“Red sky at night, sailors delight…red sky in morning, sailors take warning.”
Before the Valentine’s Day digression, the topic was the Weather-Ready Nation. The magic of the idea? Two-fold. First off, the slogan is a song we can hum. We grasp the idea. And precisely because we can picture its significance, especially in the context of 2011’s severe weather, we can look around our local communities, or read a weather-story in the newspaper, and tell instinctively whether we’re making substantive progress over the longer haul.
That earlier post led off with my Junior High shop teacher. Walk down the hallway a bit, and you’d find my Junior High science teacher.
Let me introduce you.
She taught weather to those of us in ninth grade. Truth be told? Science was really not her strong suit. The subject…or we students…or both, made her nervous. And this was more than half a century ago. The American Meteorological Society had yet to start its Education Program, with its marvelous array of resources for teachers of today. So she devoted virtually the entire module…maybe half a semester…to weather folklore. The saying at top of today’s post was a notable example. There were many others… “Mare’s tails and mackerel’s scales make lofty ships carry low sails.”
[Are they still teaching that today? Got children in junior high? Try that out on ‘em and let us know how it goes.]
Anyway, what she tried to teach us was that this folklore had some basis in fact. Trawl across the deep seabeds of the internet and you can still find some of this information today. Here’s what the Farmer’s Almanac has to say about red skies…
“A reddish sunset means that the air is dusty and dry. Since weather in North American latitudes usually moves from west to east, a red sky at sunset means dry weather—good for sailing—is moving east. Conversely, a reddish sunrise means that dry air from the west has already passed over us on their way east, clearing the way for a storm to move in.”
If you approach the subject of meteorology from this direction (metaphorically speaking), the next subject you often encounter is “single-station” forecasting. Again, you don’t hear so much about that any more, but the idea was that even without today’s numerical weather forecasting, even back before meteorologists used the telegraph to communicate the weather prevailing at nearby locations, it was (and remains) possible to draw rudimentary inferences about what weather is coming, and from where, based entirely on single-location information. Here’s an example of material you can find on the web, this pertinent not to temperate latitudes but to the tropics:
“Single station forecasting of a tropical cyclone passage. About four days in advance of a typical tropical cyclone, an ocean swell of 1 metre (3.3 ft) in height will roll in about every 10 seconds, moving towards the coast from the direction of the tropical cyclone’s location. The ocean swell will slowly increase in height and frequency the closer a tropical cyclone gets to land. Two days in advance of the center’s passage, winds go calm as the tropical cyclone interrupts the environmental wind flow. Within 36 hours of the center passage, the pressure begins to fall and a veil of white cirrus clouds approaches from the cyclone’s direction. Within 24 hours of the closest approach to the center, low clouds begin to move in, also known as the bar of a tropical cyclone, as the barometric pressure begins to fall more rapidly and the winds begin to increase…”
This preamble should get us in the mindset of working locally, “single-station,” as it were, to achieve weather-readiness. You don’t need experts from Washington. You have local expertise. Traditional knowledge.
You can get a long way with a town meeting.
Picture such an evening discussion in a town (figuratively) down the road from Joplin or Tuscaloosa. People talking about the terrible tragedy that just happened next door. Remembering the forecast from that day. Working through the whole issue of warnings…what does it mean when they hear the town siren? In terms of what’s coming? The implications for what they should do? Perhaps the Warning Coordination Meteorologist from the local NWS Forecast Office is on hand. The local emergency manager, and police and fire personnel are there as well and also answering questions. Maybe the subject turns to another question…how many people have storm shelters or basements? Not that many…it’s the cost, it’s the Bentonite soil. It’s the upkeep. The one couple who had a shelter looked in it this morning and found nothing but mud, cobwebs, and bugs. What should they do, then? Maybe a small-business owner or two starts talking about what’ll happen to the town economy if the tornado comes down Main Street. Parents wonder about whether their kids are safe in school. What warning will they get? What protective measures can they take? What are those kids taught about weather safety? Then perhaps they start thinking about emergency help for the injured. What if they lost their hospital like Joplin did? They ask the mayor whether she and the town council have a plan. They agree to meet again next month and check on progress.
Now…imagine how this conversation might go a little differently if a couple of people in the room were meteorology students from the university fifty miles away – members of their local AMS Chapter, maybe even from that community originally. Or if the local, AMS-certified broadcast meteorologist had also swung by. If they were also available as a resource not just for an evening but over the coming month. Maybe the conversation might turn to additional weather risks…the possibility of a flash flood in that creek that runs past the edge of town, or icing on the power lines this winter, or the effect of a dry spell on water reservoirs…or maybe how to get more weather in the school curriculum, and energize the town’s kids about science and technology more broadly.
And possibly, since it’s the year 2012, not 1812 or even 1912, though the focus is local weather-readiness, the community can draw on a body of resources – information on climatology, weather risks, etc. that have been developed nationally; use of the internet and smartphones as well as sirens, radio, and television for getting the warning out; and much more. Those AMS participants in the conversation might come armed not just with weather knowledge, but a framework for participating effectively in a community group…like seeking first to listen, and only then speak, to understand, and only then to be understood. The importance of staying power. The need to commit to the community and become part of it versus just parachute in. The reality that if they do come with open minds, they’ll learn more than they teach. The focus can be the community, but a community drawing on national capabilities…governmental resources, but also assets from non-governmental organizations like the AMS.
Just a thought as to how weather-ready starts locally, and how it might look different if the AMS and its members and local chapters were fully and effectively engaged.