Stories tagged weather


Global warming has been in the news a lot lately. First, 60 scientists signed a petition asking the Canadian Prime Minister to open a scientific debate on the Kyoto Treaty. (The Kyoto Treaty is an international agreement to reduce global warming by reducing industrial emissions. Some people think the treaty has too many loopholes, and even if the loopholes were closed, it would still not be effective. The US has not signed the treaty. Science Buzz has had its own Kyoto debate.)

The scientists argue:

Much of the billions of dollars earmarked for implementation of the protocol in Canada will be squandered without a proper assessment of recent developments in climate science. …

It may be many years yet before we properly understand the Earth's climate system. Nevertheless, significant advances have been made since the protocol was created, many of which are taking us away from a concern about increasing greenhouse gases. …

The new Canadian government's commitment to reducing air, land and water pollution is commendable, but allocating funds to "stopping climate change" would be irrational. We need to continue intensive research into the real causes of climate change and help our most vulnerable citizens adapt to whatever nature throws at us next.

Next, a climate researcher in Australia has looked at current climate data and found that global temperatures have been holding steady since 1998:

Two simple graphs provide needed context, and exemplify the dynamic, fluctuating nature of climate change. The first is a temperature curve for the last six million years, which shows a three-million year period when it was several degrees warmer than today, followed by a three-million year cooling trend which was accompanied by an increase in the magnitude of the pervasive, higher frequency, cold and warm climate cycles. During the last three such warm (interglacial) periods, temperatures at high latitudes were as much as 5 degrees warmer than today's. The second graph shows the average global temperature over the last eight years, which has proved to be a period of stasis.

Finally, an atmospheric scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology argues that there is a vicious circle between climate scientists who find evidence of global warming; environmental activists who use those findings to advance their cause; and policy makers who respond to the activists by giving more money to… the climate scientists.

(He also claims that scientists who raise doubts about global warming and human impact on climate are sometimes shut out of the debate. Science Buzz has had it’s own discussion on disagreements within the scientific community.)

So, what to make of all of this? I think the MIT professor said it well:

[L]et's start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred.

This all illustrates the dynamic interaction between science and politics. Science is about facts. Politics is about opinion – what should we do in the fact of those facts? But the distinction is not always clear. Science influences political debate; and political decisions influence what science gets support. The best thing to do is to keep an open mind, remembering that most people have some sort of agenda, and that new information is coming out all the time.

(The Science Museum of Minnesota did an exhibit on global warming. You can find the website here.)


Have you ever wondered how to rate a snowstorm? Meteorologists classify earthquakes, tornadoes, and hurricanes…so why not snowstorms?! This past January, the American Meteorological Society released a new scale ranking snowstorm severity. Criteria include snowfall amount, size of region blanketed, and lastly the population of the affected area.

Scientists focused their research on thirteen states in the Northeast. Region selection was based on frequency of snowstorms. They classified snowstorm severity in five levels: notable, significant, major, crippling, or extreme. So the next time we get blasted with a wintry-wonderland, keep in mind the new snowstorm classification.

Resource: How to rate a snowstorm. (2006, February 18). Science News, 169, 7


Overnight, hurricane Wilma became a Category 5 storm with sustained 175-mile-per-hour winds and the lowest recorded barometric pressure of any Atlantic hurricane. Meteorologists expect it to weaken over the next few days, although it could dump huge amounts of rain on Bermuda, the Cayman Islands, and Cuba.

10-19-2005 Hurricane Wilma: Hurricane Wilma, 10-19-2005

The current forecast has Wilma dropping to a Category 3 storm before it makes landfall somewhere in southwestern Florida over the weekend. (Florida has been hit by six—count 'em! Six!—hurricanes since August 2004, and many people are still in the process of rebuilding from the last storm.) Wilma is the third Category 5 hurricane this year (after Katrina and Rita). The National Hurricane Center doesn't know if that's a record because they don't track the number of Category 5 storms in a season. Wilma does tie two other records, though—the most hurricanes in a season: 12; and the most named storms in a season: 21. And Wilma is the last name on the National Hurricane Center's list of names for 2005 storms. The hurricane season doesn't end until November 30; if any other tropical storms or hurricanes develop this year, they'll be named using letters from the Greek alphabet, starting with Alpha. (If that happens, it would be the first time since we started naming storms in 1953.)


A huge category 4 hurricane (winds 131-155 mph) named Katrina struck the US gulf coast Monday morning, August 28th. Many of the major news outlets will have stories covering the hurricane.  Science Buzz will strive to bring you a perspective on the science behind this awesome force of nature and its human effect.

Waters rise quickly

For a unique perspective on storm's surge, check out the live USGS stream-flow gauges in the New Orleans, LA area.
The stream-flow gauges measure the water levels at various places around the state and are updated by computer every 15-60 minutes. As Hurricane Katrina came inland it brought with it enormous surges in the water level. At several of these gauges around the area you can see the sharp rise in the water levels starting near the middle of the day on Sunday (28th).

