AccuWeather School: Week 5
📓 May 8 - Homework: Scramble an egg for Mom and learn about the weather!
Are you planning a nice breakfast in bed for your mom on Mother’s Day? If she likes scrambled eggs, we have the perfect recipe – err – weather experiment for her!
As AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls demonstrates, you will need only a glass container with an opening big enough to rest an egg on (a glass milk jug is perfect), a hard-boiled egg, napkin and lighter. It’s easy and fun – but you will need adult supervision for this experiment.
It is best not to serve that egg to Mom for breakfast – but you can tell her what you learned about the weather. This simple experiment shows how air moves around the world – air always wants to flow from storms (the Ls you see on weather maps and signs of low pressure) to high pressure (the Hs on weather maps and what brings us nice weather).
As the flame goes out inside the bottle, the pressure lowers – making the air outside of the bottle want to get inside. The air will push down on the egg until it gets in – so, we really aren’t scrambling eggs for Mom, we are exploding them!
🌎 May 8 - History Class: When Mother Nature gave moms snow for Mother’s Day
Mother’s Day is typically a mild time of year for us to celebrate moms with picnics and pick fresh flowers. However, there have been times (this year included!) when it felt more like winter on Mother’s Day.
Five years ago on Mother’s Day, you could have made a snowman and built snow forts with Mom if you lived around western South Dakota. A foot of snow was common across western South Dakota with 20.8 inches in the town of Lead!
Snow created this wintry scene on May 10, 2015, in southwest Rapid City, South Dakota. (Photo/National Weather Service - Rapid City)
While we are talking about snow, let’s gather around for story time and listen to AccuWeather’s This Date in Weather History podcast to hear about the time when snow whitened an area near Philadelphia in early May:
🍎 May 8 - Snack Time! Will you hear your mom’s name during hurricane season?
If your mom’s name is on this list, she may hear it on TV this summer or early fall as a hurricane could be named after her!
Why are hurricanes given names? It all started back in World War II when the United States lost ships in the western Pacific Ocean due to hurricanes (though in that part of the world, they are called typhoons).
“So, coming out of the war, a large amount of research took place to understand these storms and make people more aware of them. As part of that project, [the military] started naming them,” AccuWeather Hurricane Expert Dan Kottlowski said.
The list of names for hurricanes in the Atlantic and eastern Pacific oceans are on a six-year rotation and go back and forth between male and female names, and look above, what letters of the alphabet aren’t used?
If your mom’s name is on that graphic (or lists from different parts of the world), she probably hopes her hurricane stays over open water and doesn’t hit any communities. If a hurricane is really bad, its name will be retired – meaning, it will never be used again.
⛹️♂️ May 8 - Recess: Mother’s Day lines up perfectly when most flowers bloom
Thinking of what to get your mom this Mother’s Day? A flower bouquet is always a popular gift, as it’s a simple and beautiful way of saying thank you for all that she does! Roses, tulips, lilies and orchids are top picks, as they typically bloom in the spring and are available at florists and supermarkets.
You may wonder: Why do most flowers bloom in the spring versus other seasons? The answer has to do with sunlight and temperature! Through spring, days grow longer, and plants are exposed to more and more sunlight. Sunlight works to make the plants grow quicker! Since plants are living things, warm air makes seeds much more comfortable to germinate and grow as the days get warmer.
Not able to visit mom this year? Most local and chain florists deliver! Don’t forget to plan ahead and wish Mom a Happy Mother’s Day this Sunday, May 10.
🛎 May 8 - Morning Bell: Celebrate Mom with a heart-shaped cloud
It’s finally Friday – so let’s start AccuWeather School with an activity to make our moms happy! First though, what is the coolest cloud shape you’ve ever seen? How clouds form and winds push them, clouds can look like ocean waves, dinosaurs, spaceships, and even hearts!
How about we create our own heart-shaped clouds for Mom? All you need is glue, cotton balls, construction paper, a pencil, and your favorite photo of you with your mom.
Glue the photo to the middle of the paper and draw a heart around it. Fill the heart in with cotton balls - just like clouds, there are many different ways to make your heart-shaped cloud. You can either pull the cotton balls apart to make the cloud wispy like a cirrus cloud or glue the cotton balls right onto the paper like puffy cumulus clouds - what you pick will be a masterpiece!
Once you are done, write a special message to Mom. If you don’t want art class to end, grab some stickers or glitter and keep decorating this special gift!
