Nature Wages War: The Weather Today
by Liz Colville
Weather has the power to surprise, shock, and destroy. Weather phenomena have always intrigued us, but recent events have, more than ever before, prompted scientists and citizens to explore the connections between weather, economy, climate change, and inner workings of the planet that we still don’t fully understand.
Forecast Earth’s news coverage of the weather “hot spots” around the world illustrate some of the most troubling and devastating weather patterns of the past few seasons. Snowstorms in Illinois, a brutal winter in Afghanistan, and wildfires in California are just three examples of recent weather conditions around the world. While these may seem normal, the effects of weather are varied and unique; many of them serve as case studies for a changing planet.
Of course, economic and geographical conditions make the treatment of the weather’s effects––the aftermath and cleanup––drastically different from place to place. In Afghanistan it led to frostbite cases and loss of limbs; in Illinois it meant about 900 flight cancellations out of Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, in a region that is used to dealing with bad weather. And it may seem hard to grasp that just a couple of months ago, the southern United States was suffering from severe drought, a condition made alarmingly clear in this collection of photos on Forecast Earth.
Recently, China was hit with blizzards that left 80 million people without electricity. This calamity hit soon after the country was beset by a first flurry of blizzards. This video from Forecast Earth depicts the chaos and magnitude of facing freakish weather in such a densely populated country. How is the country coping with 7.5 billion dollars in damage, and what accounts for this type of weather? (It was the most snowfall that Shanghai, the capital, had seen in nearly 20 years.)
The perilous effects of earthquakes, the domino effect of droughts––there is an immeasurable amount of threatening weather and natural occurrences going on today, and a growing concern for the earth’s fading shade of green. But that concern leads to better awareness, especially online: it’s easier to explore these effects, what causes them, and how they can be curtailed. The Smithsonian’s special feature, “The Land,” part of the “Ecocenter” section of the magazine’s site, is a breathtaking look at the precious plants that defend the planet; the natural phenomena that disturb it; and the manmade effects that are challenging it.
Forecasting the weather is a challenging task, particularly in poorer countries, some of which face very difficult weather conditions and arduous relief efforts. Extreme weather warnings are monitored by several organizations, including, most notably, the World Meteorological Organization’s Severe Weather Information Centre. Its interactive map of the world indicates red dots for extreme weather warnings, which then link you to other weather organizations participating in notification and monitoring of severe conditions.
In December 2005, a devastating tsunami hit Southeast Asia, an area particularly prone to extreme weather: blizzards, flooding, tropical cyclones, typhoons, and tsunamis, to name a few. In its twice-yearly publication, “World Climate Review,” the World Meteorological Organization outlines recent weather patterns around the world and discusses their impact and causes. The review is available for free as a PDF on WMO’s site.
In the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration works to research, regulate and fund environmental activity, preserving natural resources, forecasting weather and climate changes, studying fisheries, and more. On the newly designed Web site, citizens are invited to learn about both the local and national work of the organization and become more informed about weather threats and other issues.