And then, if you dare, imagine if those conditions persist through the 4th of July holiday. The drought conditions that caused this ban must be quite severe for the government to take these steps.
Let's take a look to see if all of those prayers are being answered by looking at some atmospheric models. Now, don't fret. I will walk you through just the most important features. If you want to look at the models more in depth and become your own forecaster, everything I use is also available to you on Weather Underground by going to the WunderMap.
Figure 2. Mean Sea Level model map for April 27 over Europe.
What you see above is a map of Europe with an overlay of sea level pressure (blue contours) and precipitation (purple and blue blobs). Orient yourself by looking at the United Kingdom then get your bearings by looking at the red lines for the rest of the countries in Europe. Where you see the purple blobs, that means the model is telling us that after doing all of the complex mathematics, it has determined it will rain in those areas. Keep in mind that this is just one opinion from one model This is where experience with looking at these models comes in handy. In general, when looking at these maps I usually write off the first level purple contour in an area. That is to say, where the model is telling me, "it is going to rain very light in this area", I usually tell the model "no, it won't". Again, this is a general rule. If you were to use that rule, look at how much that precipitation it takes off the table. No longer to you see precipitation in western Russia, much of the precipitation in the central part of the continent from Germany through the Alps is gone, and some of the rain off the west coast of the United Kingdom is toast. So, in other words, maybe it won't precipitate as much as this model is telling us.
Before I overwhelm you too much on this very first blog of this sort, I want to point out on more thing that is causing the huge drought in the central part of the continent. Do you see the large expanse of the map from the United Kingdom through the Scandinavian Peninsula and south into the Netherlands? That large area of blackness that is void of any wet weather is also associated with a large high pressure system. High pressures bring sinking air, and in turn, dry conditions are possibly warm than normal temperatures. This high pressure system in the northern half of the continent has been in place for a long time. When high pressures become stagnant, they can keep dry and warm conditions over an area so long that drought conditions become widespread. This was the cause this past Summer in Russia when an extremely stagnant high brought all-time high temperatures to Moscow and western Russia.
Often, what is needed to shift the weather pattern around is a large storm that swoops in from the west and kicks the high pressure "downstream" (east). These large storms have been non-existent for awhile, and thus the high has stayed in place. So, until this happens, expect scattered rain showers to the south of the drought-stricken area.
Updated: 4:46 AM GMT on April 27, 2011
By: shauntanner, 11:09 PM GMT on April 21, 2011
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Well everybody, Earth Day is here...again. It seems as though no matter how poorly we treat her, Mother Earth still comes around once a year to let us know that she still needs to be treated nicely. How selfish! Isn't it enough that we halfheartedly recognize Arbor Day once per year as well (and some of us even remember a week after it happened)? What could Mother Earth possibly want in addition? Our calendar is already full to the brim with other day, week, or month "holidays" such as "National Peanut Brittle Day" (January 26th), World Menopause Week (in June), and the Month of Free Thought (October). How can we possibly fit in any more, or additional, observances for our dear Mother Earth?
Just in case you are sarcastically deficient, the above was...sarcastic. But, in truth, around this time of year, around Earth Day, various green organizations press release to media outlets their list of things you can or should be doing to help the environment. Each year, I scour these lists hoping for something new to be on them. And each year, the lists look something like this. Now don't get me wrong, each of those things on the list are extremely important and if we could get even a small fraction of the people on this crowded planet doing these things more, not only would our globe look better, but we would look better too. However, most of the things on the list require lifestyle changes that, frankly, the modern person does not have time for. Heck, this blog is even too long already for the average person who is juggling 15 different things. Look at #2 on that list, for instance. "Walk or use a bike". A worthy goal. The more bikes on the road, the less cars on the road. The more we walk, the better fitness we have. I get it. I really do. But, for most of us making the change from our nice, comfortable 5,6,7,8-person vehicle to a grinding peddle-pusher with a seat that touches us in places that haven't seen the light of day in decades is not practical for our lifestyle. Especially since that bicycle is not spacious enough to carry our sons home from soccer practice or our week's worth of groceries from the store.
Never fear! Below is my much more practical list of tremendously easy things you can do to help the environment not only this Earth Day, but also over Easter weekend. And heck, if you are feeling adventurous enough, you can extend at least some of these things into your normal daily life!
This one is my favorite. Every one of us is a greenhouse emitting machine. Nearly everything we use in our modern society has some sort of carbon footprint. Sure, your automobile is most likely the biggest offender and thus gets all of the climate change headlines, but your fireplace is equally as harmful. The lights in your house, your garden hose, the construction you are planning on doing to your kitchen, your shoes that were shipping over from Asia, your fast food toy that you had to have, etc., all have their own carbon footprint.