📓 May 7 - Homework: Don’t make red water to put out fires
We learned earlier that most wildfires are started by campfires, so what are you going to do the next time you are leaving your campsite? That’s right, dump water on your campfire.
When a big wildfire is burning, airplanes help out firefighters by dropping something red on the fires (check out the picture below). Before you start mixing water and red food coloring together, let’s learn what that red stuff really is.
An air tanker drops retardant on a wildfire burning above the Spring Lakes community on Sunday, June 24, 2018, near Clearlake Oaks, California. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)
That red substance is more like a foam that’s made of about 85 percent water, along with other chemicals. The recipe also includes gum and clay to make it thicker. Firefighters call this foam a fire retardant and use it to direct and steer fires away from buildings and people – and buildings won’t be damaged as much by the retardant as they would be by water.
Now for your homework – after spending all day learning about wildfires, let’s head outside and check out the sunset. If there was smoke from wildfires in the sky, it would make for a really pretty picture!
⛹️♂️ May 7 - Recess: Wildfires so big you can see them from outer space
Smoke is one of the few things that you can see on both weather satellites and radar, and that usually means a big fire is burning.
Satellites orbit the Earth, constantly taking pictures that show meteorologists where clouds are moving across the globe. If you look close enough, you can even tell which types of clouds are streaming over an area and spot any big plumes of smoke.
European Space Agency astronaut Alexander Gerst posted this view of the California wildfires, as seen from the International Space Station (ISS), on Twitter on Aug. 3, 2018. (Alexander Gerst/ESA)
Smoke is made up of tiny particles that are about 1/20th the width of human hair. When there is a lot of smoke, those particles and ash are easily seen by weather radar – much like how radar can see big flocks of birds and bugs.
A plume of smoke originating from the Five Mile Swamp fire east of Pensacola, Florida, is seen on radar on Wednesday, May 6, 2020. (National Weather Service Mobile)
🔬 May 7 - Weather Lab: Hot vs. cold experiment to do at home
Since it would be too dangerous to get close to a wildfire to see hot air rising quickly, let’s use water to explain how hot and cold air move in the atmosphere.
You will need a clear container with room temperature water, glass of hot water that’s red with food coloring (so ask an adult to help), glass of ice cold water that’s been dyed with blue food coloring and a dropper or syringe. Watch how AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls mixes the hot and cold water together – and you’ll see how hot and cold air behaves.
The hot water is lighter (less dense) than cold water (much like hot and cold air), so it rises to the top and creates lower pressure. Since the cold water is heavier, it will sink to the bottom. You see the blue water eventually start to spread up to the top since rising hot water (and air) will create lower pressure – and water and air always want to flow toward that.
➗ May 7 - Math class: Do humans or lightning start more wildfires?
Every year, we see horrible things on the news with wildfires – people and animals lose their homes as buildings and trees are burned. While the weather plays a role in either starting the fires or making them worse, humans are to blame more often than not.
Lightning sparked 6,362 wildfires across the United States in 2019, but humans started 44,115 fires! Humans have topped lightning in this game (one we don’t want to win) every year since 2001, the National Interagency Fire Center reports.
Some people start fires on purpose, but campfires are the most common way that big wildfires begin – and many people don’t mean for them to get out of control. We all need to remember Smokey Bear’s famous line, “Only you can prevent wildfires” and follow these simple tips:
🛎 May 7 - Morning Bell: How fires create their own weather, “firenadoes” included!
It’s bad enough when a massive wildfire is burning, but it gets even worse when the fire begins making its own weather. Firenadoes, fire storm clouds and gusty winds – all can be created when the very hot air within a wildfire quickly rises up from the ground.
Air doesn’t just rise and leaves a blank space – more air comes in to fill that gap. The faster the air rises (and it rises really fast in a wildfire), the windier it gets as the air following behind has to speed up.
Worse than that, the air isn’t sweeping in from one direction. It comes from all sides of the fire. All that twisting and spinning the air does causes a firenado to form. You guessed it, that’s a tornado made out of fire – talk about a scary sight!
Wildfires can also create their own thunderstorms – complete with rain! Firefighters aren’t always happy when they see these thunderstorm clouds (known as pyrocumulonimbus) form. The gusty winds and lightning that also accompanies thunderstorms can make the fire get bigger or spark new blazes.
