Reading the Weather

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it"—saying attributed to Samuel `Mark Twain' Langhorn Clements.

Although it seems there is little we can do about things like drought or storms, contrary to Twain's famous saying, people are always doing things about the weather.

Whether it is through the study of meteorology, honing the science of weather prediction, or altering weather patterns by polluting the air and clear-felling forests. Even though humanity has changed the climate, it has only been through years of abuse and is not something we can control. Our best hope for dealing with nature's extremes is not control but prediction- which is why sciences such as meteorology and climatology are so important. Climatologist from the University of Southern Queensland, Dr Joachim Ribbe says that we will never control the elements but he believes that the more accurate our predictions become the better we will be able to adapt to it.

One case of how prediction can help us adapt is El Nino. El Nino is an unusual warming of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, in particular off the coasts of America near the equator. Known for many centuries by local fishermen, they experienced it forming around Christmas time and dubbed it El Nino or "the Christ Child".

Originally it was only known as a rise in ocean temperature, which affected the amount and varieties of fish in the ocean. "Usually the water was very cold at that time of year off the coast, but every three to four years they suddenly recognised that the surface water of the ocean seemed to warm up. "Because that had a significant impact on the fishing industry- if you can imagine living in a comfortable environment and that environment suddenly changes- the [ocean's] inhabitants change and it has a dramatic effect upon the eco-system." The fish stocks change because plankton is not as abundant. The currents that normally bring phytoplankton and zooplankton to the surface do not operate in the same way. The lack of plankton has an impact on the entire food chain.

El Nino also disrupts weather patterns across the Pacific. The warm water causes higher levels of humidity, storms, heavy rainfall, floods and mudslides in the Americas, while in Australia and areas of south-east Asia it can cause severe drought. "To us western scientists, or the modern world, the phenomenon became known about 100 years ago. Then it appeared more regularly in the literature as physical oceanographers researched the topic."

Activities
• Write a script for a weather channel on a day when the weather went crazy.


• Illustrate a crazy weather event such as snow on Uluru.


• Plot a hurricane or tornadoes path on a world map. Record each city's weather details as it passes.


• Imagine that you are a raindrop in a cloud and describe your journey.


• Design an experiment to explain weather phenomenon such as tornadoes, snow, hail, etc.


• List weather words and sayings e.g. storm in a teacup. Write their meanings.


• After a series of lightening strikes, the Lightening Survival Kit is launched and marketed. Design the kit and a full-page advertisement for The Mercury. (This can be treated seriously or as a joke)


• Invent an all weather apparatus that can be taken to school so that you are prepared for any weather event. Draw your invention and write a press release as if for The Mercury.


• How do satellites help us predict the weather? What information can you gather just by looking at the weather page in The Mercury? How will your plans for the week be effected?


• Over one week, follow the weather reports in The Mercury and compare the accuracy of its predictions to what the weather is really like. What percentage of accuracy was achieved? Write a conclusion about the accuracy of weather forecasts.


• Draw a diagram to display the effects of global warming.


• List the ways in which weather forecasting can help to save lives. What are the less successful aspects of forecasting?


• What components of a weather forecast would be important to you if you planned a sailing trip from Sydney to Hobart? Compare sources of information to see, which would provide the most accurate and up to date information - radio, TV, newspapers, Internet or phone. What safety precautions would you need to take?


• If a tsunami is travelling 600km/h how far will it travel in 8 hours?


• If your home was in the direct path of a cyclone and you had one hour warning, how would you make the most of this time? Devise an emergency plan of action.


Websites

Bureau of Meteorology Australia
www.bom.gov.au/index.shtml
There is a special school projects section on this website that will tell you what resources are available for schools. It also includes lesson plans and activities. Apart from that you will find the latest weather and predictions, as well as news, features, and in-depth information.

Project Atmopshere Australia On-Line
http://www.schools.ash.org.au/paa/default.htm
A teacher-developed, online project about weather for school communities in Australia and around the world. It is an internet meeting point for teachers, students and academics to further the study of meteorology. There are resources, activities, and plenty of interesting and fun stuff to help out with any school project on the weather.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
www.noaa.gov
Even though this is an American site there is a lot of really useful information here. You can find information on storms, hurricanes, lightning, droughts and look at the latest in global weather forecasting and imaging.

BBC Weather Centre
www.bbc.co.uk/weather
Find out what the weather is like all over the world, catch up on weather news and read some of the fascinating facts and articles on the weather at this information packed website.

Daily Martian Weather Report
http://nova.stanford.edu/projects/mgs/dmwr.html
Just for a bit of a change why not check out how the weather is on another planet. The Mars Global Surveyor Radio Science Team is conducting a detailed study of the Martian atmosphere, and extraordinarily precise results from their study are being presented on this site in the form of a daily weather report for the planet Mars.

Weather Underground

http://www.wunderground.com/global/stations/94767.html
A guide to weather world-wide. Type in a town and instantly find out the current conditions or the prediction for the coming week.

Books

Eyewitness Guides - Weather
By Brian Cosgrove
A look at all kinds of weather- storms, wind, rain, sunshine, frost- and how humanity has come to understand the processes involved through scientific enquiry. Eyewitness Guides are now published in a paperback format with updated information and extra features such as Amazing facts, a Q and A section, glossary, links and activities.

DK Guide to Weather: A Photographic Journey Through the Skies
By Michael Allaby
This is more than just a description of weather events, it uses some incredible photographs, graphics and images to explain how, why and when they occur. There is even a pictorial on El Nino, showing some of its devastating effects.

Floods, Famines and Emperors
By Brian Fagin
Fagin shows that that El Nino is not new and that it has been disrupting weather patterns for at least 5000 years, sometimes with catastrophic effects on civilizations.

Vintage Ebury - About the Weather
By Barbara Taylor
This science series is based on the questions children often ask about the world around them. Through a mixture of specially commissioned photographs, diagrams, cartoons, quizzes and facts, children should have fun discovering answers to their questions about weather.

Science Fact Files: Weather
By Chris Oxlade
Part of a series designed to provide children with up-to-date information, facts and figures on key scientific topics, this text deals with the weather. The main text is supported by illustrations and a series of fact files which allow access to information at a glance.

Wonders of the Weather
By R.B.Crowder
Written by an Australian meteorologist and aimed at the general reader, in this book you will find the answer to many of your questions.