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K E Y I C O N S T O L O O K F O R : Words to Understand: These words with their easy-to-understand definitions will increase the reader’s understanding of the text while building vocabulary skills. Sidebars: This boxed material within the main text allows readers to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspectives by weaving together additional information to provide realistic and holistic perspectives. Educational Videos: Readers can view videos by scanning our QR codes, providing them with additional educational content to supplement the text. Examples include news coverage, moments in history, speeches, iconic sports moments, and much more! Chapter 1: Storm Events. ................................................ 7 Chapter 2: Wind Events..................................................23 Chapter 3: Ice and Snow Events. .....................................43 Chapter 4: Water, Fire, and Heat Events...........................57 Series Glossary of Key Terms. .........................................72 Further Reading and Internet Resources..........................74 Organizations to Contact................................................76 Index . ..........................................................................77 Author’s Biography and Photo Credits. ............................80 Text-Dependent Questions: These questions send the reader back to the text for more careful attention to the evidence presented there. Research Projects: Readers are pointed toward areas of further inquiry connected to each chapter. Suggestions are provided for projects that encourage deeper research and analysis. Series Glossary of Key Terms: This back-of-the-book glossary contains terminology used throughout this series. Words found here increase the reader’s ability to read and comprehend higher-level books and articles in this field.


cumulonimbus: a towering thunderstorm cloud with a flat base; sometimes the top is also flat, and sometimes it billows upward hypothesized: a proposed explanation that serves as a starting point for continued investigation thundersnow: a snowstorm that is accompanied by thunder and lightning


The New Weather: Extreme Weather


Everyone likely has a memory of a severe weather event. A strong thunderstorm, high winds, a tornado or hurricane, or a blizzard or hailstormmay stick in your memory. Specific regions of the earth experience certain severe weather phenomena, and specific seasons bring certain weather events. These events take a toll, displacing people and animals from their homes and causing billions of dollars in damage each year. Also each year, there are over 100,000 deaths related to severe weather ranging from droughts to floods. In 2020 alone, there were over 60,000 weather events that resulted in 1,700 injuries and nearly 600 deaths. The deadliest instances over the last 5 years have included California wildfires and Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. In this book, we explore extreme weather phenomena, and learn about some of the very strange but interesting severe weather that occurs across our planet. In this chapter, we begin with types of storms, starting with thunderstorms.


Storms form in cumulonimbus clouds like the one pictured above. These clouds produce rainfall, lightning, wind gusts, and large hail. Many places on the earth depend entirely on cumulonimbus clouds for rainfall.

According to the National Weather Service, 1,800 thunderstorms occur at any given moment around the world. Three conditions must be present for a thunderstorm to form: cold air over warm air, unstable air, and a source of lift for the storm. These storms most often form in cumulonimbus clouds. Thunderstorms, Thunder, and Lightning Each year, 16 million thunderstorms occur around the globe. About 100,000 occur in the US each year, with about 10,000 (roughly 10 percent) being severe. The National Weather Service defines a severe thunderstorm as one with winds greater than 58 mph, hail


The New Weather: Extreme Weather

larger than three-quarters of an inch (1.9 cm), or one that spins off a tornado or tornadoes. In fact, lots of damaging weather can accompany a thunderstorm, including hail, tornadoes, floods, and damaging winds. Hail and wind create lots of property damage each year. Lightning occurs with all thunderstorms, and most strikes do go from cloud to cloud, but many strikes are cloud to ground. The phrase “bolt from the blue” describes a flash of lightning that travels from cloud to ground as the lightning comes from the side of the thunderstorm cloud. These bolts can travel very large distances and then angle down to strike the ground, appearing from a clear blue sky. What creates lightning? Rising and descending air within a thunderstorm separate the positive and negative charges. Furthermore, ice and water particles in the storm affect how the

Watch this incredible time lapsed footage of lightning strikes!


Storm Events

electrical charge is distributed. As electrical energy builds up between the positively and negatively charged areas of the storm, lightning occurs. Think of it as a gigantic spark of electricity (like static electricity sparks under your blanket when you rub your feet back and forth). Both positive and negative lightning exist, but positive lightning is considered the more dangerous of the two. Positive lightning has a stronger peak electric current and a longer duration. People often wonder whether lightning travels down from the sky or up from the ground. It actually travels both ways. Interestingly, cloud-to-ground lightning comes from the sky, but the visible part that you see comes from the ground up.

This is an example of forked lightning, which is one of four types of lightning. Forked lightning travels from the cloud to the ground.


The New Weather: Extreme Weather

Look at this beautiful heat lightning on a summer night. This is a good example of cloud-to-ground lightning.