Flames spiral upward in mini-tornadoes on a ridge as the Sawtooth Complex fire moves through Big Morongo Canyon, Thursday, July 13, 2006, in Morongo Valley, Calif. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)
📓 May 6 - Homework: It’s not just a supermoon, but a Flower Moon
You have a name, your pet has a name, hurricanes have names, so why can’t the moon have a name? Each full moon is given a different name depending on what month it is:
January - Wolf Moon
February - Snow Moon
March - Worm Moon
April - Pink Moon
June - Strawberry Moon
July - Buck Moon
August - Sturgeon Moon
September - Corn Moon
October - Harvest Moon
November - Beaver Moon
December - Cold Moon
There is one name not on the list above that you likely have heard of – Blue Moon. The moon actually doesn’t turn blue, it’s called that when it’s the second full moon in a month. That happens about once every 2.5 years, and there will never be a Blue Moon in February – fun fact for when you play Jeopardy!
Now, let’s all head outside and check out the supermoon that’s also called a Flower Moon. If your parents say it’s OK, send us your moon photos through Twitter or Facebook with the hashtag #AccuWeatherSchool.
“If clouds get in your way, the moon stays roughly the same size two nights in a row,” said AccuWeather Meteorologist and Digital Journalist Brian Lada.
📝 May 6 - Pop quiz! Do meteorologists study the moon, meteors?
Did you take notes from the first week at AccuWeather School? If so, you should get an A+ on this question.
Many meteorologists enjoy looking at and learning about the stars, moon and meteors, though the weather is what they went to school to study. But meteorology starts with meteors – why is that? Let’s dive a little deeper.
Much like how George Washington was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Aristotle from ancient Greece is thought to be one of the founding fathers of meteorology. He wrote the first weather book, Meteorologica, way back around 340 BC.
The book’s title came from a Greek word that means lofty or in the air, which would refer to meteors, clouds, rain, or snow. As time went on, astronomers took on the job of studying the moon and meteors and meteorologists focused on the weather. Maybe if it worked out the other way, all of us at AccuWeather would be called weatherologists!
AccuWeather employees celebrate #DressForSTEM by wearing purple on Pi Day (March 14) 2019. (Photo/@tmgreyphot)
🎭 May 6 - Story Time: ‘Ah, Houston, we’ve had a problem’
After Neil Armstrong first stepped foot on the moon, there were six more trips to the moon by U.S. astronauts through 1972. One of those trips – Apollo 13 – was a “successful failure” in April 1970.
The astronauts on Apollo 13 never landed on the moon but survived and made it back to Earth after something went really wrong on their spacecraft. Weather has caused disasters in NASA’s history yet wasn’t to blame in the Apollo 13 accident. Let’s gather around for story time and hear exactly what happened in the AccuWeather Daily podcast:
📚 May 6 - Study Hall: No weather on the moon to wash away astronauts' footprints
Neil Armstrong was the first human to step foot on the moon on July 20, 1969, and that famous footprint is still there – more than 50 years later! If you stepped into mud or dirt today, the weather will likely erase it the next time it rains or winds blow the dirt around. So why didn’t that happen to Neil’s footprint?
"The moon has virtually no atmosphere, so there is no weather like clouds or wind [solar wind is different],” AccuWeather Meteorologist and Digital Journalist Brian Lada said. “Since there is no weather, there is nothing to wash away the footprints left behind by Neil Armstrong when he became the first human to walk on the moon. His footprints will likely remain on the surface of the moon for thousands of years – if not longer!"
Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission. Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. (Photo/NASA)
What is the word atmosphere that Brian talked about? Earth’s atmosphere is the dome of air that extends from where we are standing to the edge of the Earth – 6,200 miles (10,000 km) up in the sky! It protects us from meteors, holds in the air we breathe and allows weather to happen.
The atmosphere also acts as a thermostat, keeping temperatures at livable levels. On the moon, temperatures range from -414 to 253 degrees Fahrenheit (-248 to 123 degrees Celsius) – that’s too hot and cold for any person!
🛎 May 6 - Morning Bell: How a full moon alone can flood beaches
“It must be a full moon tonight” – have you ever heard your teacher or parent say that? Scientists are still trying to figure out how much the full moon can be blamed for how some people or pets behave – so don’t use the moon as an excuse yet if you are in trouble. However, the full moon can be blamed for causing flooding along the ocean.
Clouds streak in front of a full moon near Mansfield, Pennsylvania, in early April. (Twitter/Bill Baker)
Remember we learned last week at AccuWeather School that the moon is responsible for the ocean’s high and low tides, and the highest tides of the month occur when the moon is full. When it’s a supermoon, there can be even bigger tides – sometimes called king tides.
