SHORT TAKES IN SCIENCE


  • Most winters we hear some story about how much snow Buffalo, New York gets. Wonder why that city gets so much snow? Well, Buffalo lies just down the prevailing wind off Lake Erie. When cold winds behind a front blow over the warm open waters of the lake, they draw up a lot of moisture which falls in the form of snow downwind from the lake. This phenomenon is referred to as lake effect snow. Buffalo isn’t even the snowiest city in the area, though. It gets plenty (92.5 inches), and some years — like 2001-2001 it gets dumped on. But Syracuse, down wind from Lake Ontario averages considerably more at 116 inches. Other places nearby get even more.
    
    
  • Know the name of the snowiest state capital in the U.S? Juneau, Alaska with 98.2 inches on the average. Least snowy? Honolulu, Hawaii which records no snow.
    
    
  • Ever wonder why we sometimes get television and radio stations we have never heard before? The answer is sunspots. Heavy solar activity increases the ionization of the upper atmosphere — the ionosphere — which then causes radio signals to bounce off and return to earth rather than penetrating and heading out into space. The more active the sun, the shorter the wavelengths that are returned to earth. If Marconi hadn’t sent his message across the Atlantic near the peak of a sunspot cycle, it might not have been heard and the start of the radio age would have been delayed. 2002 should be a good year to observe this phenomenon with
    
    
  • We see a full moon when the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth so that the whole surface of the moon towards us is in the light. A new moon happens when the sun and moon are on the same side of the earth so that the lighted side of the moon is away from us. That means that a full moon rises about the time the sun sets on the average and the new (invisible) moon rises at about the same time the sun does. The first, or waxing quarter of the moon rises about halfway between sunrise and sunset and the last, or waning quarter rises about halfway between sunset and sunrise. A lot of people who write books don’t seem to know that.
    
    
  • If you stand facing the sun at noon on a sunny day you will be facing south. North will be directly behind you. Raise your right arm and you will be pointing west. Raise your left arm and you will be pointing east. This works in the northern hemisphere. What would it be like in the southern hemisphere? Right. All directions would be reversed. The sun would be north, and your right arm would be pointing east.
    
    
  • If you stand so that you feel the wind in your face and then raise your right arm straight out from your shoulder, you will be pointing approximately at the center of the nearest low pressure system, perhaps a storm. In northern temporate latitudes, if you are pointing somewhere to the west or south, there may be a storm approaching since most weather systems move generally toward the east. Hurricanes, though, sometimes move almost directly north out of the tropics. If the low pressure center is to the east, the weather is likely to be clearing and stable because the storm has passed. It doesn’t always work, but isn’t too bad for armchair weather forecasting, especially if you learn about local exceptions in your area.


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