Category Archives: Phenomena

What is the Coriolis force?

Newton’s laws of motion mathematically describe how objects move when forces are exerted on them.

Earth is spinning like a top, even though to us who are standing on Earth, it seems that we are not moving. Newton did not account for Earth’s spin in his equations. The Coriolis force appears as an extra term when Newton’s laws are transformed to account for Earth’s spin. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Phenomena

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Why are icicles shaped like long skinny carrots?

Icicles typically form on days when the outdoor air temperature is below freezing but sunshine warms and melts snow or ice. Thus, you may notice that more icicles form on the sunny south-facing side of your home than on the … Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Phenomena

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What makes loud noises on very cold days?

Thursday night and Friday morning, several people reported hearing loud noises, thinking something fell on their house or gunshots were fired.

These sounds result from what are called frost quakes or ice quakes. They occur when a rapid drop in temperature leads to a quick freeze. Continue reading

Category: Phenomena, Severe Weather

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Can weather in the stratosphere affect us near the ground?

Thus far the winter has been relatively mild around the Northern Hemisphere. This December was the 14th-warmest December, and the period from Sept. 1 through Dec. 31 was the eighth-warmest since 1948.

Such a prolonged delay to the onset of winter makes one wonder if it will ever arrive this year. Though there is no clear way to be sure about the answer to that question, one potential phenomenon that can encourage a winter-like cold air outbreak is a sudden warming of the lower stratosphere, the layer of the atmosphere between 6 and 20 miles above the surface. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Phenomena, Seasons

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How are clouds named?

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 they are precipitating. Continue reading

Category: Meteorology, Phenomena

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