The higher the tide, the more water will get pushed up onto the beach and can cause coastal flooding.
What’s worse is when gusty winds are blowing directly at the beach or a hurricane is approaching at the same time as a full moon or a supermoon. Next time you are in the swimming pool, push the water around with your arm – that’s exactly what the winds or hurricanes are doing when they pile the ocean’s water up onto the beach.
📓 May 5 - Homework: Make a pretty windsock, not to stick on your feet!
An anemometer will tell meteorologists how fast wind speeds are, while a wind vane determines which direction the winds are blowing from. A windsock does both and is easy to make at home! Watch the video below – AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Krissy Pydynowski demonstrates how to make a windsock.
Windsocks are mainly used at airports, so pilots can quickly tell what the wind direction and speed is. Think of a windsock like a tree. A tree won’t tell you the exact wind speed, but you get a good sense how windy it is by seeing how much the tree is swaying. For a windsock, winds are calm if the windsock is hanging down and strong if the windsock is sticking straight out. As Joan Baez famously sang, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind.” (Pop quiz: Parents, did you get that musical reference?) See you at class on Wednesday!
🌎 May 5 - History Class: When trees struggle the most to hang on against gusty winds
When winds are strong enough to cause damage, trees are usually the first to get knocked down. Nature built them to sway in the wind, but sometimes the wind gives them too much of a push and they topple over.
If the trees are sitting in really wet soil, that is extra bad news for when strong winds start blowing. Trees are held into the ground by their roots, and roots have a hard time holding on when the ground is wet. Imagine you are a tree’s roots when you grab a handful of mud - it slips right through your fingers. Dry dirt, however, is pretty easy to hold onto, right?
It’s not just trees that can get pushed over by winds. Even if there isn’t a tornado or hurricane, winds can be strong enough to damage buildings. Gather around for story time with AccuWeather’s This Date in WeatherHistory podcast as we hear the time winds caused the Dallas Cowboys’ indoor practice facility to collapse:
➗ May 5 - Math class: Count it up – highest wind speed ever on Earth
A stretch of highway in Texas has a speed limit of 85 mph. If you think that’s fast, the highest wind speed recorded in a tornado was 302 mph (486 km/h) on May 3, 1999, in Oklahoma! No wonder tornadoes cause so much damage.
That wind speed wasn’t measured by the device that normally tells meteorologists how fast winds are blowing – that’s called (big word time!) an anemometer. Winds of that force would break most anemometers. Instead, meteorologists relied on weather radar for that wind gust.
The strongest winds on Earth are typically found in tornadoes, hurricanes or even at the top of high mountains. Tornadoes and hurricanes are examples of low-pressure systems (storms) that spin in a counterclockwise direction (in the Northern Hemisphere). The stronger the storm, the tighter and faster winds will spin around its center – think of a twirling ice skater to understand this. She will twirl the fastest as she brings her arms in like she is hugging herself.
⛹️♂️ May 5 - Recess: Call wind your personal air conditioner
Let's start recess with a short experiment – rub a little hand sanitizer on your hands and wave them around. Did you feel anything? Your hands should feel a little cooler as the sanitizer evaporates away.
That’s why we sweat. Our bodies know that evaporation cools things down, so it produces sweat to evaporate on a hot summer day. Add a gusty breeze to make the sweat evaporate quicker, and the weather has turned into your personal air conditioner!
Air conditioners are nice in the summer but not in the winter, and we can say the same about gusty winds. You aren’t sweating in the winter, so why does the wind make you feel you’ve walked into a deep freezer?
Winds remove heat from your body faster, causing you to think the air is much colder than what thermometers are saying – known as the AccuWeather RealFeel® Temperature – and puts you at a greater risk for frostbite and hypothermia.
🛎 May 5 - Morning Bell: Put on your meteorologist hat – find a storm on your own
You don’t need a smartphone or computer to know where a storm is on a weather map. Just step outside and stand with your back to the wind. Stick your left hand out, and you are pointing in the general direction of where the storm is – great work thanks to your human superpowers!
Why is it so simple? During our first week of AccuWeather School (when we exploded an egg in a bottle), we learned that winds always want to blow from high pressure systems (and nice weather) to storms (known as low pressure systems) in a counterclockwise fashion – so a storm will generally be to your left when wind is hitting your back (our friends in the Southern Hemisphere have to look to their right to see where a storm is since air flows in the opposite direction).
