National Weather Observer’s Day
National Weather Observer’s Day is celebrated every year on May 4th. The aim of this holiday is to have fun observing the weather on that day. Sailors, farmers, hunters, and fishermen have always studied the weather because their livelihood depends on it. They learned to predict changes by watching clouds, observing plants and animals, and noting body aches and pains. Many children and adults of all ages are fascinated by the weather. Look up into the sky, watch the clouds go by, and see what else you can see. Come rain or shine, National Weather Observer’s Day is a great time to enjoy a day of weather watching!
Types of weather include rain, snow, sleet, hail, thunderstorms, tornadoes, hurricanes, and fog. The four basic measurable weather elements are temperature, air pressure, moisture, and wind. The roots of weather events lie in the reaction of the air to the angle of the sun and to the rotation of the earth about its axis. Also involved are many other factors such as ocean currents, location of mountain ranges, distance from the equator, and jet streams. (Don’t worry, jet planes don’t affect the weather. Jet streams are fast-moving currents of air high in the atmosphere, caused by the strong temperature contrast between polar and tropical air.) Many weather systems in the mid-latitudes are caused by instabilities of the jet stream flow.
Atmospheric science is the branch of physics concerned with studying the air and understanding its physical processes. Meteorologists are scientists who study the weather. Benjamin Franklin was America’s first meteorologist. Rapid advances in the knowledge of atmospheric science have been taking place since the 1940’s, due in part to expanded observing networks and the development of instrumentation. Some instruments that scientists invented to study and measure the weather include: thermometer (temperature), barometer (air pressure), hygrometer (humidity), heliograph (sunshine), and anemometer (wind speed).
Today, meteorologists use many different high-tech instruments. In fact, the effort to predict weather was one of the initial reasons for developing computers and satellites. Satellites send back pictures of clouds and record infrared radiation to determine temperature and humidity. Weather satellites have been especially successful at detecting and following the movement of hurricanes. Meteorologists also collect information from land stations, ships and buoys, and special aircraft. All of this data is fed into computers. Meteorologists then analyze the information to make forecasts, or predictions, of what the weather will be.
However, in spite of all these fancy weather instruments providing detailed technical data, weather forecasts are not always correct. Meteorologists can forecast weather accurately only a few days in advance. Any longer than this, and weather prediction becomes very uncertain for several reasons. Weather is the result of a great number of variables or controlling factors, as explained at the beginning of this article. Weather may also be sensitive to other conditions which can never be known exactly. As the number of variables in any scientific endeavor increases, the results become less predictable. These multiple and often unknown variables also rule out any comprehensive mathematical formula by which the weather can be exactly calculated.
Finally, weather is ruled by what scientists call unpredictable chaos. According to chaos theory, very small environmental factors can eventually result in large-scale differences in weather patterns. You may have heard about the law of magnified results, popularly known as the “butterfly effect.” According to this theory, the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in the Amazon rainforest may set in motion a chain of events that later results in a Midwest tornado. For all these reasons, precise weather forecasting is impossible. Consequently, there is no sure way to predict next week’s weather, let alone future climate changes.
Did You Know...?
WEATHER is the condition of the atmosphere over a given spot on earth at a particular instant of time. CLIMATE is the effect of weather patterns on an area over a long period of many years. In other words, weather is to climate as the experience of one day is to a lifetime.
Learn more about weather at the following links:
www.wxdude.com - “The Weather Dude” is meteorologist Nick Walker’s weather education site for kids, parents and teachers, featuring musical meteorology pages.
www.wildwildweather.com - Meteorologist Dan Satterfield’s “Wild, Wild Weather Page” is an interactive weather page for kids between 6 and 16 years old, as well as their parents and teachers.
http://www.weathergraphics.com/dl/obsman.pdf - “International Weather Watchers Observer Handbook” describes a set of standard
observation routines to help the amateur weather hobbyist.
http://school.discoveryeducation.com/lessonplans/activities/weatherstation - “Build Your Own Weather Station,” an earth science lesson plan for grades 6-12, from Discovery Education.
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