Archive for April, 2013

Your Ecological Footprint
April 22, 2013

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

In celebration of Earth Day, this interactive quiz from reveals your ecological footprint.  Everything you do on a daily basis … your eating habits, shopping habits, and modes of transportation … uses a certain amount of the earth’s resources.  Basically, your being on this planet takes a lot out of the earth to support your lifestyle.  As an example, one of the things this quiz revealed to me is that it takes 20.2 acres of land to just to support all of my individual, daily habits … from forests to make paper products, to land for food and energy production.

Take the quiz here to see your ecological footprint

*Note: there is a login screen when you begin, but you do not have to signup for anything in order to take the quiz or see the results

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Why is Earth Day on April 22nd?
April 21, 2013

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Since 1970, Earth Day has educated the world about the importance of protecting the environment.  From planting trees to cleaning up parks, Earth Day has had countless classrooms and groups do their part around the world to make our planet a better, greener place to live.  But why was April 22nd chosen as the date?

U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin was responsible for organizing the first Earth Day.  Known for being passionate about environmental issues, Senator Nelson was outraged by a massive oil spill in California in 1969.  After witnessing the effect of anti-Vietnam demonstrations at college campuses across the country, he wanted to stir similar emotions about how pollution harms the environment and the need for it to stop.  He hoped this movement could create enough buzz that it would make an impact in the national political landscape.

Therefore, Nelson proposed a “national day of teach-in on the environment,” at colleges across the country on April 22nd, 1970.  The general goal was the same as today’s … to inform people of how delicate the environment is, and what people can do to protect and preserve it.

The original Earth Day was planned for April 22nd for a few reasons.  Senator Nelson wanted it to be late enough in the Spring semester for the weather to be somewhat fair, but not too late that students would be busy preparing for final exams.  It also had to avoid religious holidays and spring breaks, which students would not be in class those days.  It also needed to be during the week and not the weekend.  For these simple, straightforward reasons, Nelson chose the first Earth Day to be held on Wednesday, April 22, 1970.  The date stuck for 43 years and counting.

Here is a news clip from the first Earth Day demonstrations in 1970, courtesy of NBC/Hulu and

Meteorology 101: Finding fronts
April 20, 2013

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

A front is defined as the boundary between two different airmasses … and that is exactly what we’ve had the last two days.  A warm airmass pushed our high temperatures into the mid-70s on Friday, the front moved through last night, and our high temperatures today only reach the mid-50s under this cooler airmass.

When placing a front on a weather map, precipitation gives a broad clue as to its general position.  It’s exact position, however, can be found looking at the wind fields.  Below is a diagram of the airflow and airmasses surrounding a typical frontal system, also known as a mid-latitude cyclone.

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Notice how winds come up from the south in the warm sector ahead of the front, and the winds come from the northwest in the colder sector behind the front.  These exact wind directions were observed late last night across western Massachusetts.  Winds were out of the south all day long on Friday, the rain moved in, and then winds quickly shifted from the northwest.  Here are a few of the hourly observations beginning late Friday night:

10PM: S 20mph, 65 degrees
11PM: W 17mph, 52 degrees
12AM: NW 12mph, 45 degrees
1AM: NW 9mph, 43 degrees
2AM: NW 15mph, 41 degrees

10PM: S 17mph, 64 degrees
11PM: S 20mph, 66 degrees
12AM: S 9mph, 64 degrees
1AM: NW 15mph, 56 degrees
2AM: NW 6mph, 52 degrees

10PM: S 22mph, 64 degrees
11PM: S 17mph, 64 degrees
12AM: S 13mph, 62 degrees
1AM: S 13mph, 62 degrees
2AM: NW 13mph, 55 degrees

Looking at these hourly observations, it appears the cold front moved through Pittsfield just after 10 PM, Westfield just after midnight, and Chicopee just after 1 AM.  We can also use observations like this to calculate how fast a system is moving.  It is about 30 miles from Pittsfield to Westfield, and since it took the front about 2 hours to get travel that distance, the front must have been moving at a speed of about 15 mph.

Similarly, it is about 10 miles between Westfield and Chicopee, and it took the front about an hour to travel that distance, so the front was moving at about 10 mph at that point.  In general, we can now say last night’s cold front was moving at about 10 to 15 mph.  Similar hourly observations and distances around the Northeast can help verify this speed of the front.  Knowing these speeds as a front moves across the country can help pinpoint the time it will arrive in western Massachusetts.

Sandy retired from hurricane names list
April 16, 2013

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

As many expected, NOAA officially retired Sandy from the list of Atlantic tropical cyclone names.  NOAA retires these names if the storm causes a noteworthy amount of destruction … such as Andrew or Katrina.  Sandy becomes the 77th name to be retired, and NOAA announced it will be replaced by the name Sara in 2018.

The list of tropical cyclone names keeps a rigid structure, rotating every 6 years and alternating between male and female as it progresses through the alphabet.  Thus, a female “S” name must be replaced with another female “S” name.  For example, Andrew was replaced with Alex six years later, and Katrina was replaced with Katia.

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Brush fire season upon us
April 6, 2013

By Meteorologist Mike Skurko

Prime conditions for rapidly-spreading fires have caused many problems across western Massachusetts over the past week.  Very low relative humidities enhance the potential for the smallest spark to cause an out-of-control fire.  Breezy conditions help fires wildly spread and difficult to contain for firefighters, whether its a house fire or a rural brush fire.

Red flag warnings were issued again today as winds gusted up to 30 mph with relative humidities below 25% this afternoon.  Breezy conditions will be around again on Sunday, with relative humidites expected to be about 30-40%.  These conditions favorable for brush fires are likely at this time of year.

With all of the snow melted away, the ground is left dry with dead tree limbs and brush scattered about from the winter.  Dry Canadian airmasses can still frequently make their way into western Massachusetts as we start off the spring season, as we have not yet tapped into that humid, moist summertime air from the Gulf.

The analogy is as simple as burning dry versus wet firewood in the winter.  Many of you know to bring some firewood indoors for a little bit before putting it in your fireplace.  When left wet or snow-covered, it does not burn as efficiently.  The same applies for forest and brush…excessively low humidities will leave brush, dead limbs, and grass dry and more readily ignitable.

We also tend to have breezier conditions in the spring, as it is often looked at as a “transition season” from winter to summer.  It is during the spring season where we still have an active jet stream over us before it moves northward for the summer.  Springtime heating also starts to kick in, which “mixes” the atmosphere more and also enhances breezy conditions.

People are responsible for 98% of all wildfires.  Here are some simple things to remember for red flag warning days.

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