What is a downburst and why can it cause airplanes to crash?

DownburstA downburst is created by an area of significantly rain-cooled air that, after reaching ground level, spreads out in all directions producing strong winds. There may or may not be rain reaching the ground. It is a threat to aviation since it can suddenly change relative air speed of an airplane as it encounters a localized headwinds or tailwinds, suddenly increasing or decreasing lift.

What are troughs and ridges I always hear meteorologists talking about?

TroughThese are patterns in the upper atmosphere that are directly related to the weather near them. The upper atmosphere is dominated by several jet streams which are distinct rivers of air, and these are prone to bend and close off, simliar to the way a river of water flows around rocks. Troughs are associated with rising air and storms, and are curved counter-clockwise or cyclonically in the northern hemisphere. Ridges are associated with descending air and nice weather, and are curved clockwise or anti-cycloncally in the northern hemisphere.

NEW STAFF METEOROLOGIST

Dr. Mike Weissbluth has joined Dynamic Weather Solutions as their Chief Scientist  due to an increased emphasis on product development. Mike received his Masters in Atmospheric Science from Colorado State University in 1985 and then granted his Doctorate in Atmospheric Science in 1991. He developed a scheme to model cumulus clouds in in medium-scale numerical models with forecast horizons of a few hours to a few days (mesoscale models). After continuing this research for two years as a Research Associate at the university, Mike joined MRC as an applied scientist in short and medium term operational numerical weather forecasting.

Some of Mike’s work has included software system development, mesoscale Numerical Weather Prediction (NWP) method research, mesoscale ensemble forecasting for probabilistic dispersion analysis, and expert advice in other areas of the weather services program.

Currently, Mike is helping develop our next generation hail products. Preliminary research is encouraging; stay tuned to see how the research is proceeding.

What is El Niño and La Niña?

ElNinoEl Niño is the warming of the ocean surface off the western coast of South America that occurs every 2 to 7 years. La Niña is simply its counterpart and occurs when these surface waters cool.

The direct cause of this oscillation is the weakening of the west to east trade winds near the equator. Normally, these trade winds push the warm surface water of the ocean towards the west. Cold sub-surface ocean water takes its place in the eastern Pacific in a process called upwelling. When the trade winds weaken or sometimes even reverse, the upwelling decreases or stops, allowing warmer ocean surface temperatures to appear.

Because this occurs over such a large expanse of the tropical Pacific, it influences global weather patterns through a process called teleconnection. Ridges of high pressure form over the warm waters and deflect upper level winds which then affect the atmosphere not only downstream of the ridge but also northward and southward.

Why is this so difficult to predict? Changes to the global circulation affect the trade winds, which then affects El Niño, which then again affects the global circulation. It is this feedback loop that is difficult to predict.

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Why was my house damaged by hail and my neighbors house was not?

UntouchedStorms can be very localized, and the rain and hail associated with them can be similarly localized. There are complex factors that affect a storm and often times, they differ vastly from the 60,000 foot crown of the storm, all the way down to where it impacts the surface. Wind shears, temperature changes and a long list of other components of a storm are constantly reacting to each other and changing. The final result of a storm is difficult to understand and almost impossible to predict.