Weathering Facts

When somebody asks, “how’s the weather where you live?” they are asking you to describe whether it is sunny, cloudy, cold, hot, rainy, or snowy. Weather is simply how all levels of the Earth’s atmosphere are interacting at a given moment.

Weather can also be changed by weather conditions in other states. If you live in the state of Illinois, and it is raining like cats and dogs in Iowa or Missouri, your location in Illinois could get the same kind of rain in several hours.

The United States National Weather Service is responsible for telling us when we should prepare for a big weather event. When you are watching the news, and the meteorologist says the National Weather Service has issued a tornado watch, that is where he or she is getting their information.

Severe thunderstorm warnings, blizzard warnings, and tornado warnings are just a few weather events the National Weather Service sends out alerts about when you need to take shelter.

Impress Your Friends with Your Knowledge About All Things Weather

You Don’t Need a Thermometer to Find Out the Temperature–Just Listen to the Crickets Outside Your Bedroom Window

According to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, crickets chirp faster in warm weather than they chirp in cold weather. Crickets are cold-blooded insects, which means they are more active when it is warm outside. Crickets chirp faster in the summer because warm air activates their chirping muscles.

Here is an easy way to calculate temperature by counting the number of cricket chirps in 15 seconds:

If you count 20 cricket chirps in 15 seconds, add the number 40 to 20. This gives you a sum of 60.

Example: 20 chirps + 40 = a temperature of 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

Try it and see how close your yard’s crickets can come to predicting the temperature!

What’s the Difference Between a Snowstorm and a Blizzard?

How come meteorologists won’t call a snowstorm a blizzard even when it is snowing so hard you can hardly see anything outside your window?

Wind speed determines if it’s a blizzard or a snowstorm. Before your local meteorologist can say you are under a blizzard warning, they have to detect winds gusting over 35 miles per hour for three straight hours or more. Also, a true blizzard greatly reduces your ability to see in front of you.

Why Is It Sometimes Foggy in the Morning?

If your school has ever delayed opening for several hours in the morning because of fog, you can thank the difference in air temperature and the dew point for giving you a few extra hours of freedom!

Dew point and humidity are closely related. The percentage of humidity tells us how much water vapor is in the air. When the humidity is 60 percent, this means the air outside is holding 60 percent of the moisture it is capable of holding. A 100 percent humidity means the air is holding all the moisture it can possibly hold.

The air temperature needed to form rain clouds is the dew point. High dew points reaching above 70 can sometimes predict severe thunderstorms and possible flooding. Fog develops when tiny water droplets float just above the ground, and the air temperature and dew point are less than four degrees Fahrenheit apart. If you live in an area where there are many creeks, ponds, or lakes, you’re also likely to have more foggy mornings than other places without creeks and ponds.

Why Do Rainbows Form After It Rains?

When you see a rainbow arching across the sky after a rain shower, you see how the entire spectrum of light looks as it is distorted by tiny water droplets high in the atmosphere. Your science teacher may have already had you memorize the seven colors of the rainbow by memorizing “Roy G. Biv”–red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

The Sun needs to shine after a shower for you to see a rainbow. Without sunlight being refracted by water droplets, we wouldn’t be able to see “Roy G. Biv” in the sky.

Viewing a rainbow from the ground lets us only see a part of the rainbow. If we could see the whole rainbow, it would be a complete circle instead of an arch.

Amazing Lightning and Thunder Facts

When warm air and cold air collide, warm air full of water droplets is forced upwards. The cold air that remains below the warm air contains ice crystals or hail. Not long after warm and cold air meet, thunderclouds develop.

Within thunderclouds are billions of ice crystals and water droplets bumping and rubbing against each other. This constant scraping of crystals and droplets in dark clouds leads to static electrical charges and, ultimately, lightning.

The double AA batteries you use to power toys and handheld gaming devices have a “positive” (+) end and a “negative” (-) end. You can see the plus and minus sign imprinted on either end of the battery.

Clouds also have a negative and plus end, only a cloud’s positive charge is on the top of the cloud and the negative charge is at the bottom of the cloud. When a cloud’s negative charge is stronger than the cloud’s positive charge–CRACK! A lightning bolt is discharged from the cloud.

At the moment you see a lightning bolt zigzag down from the sky to ground, the air temperature around that lightning bolt is nearly six times hotter than the Sun’s surface temperature. That’s approximately 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit!

So why do we hear thunder right after we see a lightning bolt? As soon as a bolt of lightning hits the air outside a cloud, it discharges a large amount of heat that causes the air to expand quickly. Immediately afterwards, the air cools and contracts.

Think about when you stretch a rubber band as far as it will stretch and then let it go of it so that it sails across the room. That ear-splitting boom you hear when it thunders loudly is the air expanding and contracting around a cloud.

The National Weather Service says you can determine how far away lightning strikes are from your home by performing this simple calculation:

As soon as you see a flash of lightning, start counting the seconds it takes to hear the first clap of thunder. Divide the number of seconds by five. The answer is how many miles you are from the lightning strike. The NWS uses the number five because it takes the sound of thunder five seconds to travel one mile.

Example: Seconds between a lightning flash and thunder = 15

15 divided by 5 = 3

This means cloud to ground lightning is probably only three miles away from your location. If you are outside and lightning is this close to you, seek shelter as soon as possible.

Tornadoes, Twisters, Supercells, and Funnel Clouds–Oh, My!

Have you ever seen a strange-looking cloud in the sky that is funnel-shaped and resembles pictures of tornadoes you’ve seen on the news? That’s actually a funnel cloud or a tornado that hasn’t descended from the sky and touched the ground.

Funnel clouds can be scary to find, but most don’t ever fall from the clouds to become genuine tornadoes. 

Tornadoes come from powerful, large thunderstorms called “supercells.” When you hear a meteorologist talk about a supercell, they are referring to a huge, strong thunderstorm that contains a rapidly spinning column of water vapor and warm air called a vortex.

When cooler air within the supercell puts enough pressure on the vortex, the vortex is forced out of the supercell and down to the ground. At that moment, a vortex becomes a tornado.

There are five types of tornadoes: F1, F2, F3, F4, and F5. An F1 tornado is the weakest kind and usually does little damage to property. An F5 tornado is the strongest, capable of wind speeds over 150 miles per hour. One F5 tornado can swiftly destroy a small town in a matter of minutes.

The word “twister” is just slang or a local term for a tornado. A twister and a tornado refer to the same thing–a dangerously powerful windstorm that can stay on the ground for miles and destroy everything in its path.

If a meteorologist issues a “tornado watch”, that means weather conditions are right for the formation of a tornado. A “tornado warning” in your area means you should seek shelter immediately as someone has spotted a tornado on the ground near your home.

For more fascinating weather facts, visit the National Weather Service’s kid’s page here