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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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!

H is for Haboob

After writing a blog on derechos, I thought it could be a fun idea for a series, where I write about unique weather events that start with different letters of the alphabet! To carry on with the theme, this week’s fun weather word is “haboob,” which is an intense sandstorm or duststorm caused by strong winds, with sand and/or dust often lofted as high as 5,000 feet (!!) creating a “wall of dust” along the leading edge of the haboob.

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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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D is for Derecho

Just a couple of months after a devastating tornado tore across Nashville, Mother Nature had another blow for Music City. Late in the evening on Saturday, May 1, a complex of severe thunderstorms developed across southern Kansas. They continued tracking east through Missouri and western Kentucky over the next morning before finally reaching central Tennessee by the afternoon.

Shelf cloud approaching Hwy109 at I-40 near Lebanon, TN on May 3, 2020
photo by NWS Nashville meteorologist Brendan Schaper
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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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Summertime Safety

Hey y’all, happy Thursday! Tomorrow is the first day of May, and although summer doesn’t technically begin until June 20, it already feels like summer in my soul – and my backyard (hello Alabama warmth, I’ve missed you!) As we embark on the warmest time of year, I thought it might be a good time to refresh ourselves on summer safety tips as we plan for those backyard barbecues, beach and lake days, and more time spent outdoors in general!

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Ask Me Anything: Weather for Students

Hi guys! Welcome to our first Ask Me Anything, where we reached out to students of all ages to ask what their biggest questions about the weather were. We received some great questions, and we are so excited to answer them here!

Please feel free to ask questions at any time by filling out our question form, and we will be sure to answer them at a future AMA event!

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What’s Weather Have to do with Building Basements?

Depending on where you live in the country, basements might be the norm…or they might be more of an added bonus. I grew up in Alabama (without a basement) and never gave it much thought, until my fiance and I moved back to my home state a few months ago. We began looking around at potential homes, and he asked why basements are so uncommon here. Since he grew up in Ohio, nearly every home he had spent time in while growing up had a basement.

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