They Didn't Ask Me (dr_phil_physics) wrote,
They Didn't Ask Me

Weather Or Not


The sun has been out much of the day. It was 28°F overnight, and just before the sun blazed forth around 11am EST, there were a few stray flakeages wafting around. The weather in West Michigan has been awfully mild and we've missed most of the snow and rain, and even some of the summer heat that a lot of the rest of the country had.

I have no idea what that will mean, if anything, about this winter when I struggle to get back to work with a bad wheel. West Michigan weather is notoriously unpredictable.

Locked Inside

During my long hospital stay, my Year Without A Summer was strangely resistant to weather. Oh we had some stretches where the temps flirted with 100°F, and on high humidity days outside, one had to adjust the covers and the room AC a lot. But unless it was later in the summer when Mrs. Dr. Phil would wheel me out for some fresh air, the weather had very little impact on me.

Indeed, I only kept up with the morning and evening weather reports on the TV to let the aides know what it would be like after their 8 or 16 hour shifts.

Still, I had a little slice of sky to watch from my window. And like today, as I sit in my living room and can look out the front and back windows, it's nice to see the blue skies and wandering clouds.

The Philippines

Meanwhile, as life goes on somewhat uncaring in America, a supertyphoon took dead aim on The Philippines. Highest recorded winds on land. The death tolls can easier reach 10,000 or ten times that many -- we don't know yet. From Think Process:
Haiyan arrived in the Philippines on November 7, 2013, boasting 190-195 mph sustained winds — equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane — and temporary gusts of up to 235 mph. The sustained winds were stronger than all but three tropical cyclones in world history, and stronger than any other tropical cyclone that’s ever made landfall. (“Hurricane,” “typhoon” and “cyclone” are all different regional names for the same weather phenomenon.) An average of 20 typhoons hit the Philippines every year, and individual storms have killed over one thousand in the past.

We don't hear a lot about typhoons over here, as they don't strike the populated and industrial U.S. coastline like the Atlantic hurricanes do. And the Pacific is so large that often the storms don't make significant landfall.

I am reminded of a story I tell my Electricity & Magnetism students. In the early 70s or so, the Air Force launched a series of Vela satellites to detect the signatures of nuclear detonations anywhere in the world. Shortly after the system went online, NORAD got a signal from one satellite of a fifty megaton thermonuclear detonation above ground. As they wound up the bombers and missiles to prepare for WW III, they checked to see what was hit.

Nothing. A big fat empty part of the Pacific. With one humongous thunderstorm.

The Pacific is so large that thunderstorms can build up much larger than over land. And they can produce superbolt lighting -- far brighter than regular lighting, it looks like the flash from a hydrogen bomb to the Vela's video cameras. Interestingly enough, while regular lightning actually travels from ground to sky, opposite to the way we think it happens, superbolt storms are oppositely charged and superbolt lighting goes from sky to ground.

Why didn't we know about these storms before? Because these storms are so severe that no ship captain or airplane pilot would ever venture into them. And they didn't seem to go over inhabited islands at full strength.

Like the supertyphoons, there are still things we can learn about the weather. Even things so vast and powerful that they should be "obvious" to the casual observer.

And so we wait to find out the true level of devastation that this supertyphoon has wrought. Meanwhile, one of the local relief agencies is already shipping containers of supplies donated by area businesses. These won't actually make it on site immediately -- they are intended to keep the pipeline filled for when the initial relief supplies are used up. Before any of the aid moneys now being collected can be spent.

It's good to know that there are people who have their heads screwed on straight about logistics.

Dr. Phil

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