Unique images of the storm

NASA's MODIS satellites captured this amazing high-res image of the storm on Sunday (28th) while the storm was still many miles out from the shore.  This unique image allows you to see great detail in the clouds that swirl around the eye of the storm.

As the storm grew closer to the coast people started to feel the horrible effects of the energy wrapped up in this weather system. There are several sets of photos on the community photo sharing website, Flickr, that show what people in the area are experiencing.

Photos tagged: hurricane + katrina

Photos tagged: hurricane + louisiana

Have you ever been in a hurricane? Can you imagine what it might be like?


In August of 1972 one of the largest Solar Proton Events (SPEs) ever recorded crossed paths with Earth between the Apollo 16 (April 1972) and Apollo 17 (December 1972) missions to the moon. Simulations of the radiation levels an astronaut would have experienced during this SPE indicate that lethal levels would have been absorbed within 10 hours.

Image of the sun from the SOHO spacecraft of the intense solar activity taken May 15, 2005: Image of the sun from the SOHO spacecraft of the intense solar activity taken May 15, 2005Courtesy NOAA

The journal Space Weather warns that significant gaps in our current understanding and monitoring of space weather make a manned mission to Mars too dangerous for the astronauts. Satellites have been able to give advanced warnings of these SPEs, and the Coronal Mass Ejections (CMEs) that precede them, but this monitoring covers only a very small part of our solar system — only the line between the Earth and the Sun. A mission to Mars will cover significant distances that are currently not monitored. Current manned missions, like the space shuttle and International Space Station, take place in low-Earth orbits and are therefore protected from these CMEs and SPEs by Earth's magnetic field.

Scientists and engineers are working on developing new shielding plans for spacecraft to take people to Mars that are designed for protecting astronauts from high radiation levels. Still, only advance warning of these events would provide astronauts with enough time to retreat into protected areas.

University of Warwick researcher Dr Claire Foullon recommends a pre-mission launch of three satellites designed to provide space weather alerts for the Mars spacecraft crew. She also recommends that a warning device be carried aboard the spacecraft.

Earth's magnetic field protects us from solar events most of the time. However, there are times when particles do reach Earth. When blasts of solar particles arrive at the poles they can produce aurora borealis. They can also cause magnetic storms that can damage satellites and impair radio communications and navigation systems.

Want to know what the weather's like in space right now? Visit


This morning at 7:43 AM EDT NASA successfully launched the new Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter into space to begin its long journey to the red planet.

Watch the Launch: MRO Takes offCourtesy NASA

This new mission to Mars will put the satellite into a low orbit to examine the planet in the highest detail ever captured. The orbiter will travel for 8 months before it goes into orbit around Mars.

One of the main goals of this mission is to scout out information that will help us in future missions that will actually land on Mars. So once it gets there it will deploy six new instruments to analyze the atmosphere, scour the surface, and even image deep below the surface of the planet.

  • Atmosphere - One of the cameras aboard the orbiter will give us a daily picture of the global weather on Mars.
  • Surface - The orbiter has the best telescoping camera ever sent to another planet. This will allow us to see crisp pictures of features on the surface as small as your dining room table.
  • Subsurface - The Italian Space Agency built a special ground-penetrating radar that will allow scientists to spot underground water and mineral deposits. This might help us know more about Mars's past and even plan future mining missions for elements not found in abundance on Earth.

Learn more about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and other NASA Mars programs

What do you think is the most important reason to travel to Mars? To mine its resources? For human colonization? To find out it there was/is life on Mars? Something else?


There is often a tension between the scientists who study a subject and the people who live in the area of interest.
Recently in Alaska, scientists have began using the oral histories of native Alaskans as another source of evidence for climate change.

Residents of Alaska have been saying that the 1970's were a turning point as far as noticing changes in weather patterns and conditions.
Maggie Attila, from Galena, stated, "The last couple of years has been really crazy. It is kind of scary when the wind comes up at the wrong time and we have rain in the winter."

Do you think that Alaskan residents are a useful source of information about climate change? Does the Attila's statement make you think of the past few years of Minnesotan weather?


Last year's hurricane season sprouted an unusually high number of tropical storms — 15 in all. Some folks have blamed global climate change. But researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration say the increase is perfectly natural. Hurricanes follow a natural cycle, peaking every 15 to 40 years, then dropping back and becoming rarer again.

Other researchers disagree. They say rising global temperatures lead to warmer water, a key ingredient in forming hurricanes.

Few people doubt that the Earth's climate is growing warmer. But how much of that is just a natural cycle, and how much of it is caused by human activity? And what will all the effects of this change be? No one knows for sure. Meanwhile the debate, and research, go on.


There is probably no day greeted with greater joy and anticipation than the first day of spring -- especially after a Minnesota winter! Sometimes, the only thing that gets us through February is knowing that better days are on the way. But when, exactly, does spring get here?

TV weathermen will tell you that spring starts on the vernal equinox -- the day when the number of hours of daylight are equal to the number of hours of night. (In 2005, this falls on March 20.) The problem is, the weathermen are wrong.