It is not possible to have thunder without lightning. You may see lightning and not hear thunder because the storm is too far away. Thunder is caused by lightning, and thunderstorms always have lightning. Types of Lightning Four types of lightning exist. Cloud-to-ground lightning is called forked lightning. In thunderstorms that have high crosswinds, ribbon lightning occurs; the winds appear to be blowing the lightning across the sky, giving it a ribbon-like appearance. Staccato lightning appears in short-duration strokes and as single bright flashes of light. The last kind, bead lightning, is rare and only occurs when lightning breaks into short strings of light.


Storm Events

Lightning can occur even when a thunderstorm is not present. Notice the sunshine; the day seemed to be relatively clear before this stormmoved into the area.


The New Weather: Extreme Weather

Another lightning phenomenon is called ball lightning. It looks like slowly rotating balls of light, a phenomenon that has been reported for centuries. The light balls are the size of grapefruits and appear to be floating above the ground for about 10 seconds each during electrical storms. In 2012, ball lightning was first captured on videotape, and scientists have hypothesized about its origin. Spheres of highly compressed air are thought to form during the storm. The spheres reflect white light in all directions, giving the appearance of a rolling ball. Ball lightning is very intense, and scientists believe that its light intensity is one billion times greater than straight lightning. Ball lightning is also very rare. Sprites and elves describe other mysterious lightning phenomena. Red bursts of electricity look like jellyfish and hang above a thunderstorm, then stream down. These are called sprites , and scientists think they form due to an imbalance of electrical charge above them in the cloud. Pilots had often talked privately about sprites but were afraid to widely discuss them so their mental state would not be questioned. Sprites were finally captured on video in the 1980s. Elves are similar to sprites and can be seen above storm clouds in broad daylight, but they appear as rings and are much larger, at up to 185 miles (298 km) wide. Another strange form of lightning is called dark lightning . It is called dark because it does not produce much visible light. Dark lightning is composed of very high-energy electrons that collide with air particles to produce gamma rays. The US National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) discovered this intense electrical phenomenon called a terrestrial gamma-ray flash (TGF), which is a burst of gamma rays in the earth's atmosphere. Scientists think the TGFs are created inside or above thunderstorms. Red lightning bolts are weaker and quicker; they can’t be seen by the naked eye because they occur too quickly, but they can be detected by other instruments. Blue lightning happens in the stratosphere and can be seen by pilots in airplanes. TGFs are very powerful and can blind a satellite sensor that is hundreds of


Storm Events


US Park Ranger Roy Cleveland Sullivan (now deceased) holds the Guinness World Record distinction of being struck by lightning seven times while serving as a ranger in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park. Sullivan survived every time. His fellow rangers called him the Human Lightning Rod. Sullivan was known for posing for pictures with his ranger hat that had a clear burn mark on it from one of the strikes.

miles away. If you are a passenger on a plane during a thunderstorm, you can be hit with a TGF. However, TGFs are very rare and scientists think the radiation dose is generally harmless, about the same as a CT medical scan. You cannot have a thunderstorm without thunder, but lightning can occur even without a thunderstorm. Ancient peoples of the earth have been observing lightning for millennia. In fact, lightning is one of the oldest observed natural phenomena on the planet.


The New Weather: Extreme Weather

There are many accounts of seeing lightning in volcanic eruptions, in large hurricanes, in heavy snowstorms, and even in intense forest fires. The air near a strike is superheated to a temperature of 50,000°F (27,760°C), which is hotter than the sun’s surface! A lightning strike contains so much energy that it can light a 100-watt light bulb for three months. The largest level of lightning activity was recorded on December 1, 2014, in a thunderstorm in India. A voltage of 1.3 billion volts was recorded by scientist Sunil Gupta at Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Fundamental Research. His measurement remains the highest ever voltage recorded, and was ten times bigger than any previously measured storm. Thundersnow Lightning and thunder can occur inside a heavy snowstorm. This is called thundersnow , and it only occurs under a specific set of weather conditions. It is so rare, there are only about six thundersnow events each year. In early spring, the air under clouds is warmer near the ground, and this helps to create a cumulonimbus cloud tower. This cloud must be lower than a typical thunderstorm, and the air must still be cold enough to form snow. These conditions favor thunder and lightning in cold weather, and the lightning appears to be purple and blue. Actually, lightning can appear as many different colors. In snowstorms, it can even appear to be pink or green as dust, moisture, and raindrops affect the color by absorbing or diffracting light. Thundersnows typically occur in Canada, Japan, parts of northwestern Europe, and on Mount Everest, but can also be created when frigid air sweeps over the warm water of an unfrozen body of water, like the Great Lakes. Thundersnow can pose an even greater risk to people. The snow muffles the thunder, so people don’t often hear the thunder as a warning sign that a storm is approaching. Snow falls rapidly and can quickly lead to poor visibility. Thundersnow can also have


Storm Events


The New Weather: Extreme Weather

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