Third Thursday Interview: Ross Lazear

This month, I am so excited to profile one of my friends, Ross Lazear, of the University at Albany. You will never meet a person who is more enthusiastic about his work than Ross, and that enthusiasm transfers right into the numerous students who he has taught over the years. I have had the great privilege of getting to know Ross both personally and professionally during his time at UAlbany, attending minor league baseball games, talking about weather at meetings and conferences, and most recently, taking some of his students as interns to learn about forensic meteorology. And with that introduction, I will let Ross tell you about himself in his own words!

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How the Weather Influenced Space-X Crew Dragon Launch and Landing

Many families with school-aged kids, including my own, were very excited to watch the launch of the SpaceX Crew Dragon rocket, containing astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the International Space Station. Meteorology is a field where the public and private sectors have to intentionally collaborate, and so it was really neat to see another positive outcome of a successful working relationship between a private company (SpaceX) and a government agency (NASA) to launch American astronauts into space on American soil for the first time since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.

Courtesy: NASA.
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Weather Quiz: Fact or Fiction?

For this week’s blog, I thought it would fun to look at some commonly accepted weather ‘facts’, and find out whether they are really true or not! Take the quiz below, and then scroll down to see how you did!

True or false?

  1. Lightning never strikes the same place twice.
  2. Being out in the cold air causes sickness.
  3. Flash flooding only happens near rivers and streams.
  4. If the car in front of you drives through a flooded roadway, it is also safe for you to do so.
  5. Crickets chirp frequency can tell you about the air temperature.
  6. Raindrops are shaped like teardrops.
  7. Clouds don’t weigh anything.
  8. You can tell how far away a lightning strike was by counting the time between the flash and when you hear thunder.
  9. Working out in the cold weather makes you burn calories faster.
  10. At any given time, there are approximately 2000 thunderstorms occurring around the world.

Did you answer the questions?

Great! Let’s see how you did.

1. Lightning never strikes the same place twice. FALSE!

As anyone who lives in New York City or any other place with tall buildings knows, lightning can DEFINITELY strike the same place more than once. Lightning will seek out the tallest object, so if you find yourself caught outside during a storm, make yourself as small as possible and stay away from tall objects such a trees. Did you know that the Empire State Building, only one of many tall buildings in New York City, is struck by lightning about 25 times per year on average?


2. Being out in the cold air causes sickness. (mostly) FALSE!

The bottom line here is that, hot or cold, you need to be exposed to a virus or bacteria in order to get sick. However, people do tend to get sick more frequently in the wintertime. Why is that? There are a number of reasons, and the answer is not so simple. People tend to stay inside more during the winter, which can mean close quarters with other people who may be sick. Additionally, the dry air which is caused by running heat inside homes can dry out nasal passages, increasing susceptibility to infection. Lastly, research has shown that common cold viruses replicate faster at colder temperatures in mice, and that immune cells may be less effective at fighting off viruses at cold temperatures. So, even if you answered true, I would give you credit for this question because the answer is not nearly so simple as it seems!

3. Flash flooding only happens near rivers and streams. FALSE!

While people commonly think of flooding as occurring near rivers and other bodies of water, flooding can occur anywhere. When thunderstorms repeatedly bring rain to the same area, that area can be prone to flooding. Additionally, as water works it way through the river and stream network, flooding can occur well removed from where the original rainfall occurred. Flash flooding, however, occurs when water rises very quickly, usually as a result of thunderstorms bringing heavy rainfall in a short period of time. This can be exacerbated in areas of poor drainage and urban areas, which is why it is important to always be aware of the weather forecast for your area.

4. If the car in front of you drives through a flooded roadway, it is also safe for you to do so. FALSE!

This one relates to the previous question! It is NEVER safe to drive across a flooded roadway. It only takes six inches of running water to knock over an adult, and only twelve inches to take away most cars. Always remember, even when it is inconvenient, our friends at the National Weather Service remind us to Turn Around Don’t Drown®!

5. Crickets chirp frequency can tell you about the air temperature. TRUE!

Crickets are cold-blooded, and you will not hear them chirping when the temperature is below about 55 degrees. To estimate the air temperature, count the number of chirps you hear in 15 seconds and then add 37!

