It's hard to believe a system that made a quarter million people homeless might have been worse than we thought. But that may be true for Hurricane Andrew, which struck South Florida ten years ago this weekend.
Hi, I'm Bryan Yeaton for The Weather Notebook.
Andrew was bad enough as it is: over 25 billion in damage, some 40 people killed, and countless lives turned upside down. But Andrew was only rated a Category 4, one notch down from the bad-boy rating of Cat 5. Only two Cat 5's have made landfall in the US this century: the catastrophic Labor Day hurricane of 1935, which hit the Florida Keys, and Hurricane Camille, which raked the Gulf Coast in 1969. The highest winds clocked in Andrew fell short of the Cat 5 threshold of 156 miles an hour. However, many instruments were knocked out at the height of the storm. Some researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have been taking a second look at Andrew. It's part of a bigger study to reexamine all the Atlantic hurricanes of the last 150 years. Since World War II, aircraft reconnaissance flights have measured the wind thousands of feet high inside hurricanes. When these readings are used to estimate surface winds, they're brought down a little bit, since friction takes a bite out of the wind. But some new research shows that the wind speed doesn't drop off quite as much as we thought. The bottom line is that official ratings may have underestimated the biggest hurricanes in recent years. If Andrew does get certified as a Cat 5, it won't erase any damage, but it might satisfy some folks who endured the storm and knew they were living through hurricane history.
Thanks today to writer, Bob Henson of Boulder Colorado. The Weather Notebook is a production of the Mount Washington Observatory and is generously supported by Subaru of America and The National Science Foundation.
Pictures of Andrew
Interest in using ethanol for fuel is growing again as the country tries to reduce its dependence on fossil fuel imports.
Hi, I'm Bryan Yeaton and this is the Weather Notebook's weekly segment on global climate change.
Curt Nickisch reports today, energy independence is just one benefit of using ethanol.
Inside a steel-framed building, where corn growers unload their crop for processing into ethanol, President Bush told a crowd of mostly farmers the fuel additive is a big part of the nation's energy mix.
President Bush: It's good public policy for America, it's good for our air, it's good for our economy, and it's good for our national security.
All that goodness comes from fermenting the sugars in a kernel of corn. The end product, ethanol, helps gasoline burn more efficiently according to the executive director for the Coalition for Ethanol, Trevor Guthmiller.
TG: It adds oxygen to that gasoline. So, when a ten percent ethanol blend, which is kind of the standard blend that you can use in any car, is used it will help that gasoline burn about 30 percent cleaner, than with straight gasoline without ethanol.
But ethanol isn't an entirely renewable fuel. Tractors tending corn fields burn fossil fuels and natural gas goes into the production of fertilizer, but Guthmiller says much of the energy stored in corn comes from the sun. So, burning ethanol winds up supplying at least a third more energy than that of the fossil fuels put into it.
TG: We aren't growing any more oil in this world, but we can grow more corn as long as that process produces more energy than it takes to make the product.
Guthmiller says that translates into fewer greenhouse gas emissions from a car's exhaust pipe. In Sioux Falls, this is Curt Nickisch.
Our global climate change series is underwritten by the New England Science Center Collaborative and the Roy A. Hunt Foundation.
More on Ethanol
You've probably heard the term "normal" used by your local weathercaster to refer to the benchmarks meteorologists and climatologists use to compare daily temperature and precipitation values. You may hear phrases such as: "Today's high temperature was 10 degrees above normal," or "Because of the drought we're experiencing, our total rainfall this month was 3 inches below normal.", but what exactly is "normal" weather?
Hi, I'm Bryan Yeaton and this is The Weather Notebook.
A "normal" is defined as a 30-year average of any meteorological element and can be useful in describing the average weather for a particular location. Climate normals are computed on both a daily and monthly basis for several thousand locations across the United States. The National Climatic Data Center, or NCDC, in Asheville, NC is the nation's official keeper of weather and climate records and has the responsibility of updating the official climate normals every 10 years.
NCDC is currently in the process of releasing newly calculated normals for the period from 1971-2000. The previously used set of normals spanned the period from 1961-1990. The new normals will consist of 30-year averages of such weather elements as minimum and maximum temperature and precipitation for nearly 8,000 locations across the United States. Supplemental normals scheduled for release later this year will include such statistics as freeze date probabilities, monthly precipitation probabilities, and temperature, precipitation, and snowfall extremes.
Contrary to popular belief, "normal" weather is not necessarily what you should expect. It's simply a statistical measure that helps put climatic trends, such as drought or heat waves, in a historical context.
Thanks today go to writer and meteorologist, Sean Potter. The Weather Notebook is a production of The Mount Washington Observatory and is sponsored generously by Subaru of America and The National Science Foundation.
Visit the National Climatic Data Center
The will of the wisp is a curious name for what are described by some as ghostly lights, a glow that drifts across swamps and marshes throughout the world. These lights have inspired images in people's minds of fire breathing dragons, spirits and even UFO's.
Hi, I'm Bryan Yeaton for The Weather Notebook, here to tell you about what's also known as the swamp ghost phenomenon.
This strange swampy light is seen mostly in the warm south. The warmer it is year round, the more time there is each year for plants to grow, die and decay. The more decay the more gas is released into the swampy air. This is why many swamps - to put it delicately - stink. But it's also why swampy air glows, or actually, burns!
Swamp gasses such as methane as we all know, stink, but another gas released from decaying swamp matter, diphosphane, not only stinks when released to the air, but also, very slowly, catches on fire. This slow burning, or oxidation, of diphosphane causes the glowing light. But this is just the start of the process.
The effect is enhanced by the weather. Nighttime weather, in the absence of any storms is often calm and settled. Relatively cool night air tends to pool in low places like swamps. This cooling does two things that enhance the will o' the wisp: it traps the gasses near the swamp, keeping them from being whisked away by the wind, and it makes fog, off of which the light of the burning gas reflects.
You can hear, or read, a wonderful poem written in 1900 by Annie Campbell Heustis, called Will O' The Wisp at our web site -- www.mountwashington.org. Support comes from Subaru and the National Science Foundation.
Read the Poem
Hi, I'm Bryan Yeaton for The Weather Notebook. One paradox of extreme weather is that observers like you and me are often silenced by its fury. Commentator David Clark.
And then the wind starts blowing hard and the lightning starts cracking and thunder shakes the house and there ain't a person left standing who ain't standing still. We're busy, busy, busy, but a hurricane watch or a funnel cloud sighting reminds us that there's another layer of living that's totally unaffected by our self-important notions of how busy we think we are.
A tornado splinters a subdivision. Photographs don't do it justice, but still, we stand still. We talk of nature's anger, as if nature is a spoiled child we've somehow failed at raising. As if we, not nature were in this place first.
They say the world's great writings were inspired by God, but the weather is the narrative of our world and our lives. The weather is a story written by God's own hand. The message of the narrative, the lesson for our lives, is simple; be still and know.
David Clark comes to us from Cochran, Georgia. The Weather Notebook is a production of The Mount Washington Observatory. It is funded by Subaru of America and The National Science Foundation. Thanks today to Assistant Producer Doug Sanborn.