Category Archives: Meteorology

How are clouds named and why are the bottoms flat?

In 1803, British pharmacist and chemist Luke Howard devised a classification system for clouds. It has proved so successful that meteorologists have used Howard’s system ever since, with minor modifications.

According to his system, clouds are given Latin names corresponding to their appearance — layered or convective — and their altitude. Clouds are also categorized based on whether or not they are precipitating. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology

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Another example of unprecedented weather extremes

Another entry in the category of unprecedented weather extremes comes from the tropical Atlantic basin where, last week, Hurricane Fiona wrought devastation to the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, still reeling from its assault by Hurricane Maria eerily precisely five years earlier.

Fiona dropped upwards of 30 inches of rain on the south shores of Puerto Rico before heading north into the Atlantic, where it systematically strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane with sustained winds of more than 130 mph. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Phenomena, Severe Weather, Tropical

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What can happen to hurricanes when they move into the mid-latitudes?

Hurricanes are large-scale, organized storms that form in the tropical latitudes.

They are fueled by the enormous amount of heat released when water vapor, evaporated off the warm tropical ocean surface, changes phase to liquid and ice in the thunderstorm clouds of the hurricane.

They are smaller in areal extent than the storms that commonly affect us in the mid-latitudes here in Madison. Continue reading

Category: History, Meteorology, Severe Weather

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What is the difference between mist and fog?

Both a mist and a fog are water droplets suspended in the atmosphere in the vicinity the earth’s surface that affect visibility.

They both differ from a cloud only in that the base of a fog or a mist is at the earth’s surface, while a cloud’s is above the surface.

The difference between a mist and a fog is associated with the atmospheric visibility. A fog and a mist are both composed of microscopic water droplets or wet hygroscopic particles suspended in the air. Particles cause light to be refracted and reflected in many directions, reducing visibility. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Weather Dangers

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Does lightning add nitrogen to the soil?

Our bodies need nitrogen to make proteins. The atmosphere’s composition is 78% nitrogen, but the nitrogen in the air is not available to our bodies.

The two atoms in the airborne nitrogen molecule are held together very tightly. For our bodies to process that nitrogen, the two atoms must separate. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Phenomena, Severe Weather

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