6. Raindrops are shaped like teardrops. FALSE!

Actually, due to surface tension and the action of gravity on a falling drop, raindrops take on a hamburger-bun type of shape rather than a teardrop shape. Did you know that raindrops can range in size from less than 1 millimeter up to about 4 millimeters? Much larger than that, and generally the drop will split into two as it falls toward the ground.

7. Clouds don’t weigh anything. FALSE!

While it may seem as though clouds are ‘light as air’ when you are flying through them on an airplane, they are actually made up of millions and millions of tiny water droplets and/or ice crystals. These tiny droplets are so small that they are suspended on air currents instead of falling to the ground like raindrops. In fact, if you do the math and estimate how many droplets make up a typical cumulus cloud, the water content actually weighs 1.1 million pounds!!! Wow!

8. You can tell how far away a lightning strike was by counting the time between the flash and when you hear thunder. TRUE!

To estimate how far away a lightning strike is, count the number of seconds between the flash (when you see the lightning) and the bang (when you hear thunder). Divide this number by 5, and that tells you how many miles away the strike was. Remember that if you can hear thunder, you are close enough to get struck by lightning and should seek shelter. Other lightning safety tips can be found here.

9. Working out in the cold weather makes you burn calories faster. TRUE!

This is true, but you still need to be careful working out in the cold. As it turns out, your body has to work harder to warm you up when it is cold out, which in turn burns more calories. Also, there is the physiological effect that it just feels easier to exercise in a cooler climate, and so you are more apt to push yourself harder or longer than you would if it was sweltering. With the vast array of workout wear available today, there are plenty of options to dress appropriately for workouts even in extremely cold temperatures. Runners World has this handy tool to help you determine appropriate attire for all conditions. However, working out in the cold can be dangerous and you should always take appropriate precautions. Heat loss through sweaty gym clothes happens and a very fast rate even at not-very-cold temperatures, so you need to plan to be inside and changing into dry clothes as soon as possible after a workout.

10. At any given time, there are approximately 2000 thunderstorms occurring around the world. TRUE!

At any given time, there are about this many thunderstorms happening somewhere on earth. NOAA’s GOES-EAST satellite has the amazing capability to detect lightning from space. The loop below shows lightning strikes detected from the satellite over a 24 hour period. Click here for a recent loop, and here to see what NOAA’s other geostationary satellite, GOES-WEST, is detecting!

Comet C/2020 F3 (NEOWISE)

With everything that is going on here on planet Earth and in the United States right now, I was so excited to read this interesting bit of news about a new visitor to the night sky and our solar system, Comet C/2020 F3, known as NEOWISE. My kids and I have had a lot of fun looking for the comet in the night sky, and so I thought that it might be fun to learn a little bit more about it. Most of us who study the weather are fascinated by ANY cool object or phenomenon in the sky, and I am no exception! I distinctly recall being an elementary school student back in 1986 and learning about Halley’s Comet. It was visible to the naked eye at the time, and returns to earth once every 75 years. I remember thinking how OLD I would be when it returned in 2061 (which doesn’t seem nearly so far away nowadays!!!). Comet NEOWISE will only return to earth about once every 6800 years, so this is something you will not want to miss seeing!

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Third Thursday Interview: Ron Baskett

I am so excited to share with you this month’s Third Thursday interview with Ron Baskett. I first met Ron as a very nervous candidate when I walked into the board room to take my Certified Consulting Meteorologist (CCM) oral exam in January 2015. His friendly demeanor, along with that of the rest of the board, immediately put me at ease and helped to make the experience much less nerve-wracking, and, dare I say, even enjoyable? He was later assigned to me as a mentor as I began my term on the CCM Board. Ron has a background in air pollution meteorology, and so our different backgrounds and areas of expertise really gave me the opportunity to learn so much about an area of meteorology that is so different from what I do on a day-in, day-out basis. I learned so much from Ron during my time on the CCM board, and he was always happy to answer my (many) questions! Ron always made time to discuss board-related topics with me whenever I had a question, and always took time to first inquire about how things were going personally and professionally. As a new CCM, that meant a lot and I was grateful to have had such a mentor. He is now retired from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and enjoys an active life full of time spent outdoors, with family, volunteering, avidly reading journal articles and other material, and generally enjoying a well-earned retirement! We continue to correspond periodically, and I always enjoy receiving an email update from Ron. While we haven’t seen each other in person in quite some time, I always look forward to those opportunities. I hope you enjoy getting to know Ron via this interview as well!