This trick may not work well if there is only a light breeze. When high pressure is providing nice weather and storms are far away, light winds can blow in different directions.
📓 May 4 - Homework: Check out this homemade tornado machine!
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Bob Smerbeck doesn’t have to leave his home to see a tornado – he just goes down to his basement and turns on his tornado machine!
Bob built the machine to look at how tornadoes form. This isn’t the simple experiment we did earlier to spin up a tornado with soda bottles and water. Bob spent three months making this machine – using a hair dryer, pipes, fan and a vaporizer.
How does Bob’s tornado compare to a real one? Many real tornadoes can grow up to a mile wide (the record widest is 2.6 miles) and these enormous twisters can damage or destroy many things in their paths. The one you see in the machine is about an inch wide and doesn’t create a mess in Bob’s basement – Mrs. Smerbeck is happy about that!
📚 May 4 - Study Hall: It’s easy to see how these tornadoes got their names
We all know that tornadoes are dangerous and you should seek shelter immediately if one is headed toward your home, but did you know there are several types of tornadoes? When you see photos of these tornadoes, it’s easy to figure out how most got their names – meteorologists like to keep things simple!
Rope tornado – Some of the smallest tornadoes and are usually how most larger tornadoes look when they first form (and when they are about to vanish into thin air).
Cone tornado – Common tornado seen in the Plains of the United States. Much like an ice cream cone, these tornadoes are wider at the top than at the bottom (on the ground).
Stovepipe tornado – This is actually a tornado type! Pipes usually don’t get thinner from one end to the other, and that’s exactly the case with this tornado.
Wedge tornado – If we said that a cone tornado was like an ice cream cone, imagine if you put two ice cream cones together to get one big cone – that’s a wedge tornado. These are some of the most destructive and deadly tornadoes.
Satellite tornado – This is one tornado that doesn’t look like its name. It doesn’t happen often, but one powerful thunderstorm can produce two tornadoes – the second is called a satellite tornado. If you thought one tornado was scary, how about seeing two at the same time!
A massive tornado moves into Rochelle, Illinois, on Thursday, April 9, 2015. (Photo/Tom Purdy)
“Regardless of the type, each and every tornado can be dangerous with destructive winds that could put lives and property in danger,” AccuWeather Meteorologist and Digital Journalist Brian Lada wanted to remind all of us.
🔬 May 4 - Weather Lab: Time to spin up tornadoes at home
A lot of ingredients go into a real tornado forming, but making one at home is simple with just a few items. You will need water and two empty soda bottles that are the same size, plus food coloring and glitter if you want to have extra fun with this experiment. To make the two soda bottles hold together, ask an adult to grab a large nail and hammer (or a drill with a half-inch drill bit will work) and duct tape.
AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Jason Nicholls shows us how to put everything together and spin up our own tornado in the video below!
📝 May 4 - Pop quiz! Can a body of water stop tornadoes?
Nope! A significant tornado has crossed nearly every major river east of the Rocky Mountains, according to the Storm Prediction Center. That includes the deadliest tornado in the history of the United States – the mighty Mississippi River couldn’t stop the deadly Tri-State Tornado in March 1925.
Tornadoes even form on water and are called waterspouts. Despite being weaker than most tornadoes, waterspouts can still be strong enough to overturn boats and stir up rough seas. A waterspout can also cause damage if it tracks on land, which then it is called a tornado.
What’s scary to fish is that tornadoes and waterspouts have picked them out of the water before!
🛎 May 4 - Morning Bell: Weather has pirate hooks, and it’s no laughing matter
Have you ever dressed up like a pirate for Halloween and had a hook on your hand? While that was fun, it is no laughing matter when you see a pirate’s hook on weather radar.
A tornado-producing thunderstorm near Birmingham, Alabama, on April 27, 2011. The different colors show you where it is raining and how heavy the rain is. (Image/GR2Analyst)
Look at the image above – it definitely looks like a hook, right? Meteorologists don’t call that a pirate’s hook, but a hook echo – a clear sign on radar that a tornado is on the ground.
Powerful thunderstorms that produce a tornado need warm, moist air to survive, and you can see that air rushing into the thunderstorm on radar – that’s the gap in the colors just above the tornado. Rain wrapping around the back of the thunderstorm to the tornado completes the hook.
There are times when the radar sees more than rain with a tornado. It can also tell if the tornado has debris spinning around it after it struck trees and buildings – that’s a worrisome sight for meteorologists.
Additional experiments and reporting by Jason Nicholls.
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