In fact, your emission rate goes up as soon as that pesky alarm clock goes off in the morning. It continues to skyrocket as you make your breakfast and morning coffee and continues to go up into the evening as you settle down to watch your favorite TV show. So, the best way to counteract that this Earth Day and Easter Weekend is to do nothing. NOTHING. Call into work on Friday (Earth Day) or work from home. This weekend, keep your energy-hungry computer off, sit down on your couch and cozy up with that book that has been collecting dust for the past few months. Or better yet, if your weather is pleasant (or even if it isn't), go outside and do the same thing. Ditch your car keys, tell your kids you cannot drive them anywhere because Mother Earth is sick and you are giving her medicine, and then sit in your office chair and spin (I love doing that). Play a board game for the first time in years, stare at the ceiling and make mental pictures with the popcorn ceiling you have always wanted to take down, DO WHATEVER.
The bottom line is this: the less you do this Earth Day and Easter weekend, the better it is for the planet. So go ahead and do nothing, you deserve it, you planet-saver.
Avoid the Standby
If you own a new-ish television or a new-ish appliance, it is probably consuming more electricity than you know. My television, for instance, has this tiny red light on the bottom that comes on when I turn it off. Yes, when I turn the television OFF, a light comes ON. What's with that? That means I KNOW that the stupid thing is eating electricity completely uselessly. This is true for many of the new-age appliances that have computer chips in them that require them to know what time it is, for memory storage, or other technologically cool features. The best way to get around this is to unplug the appliance completely or keep multiple smaller appliances plugged into a power strip that you can manually turn off. This way, you can save electricity that would otherwise be wasted while also saving money. Deal? Deal!
I know...it sounds like I am some hippy who is advocating a new diet. In reality, I am just being lazy and good for the environment at the same time. Cooking releases gases and other stuff that is potentially harmful to the environment. The grand-ole American tradition of BBQ-ing releases harmful carbon dioxide whether you are using charcoal or propane. Even when you cook inside, your stove is either using natural gas or electricity to cook up those scrambled eggs you so crave (can you crave scrambled eggs?). And I am not even mentioning microwaves, refrigerators, or electric can openers, but those are energy hungry as well.
So, eat raw this Earth Day weekend. Go grab yourself some beautifully local strawberries, lettuce, zucchinis, and other green stuff and chop them up into a lovely fruit or green salad. The one caution is you have to make sure everything gets washed ahead of time. Not only is this healthier for you, but for the environment as well. And who could resist a big fat strawberry?
Support that guy on the corner selling fruit
I drive by a guy every morning with a crate full of strawberries that he is selling for a couple bucks. I also live down the street from a fruit stand that sells farm fresh corn, cucumbers, and other quick growing vegetables. One of the best and easiest ways to help the environment is to buy food that was grown as close to your house as possible. Think about it. If I go and buy some corn from that guy down the street, that corn has a much smaller carbon footprint than a similar corn stalk that was purchases at my local grocery market after being transported by ship, truck, and/or train to that market. Who knew groceries could be so dirty?
So, the more food you buy locally, the better it is for the environment. Better yet, find a local farmer's market and go there this weekend. What better way to spend a beautiful Spring weekend than by strapping on those Spring shoes you just bought, pulling out those reusable shopping bags and heading to the farmer's market with all of the other colorfully dressed people? I don't know about your local farmer's market, but most of them feature the most local fruits and vegetables your area has to offer. And with a much smaller carbon footprint, you will have much less guilt.
Enjoy the sunset
In order to feel the need to save something, you have to feel the need to appreciate it first. All too often, many of us are constantly running around doing our various errands or living life and we forget to, well...live life. This Earth Day and Easter Weekend, take a moment to enjoy something you have forgotten about. Stare at the sunset until someone asks if you are crazy, splash in a puddle of newly-fallen rain like you used to as a child, plunge your feet into the warm sand at your favorite beach, wonder why the sky is blue.
Whether or not you appreciate or have time to appreciate it, Earth is still our home. Whether or not you believe that climate change is real or it is a complete sham, Earth is our home. And it is beautiful from the dirtiest earthworm to the most majestic redwood tree.
I hope you didn't take too much time reading this blog, but thanks for doing it nonetheless. Now, turn off your computer, close your laptop, pour yourself a glass of cool water not from a plastic water bottle, and enjoy Earth Day and weekend. I would love to hear how you did nothing this weekend.
Updated: 4:41 AM GMT on April 22, 2011