Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Severe Weather

Having spent my entire life in an area prone to tornadic activity, I have become somewhat accustomed to the uneasy vigilance that accompanies spring. Every year, warring cold and warm air masses battle for atmospheric supremacy while elevating heart rates and home insurance premiums all over the Southeast.  I will be the first to admit that early warning systems and advances in radar technology have saved countless lives by providing essential preparation time, but I am starting to suspect that we may be pushing the envelope.

My first grievance involves the ridiculous names given to radar technology in an effort to wow and amaze the viewers. These typically involve one or both of the prefixes “Nexrad” or” Doppler” followed by the name of a snake and then a numerical value exceeding 1,000. Every time I flip on the local affiliate I am reassured that the “NexRad Doppler Cobra 8,000” has indicated dangerous rotation and I should seek immediate shelter. In addition to the vague nomenclature, every station’s radar offers clairvoyance packages like “FutureCast Technology” or “IntuiSpectrum Imaging” that promise to not only display the storm’s current condition, but its future plans as well.

With the click of a mouse your weather anchor can magically reveal hail size, lightning strike density, and predicted damage paths. Before long these models will be able to tell us which members of the community will die during the storms the week before they actually occur causing a perceptible disruption in the delicate balance of human free-will and linear space-time.

Meteorologist do perform an invaluable service, but before I know what is happening the simple matter of informing the public of which direction the scary red blob is moving has transformed into a myriad of confusing jargon and on-screen doodles. The last time I tuned on the TV to find out if I needed to repent or go back to bed, the radar screen looked like John Madden was explaining a pass-rush to five year olds.

I dare say that most radar images tend to be somewhat intuitive. Long before Homeland Security implemented a color-coded warning system Doppler radar images everywhere had implemented a simple hue-based enhancement:

Green = Rain
Yellow = Thunderstorm
Red = Scary thunderstorm
Purple/White = Wet yourself

I would also like to address the overall decline in informative commentary. I fully realize the inherent need to continue filling airtime with dialogue, especially when the majority of the broadcasting area can read a map unaided, but the last time I was tuned in during an overnight severe weather outbreak I heard the meteorologist state that “It is much more difficult to visually identify a tornado at night than it is during the day, that is why tornados at night are more dangerous.”

If this is the only advancement humanity has made in the field of meteorology over the past few decades, then someone needs to review NOAA’s funding levels. These observations, coupled with asinine safety tips like “Large flying debris can cause serious injury” or “Viewers residing in homemade pop-up campers may wish to seek alternative shelter” only add to my suspicion that despite all of our scientific innovations and accumulated knowledge,  we are only guessing at what mother nature will do.    

This has certainly not kept the industry from creating new products and methodologies to supplement the unknown variables. With that in mind I have a whole list of quasi-scientific sounding weather-related device names and terms that I would be willing to license:

  • Gravitationally-enhanced reflectivity imaging
  • Laser-assisted wavelength Doppler
  • Atmospheric moisture velocity detection
  • Algerian vortex-abatement scanning
  • Terrestrial Wind Investigative Scanning-Technology Enhanced Radar (TWISTER)


  1. One of my personal favorites over the past few days includes, "three-quarters of an inch size hail. That is, hail that is the same size as the penny that I am holding in my hand. This penny is three-quarters of an inch and the hail was the exact size of this penny." Another was, "hail anywhere from the size of a golf ball to an egg."
    I think that they just start making things up after a while!
    Thanks for the post. So funny, as usual!

  2. Exceptional MediocrityApril 28, 2011 at 10:09 AM

    Thanks for the comment Lesley. The hail commentary was a sideshow all its own. I wish they had a color on the hail size prediction radar just labeled "Biblical."

  3. WE WILL REBUILD??????????


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