We Can Change the Weather!

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I learned recently on The Weather Channel that people can change the weather (cue evil villain laughter). No, it’s not what you’re thinking. It refers to a phenomenon called the Urban Heat Island effect and it occurs, you guessed it, in urban settings.

Where people have laid down tons and tons of concrete, it’s not surprising to see some environmental effects, but change the weather? Really?

Absolutely. All that non-reflective concrete absorbs the sun’s radiation and reflects it as heat, whereas, a grassy meadow or forested land will absorb the radiation without reflecting it. In urban areas, this causes a bubble of heat (hence the name Urban Heat Island) right over the city. The temperature in outlying areas can be as much as 15 degrees Fahrenheit cooler, especially at night when all the heat soaked up by the concrete during the day is still radiating out.

But the heat isn’t the only weather change caused by urbanization. Areas downwind of cities can see twice as much rain as the city itself. This happens because the air in the city is warmer and can therefore hold more moisture, plus more pollutants from the city cause more nuclei within the air for moisture to condense around. When this warm air moves out and hits the cooler air downwind, it increases the relative humidity of the cloud, also increasing its ability to produce precipitation. I may have lived in Iowa too long, but the first thing I thought of is that I hope some smart farmers out there have taken advantage of this effect by planting crops downwind to capitalize on the rainfall.

Since half the world’s population live in large cities, the Urban Heat Island effect can be a serious thing. Heat kills more people than any other weather related event. But some cities are taking steps to reduce the effect by putting in more parks, special roofs that won’t absorb the sun, and even putting parks on the roofs.

Should more cities be taking steps to reduce the Urban Heat Island effect? I lean that direction because I think God gave us this planet and we have responsibility to care for it. But many people think this isn’t a big deal. What do you think?

References: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t-sXHl3l-rM, http://www.urbanheatislands.com/, http://www.theweatherprediction.com/weatherpapers/008/index.html

 

Photo Credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/29941355@N04/4303224783″>Denver Skyline at Blue Hour</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Wild Wind Farms

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I’ve been going with my husband to visit his parents in their small town in north-central Iowa for about 18 years. In most of that time, few things have changed there, except for maybe the name of the town restaurant. But in the last few years, the landscape surrounding Wellsburg, Iowa has been transformed.

What was once flat farm land stretching to the horizon has turned into a series of giant wind farms. Sprouting from the fields like gargantuan corn stalks, the turbines stand hundreds of feet high, their propellers spinning with the constancy of a metronome. From a distance, it’s hard to gauge how high they really are or how fast they’re spinning. They seem to me all at once terrifying (what if one of those blades breaks off) and beautiful, especially at sunset. But then it doesn’t matter what I think. I’m not living next to one.

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My in-laws aren’t living right next to one either, although they now have many turbines within two miles of their house. Because I’m insatiably curious, I did some research and found out some stuff you might not know:

  • Windmills have been in use since 2000 B.C. and were first developed in Persia and China
  • Modern wind turbines have 3 blades which can reach speeds at the tip of over 200 miles per hour
  • The largest wind turbine in the world is located in Hawaii and stands 20 stories tall with blades the length of a football field
  • A single wind turbine can power 500 homes
  • Wind power does not use any water, so by the year 2030 wind energy will save about 30 trillion bottles of water in the U.S.
  • As many as 1,300 eagles, falcons and hawks are killed each year due to wind turbines
  • By 2014, more than 46,000 wind turbines were in operation
  • There’s enough on-shore wind in America to power the country 10 times over

The magnificent wind is created by processes that God set up on our dynamic planet. He gave us the breeze for our enjoyment—to feel it blow through our hair on a hot day—but also for our use. We can be better stewards of our God given planet by investing in wind power.

What do you think? Do the benefits outweigh the costs (like dead birds, bats, noise, risk of airplanes hitting them) for developing wind energy?

 

References: http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/various-wind-energy-facts.php, http://www.windenergyfoundation.org/interesting-wind-energy-facts

Photos taken by me in Grundy County, Iowa.

Fun Science Fact

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I love volcanoes! In fact, all three of the books I’ve written have a volcanologist (volcano geologist) in there somewhere. What draws me to them? It must be the primordial earth-generating thing or maybe it’s a danger thing. Aren’t we all attracted to the extreme places on our planet? Or maybe it’s just me.

Now, I can add one more dangerous thing about volcanoes to my list (as if gigantic explosions and fast flowing molten rock weren’t enough).

Lightning.

Volcanic lightning, or ‘dirty thunderstorms’, occur during powerful eruptions when ash and dust are ejected into the air in a great cloud. These particles carry strong electrical charges, which generate enormous lightning bolts that flash through the churning ash clouds.

I believe this picture is computer generated, but the actual pictures of volcanic lightning are just as spectacular. To see some, click here.

 
Reference: http://www.msn.com/en-us/weather/topstories/lightning-and-lava/ss-BBaYZIY?ocid=eie9hp#image=1

Photo Credit: ID 27558491 © Satori13 | Dreamstime.com

Let it Snow (oops, I meant rain)

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Can we control the weather? For thousands of years, rain, snow, sleet and drought has remained the eminent domain of God. In fact, the weather has brought many a man to his knees in desperation, crying out to the One who controls the entire earth.

As drought becomes more common, especially across the Midwest, scientists have stepped up their efforts to make it rain. Although cloud seeding has been around for almost 70 years, scientists are still at odds over its efficacy.

The principle of seeding a cloud is to spray the clouds with a chemical (usually silver iodide) that acts as a nuclei around which ice will form. When these ice particles become heavy, they fall through the warm atmosphere and melt into droplets of rain. While seeding, some pilots have said they can see the clouds change as they spray them.

With the right kind of cloud that has the right amount of micron-sized water particles available, the evidence seems strong that cloud seeding works, at least to a point. A professor at the University of Wyoming says he can increase rainfall by 15% under the right conditions. The Colorado ski resort, Vail, has the clouds above it seeded and claims to have 35% more snow.

But the question all of this brings up is: Would those clouds have produced the rain anyway?

There is no way to know. Scientists can’t run a controlled experiment to find out. The weather in a specific region is simply too large for scientists to control all the variables. So, we may never know the answer to how well this method works.

Despite the fact that cloud seeding shows evidence of enhancing the rain, the truth is scientists cannot make it rain. They can maximize the rain from the potential in the clouds that are already out there, but they cannot create something out of nothing.

Only God can do that.

What do you think? Does cloud seeding work? If so, why are many scientists still skeptical?

Reference: Baum, Dan. “Summon the Rain.” Scientific American. June 2014, 310(6), p. 56.

Photo Credit: © Dave Winfield | Dreamstime Stock Photos