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Book Recommendation: Isaac’s Storm by Erik Larson

Has anyone else been doing a lot of reading lately? I love to read, and I read all different types of books, but my favorites are historical fiction and biographies. When I came across this book, I knew I wanted to read it immediately. The National Weather Service awards the Isaac M. Cline award “to individuals and teams who have made significant contributions in support of the National Weather Service. The award is named in honor of Isaac M. Cline, one of the most recognized employees in National Weather Service history.” Although I was well aware of the award, I knew very little about the man for which it was named prior to reading the book.

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The Famous Tuskegee Airmen…and Meteorologists

The Tuskegee Airmen were a highly respected fighter group formed in 1941. Prior to 1940, African-Americans were not permitted to fly with the U.S. military. Thanks to advocacy by civil rights groups and others, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed legislation in 1940 which prohibited racial restrictions on voluntary enlistments in the military and allowed African-Americans to serve in all branches of the Armed Forces, including the Army Air Corps (although on a segregated basis). This led to the development and founding of an African-American pursuit squadron to be based and trained at Tuskegee, Alabama.

Courtesy: Tuskegee Airmen, Inc.
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Third Thursday: Kristen Corbosiero

This month, I am so excited to profile one of my long-time friends and colleagues, Dr. Kristen Corbosiero. Kristen and I first met during our early days at UAlbany. We worked our way through graduate school together, taking many classes, doing teaching assistant work, and suffering through countless impossible homework assignments. After graduate school, we went our separate ways, so you can imagine how excited I was to learn that Kristen would be taking a faculty position at UAlbany and moving back to the area. Since that time, we see each other at professional meetings, meet for breakfast (though not frequently enough!), and it’s just been a real treat to have her back in the area. She is a gifted teacher and researcher, and I hope you enjoy learning about her and her work in this blog!

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Weather map symbols: What are they, and what do they mean?

This post was inspired by a fantastic article which was published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) in December 2019 by Dr. Robert Houze of the University of Washington, and his daughter, Rebecca Houze.

I will never forget one of the first times I felt as an undergraduate that I had really arrived at the point where I was learning ‘real meteorology’. As an applied science, meteorology has a lot of core class requirements, including calculus and differential equations, physics, and chemistry. Thus, it is very easy to get bogged down in all of the prerequisites and lose sight of the light at the end of the tunnel- learning about the science of weather that drove you into those classes in the first place. For me, that light at the end of the tunnel was an introductory weather and forecasting class which I took during the spring semester of my sophomore year. In that class, we did a lot of hands-on work plotting weather maps, which was something I really enjoyed. Actually, looking at data on weather maps and figuring out what it means is STILL one of my favorite parts of my job today!

Surface analysis at 7:00 AM on March 13, 1993 (the Blizzard of 1993). Courtesy: NOAA/WPC.
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NOAA Profiles: Storm Prediction Center

In the past, we have blogged about the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, and discussed how the agency works. The overarching mission of NOAA is to predict and understand the climate, oceans, weather, as well as to conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources. In this unprecedented time in history which we now find ourselves living in, many of these faithful civil servants continue to report to work to do their jobs and protect the public. Many of these individuals are working from home like so many of us, but many also must continue to commute to their workplace to do their jobs; the vast volume of weather data and the difficult task of issuing warnings and forecasts is not possible to do from a personal desktop or laptop computer. Kelly and I are both married (or in Kelly’s case, soon to be married!) to meteorologists who work for NOAA (my husband works for the National Weather Service at a local Weather Forecast office, while Kelly’s husband works for National Weather Service at the National Water Center), and we are so grateful for them and their coworkers who truly model what civil service means.

I thought it would be interesting to dig a little deeper into some of the agencies which make up NOAA, highlighting a little bit more of the invaluable work they do and how they contribute to NOAA’s mission. Since we are heading into the peak of severe weather season, it seemed like a great time to learn a little bit more about the Storm Prediction Center, which is located in Norman, Oklahoma.

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