Archive for November, 2011

Sunday Travel
November 26, 2011

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

I hope you’ve enjoyed your holiday weekend! Similar conditions await holiday travelers wrapping up their trips across New England on Sunday.  Some more high clouds may filter out some of the sunshine, but overall it will be a pleasant and warm day once again.  Notice the rain showers will be moving across the Great Lakes region and into portions of western New York and Pennsylvania.  Some minor flight delays because of the rain off to our west are still possible, but nothing too major is expected.

Saturday Travel
November 25, 2011

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Hopefully you’ve had a very enjoyable Thanksgiving…and if you’re heading home on Saturday there will be very few travel delays due to weather.  Across the Northeast, a few clouds may be around, especially in Northern New England, and no rain or snow is expected.  The only trouble you may run into is out towards the Great Lakes region.  A developing low pressure system is expected to produce rain showers, and possibly cause some minor flight delays out towards the Midwest particularly in the evening.

Origins of “Black Friday”
November 24, 2011

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Many people associate Black Friday with the busiest shopping day of the year…the day where all the stores turn a profit (in accounting, red ink is used in the books for losses and black ink is used for profit).  However, the earliest usage of the term “Black Friday” comes from Philadelphia in 1966…and it was for a much different reason.

“Black Friday” was coined by the Philadelphia Police Department in reference to the chaos in the stores and on the streets on this particular day.  In an article in the January 1966 issue of “The American Philatelist,” a periodical for stamp collectors, Martin Apfelbaum, the owner of a stamp store in Philadelphia , writes:

“‘Black Friday’ is the name which the Philadelphia Police Department has given to the Friday following Thanksgiving Day. It is not a term of endearment to them. ‘Black Friday’ officially opens the Christmas shopping season in center city, and it usually brings massive traffic jams and over-crowded sidewalks as the downtown stores are mobbed from opening to closing.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the “black ink theory” started to become popular amongst shoppers.  Days historically named “Black” usually refer to awful circumstances…such as Black Tuesday (the day of the Stock Market Crash) and Black Easter (the day President Lincoln died).  Referencing Black Friday to the accounting books gained popularity because it was a much more pleasant and peaceful analogy.  The awful origins of this term, however, seem to be fading with time.

Twister
November 19, 2011

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

I couldn’t help but notice that the movie “Twister” was on earlier this week.  An article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) once addressed the question “are there too many aspiring meteorologists?” and listed Twister as the number one reason for the surge in interest in meteorology.  After all, think about your dream job…there was probably something or someone who influenced that dream.

According to BAMS, meteorology enrollment has increased about 10% since the late 1990s.  The movie Twister was released in 1996 (and many of today’s young meteorologists cite this movie among the list of their favorites).  Whether or not you like the movie for its action, or hate the movie for its science (does “The Day After Tomorrow” ring a bell?), it definitely had an impact on the box office…pulling in almost a half-billion dollars, and was the first movie ever released on DVD format.

The basic plot of Twister is based on a true science experiment.  The instrument sensors in that Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt’s team try to release inside a tornado were similar to areal-life project named TOTO in the mid-1980s.  TOTO, which stands for Totable Tornado Observatory, was an actual instrument package that two stormchasers would roll out of a customized truck…and hopefully in the path of a tornado.

In the movie, the instrument the characters hoped to deploy inside a tornado was named “Dorothy”.  While the most obvious reference is to the tornado that Dorothy survived in the movie The Wizard of Oz, this name is actually in respect to Dorothy’s dog…Toto!

The closest TOTO deployment to a tornado was on April 29, 1984 in Oklahoma, where it was sideswiped by the edge of a weak tornado.  TOTO was retired in 1987 because of safety concerns and the obvious difficulty of getting it in the direct path of a tornado.

Under Pressure
November 13, 2011

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

I wasn’t sure what to blog about this weekend…until I heard the song Under Pressure by Queen w/ David Bowie on the radio last night.  It has nothing to do with weather, but it got me thinking about a little education on air pressure.

Weather-wise, to literally be under “pressure…pushing down on me” as the lyrics to this song go would actually be a good thing.   The terms high and low pressure you hear about with every weather report refer to the amount of air pushing down on you…literally.  We all know that air moves in all different directions – north, south, east, and west.  It also moves vertically up and down.

With an area of high pressure, the air molecules are sinking down towards the ground.  This downward movement of air tends to limit cloud development and allow more incoming sunlight to warm up the ground.  This is why we associate high pressure with good weather.

More specifically (and scientifically), air pressure at a location is defined as the “weight” of the air molecules directly above you.  If you climb a high mountain, or are on an airplane, the air pressure there is lower because there are less air molecules directly above you (i.e. weighing down on you).  With an area of high pressure at the surface, in order to have the air molecules sink there must be more molecules added to the air column directly overhead…this increase in air molecules will increase the “weight” and thus increase the pressure reading.

For an area of low pressure it’s exactly the opposite.  The air is rising, not sinking, which allows the air to cool and condense into cloud droplets and precipitation particles.  In this column of rising air overhead, it will lose air molecules faster than it can regain them…thus the “weight” decreases and it is labeled as a lower pressure.

So if Freddie Mercury was writing a meteorologically correct song, then “pressure…pushing down on me” would refer to sinking air and good weather…weather that would make anyone bust a move like this

Daylight saving time & meteorologists
November 6, 2011

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Every time we change the clocks, it always throws off every meteorologist for a couple of days.  The reason is because every meteorologist…and I mean EVERY meteorologist…uses a different time called “Zulu Time.”  There are some meteorologists out there who literally set their watches by it (but not yours truly).

Zulu time is simply the time at the Prime Meridian, also known as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).  The word “Zulu” is the phonetic for the letter Z in aviation.  In nautical time zones, the Prime Meridian is in zone “Z”, and thus the letter Z is often attached to the end of the clock as a reference to the Prime Meridian.  For example, 8AM at the Prime Meridian would be 8Z.

Like military time, Zulu time also uses a 24-hour time frame, no AM or PM.  So 2PM at the Prime Meridian would translate to 1400 hours or 14Z (add two hours past noon).

The reason this throws off meteorologists is because we all use Z-time to maintain consistency.  Computer models, weather balloons, and other important data can more easily be interpreted worldwide if it is all united under the same clock. For us in the Eastern Time Zone, we spend the summer 4 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time.  After we turn the clocks back, we are now 5 hours behind Z time.  So looking at 12Z data during the summer would mean we are looking at 8AM data here on the East Coast.  Now, any data with a timestamp of 12Z applies to 7AM.  Got it?  Yeah probably not…that’s why it even takes us a day or two before it becomes second-nature.