Hurricane Preventer: Saharan Dust

Hurricane Preventer: Saharan Dust

By: Marina Kobasiuk

Hurricanes need specific conditions in order to form and strengthen; generally this means higher ocean temperatures, warm and moist air above the water, and low wind shear so storms can stay organized and not loose the air masses that feed them. There are other factors as no weather phenomenon or condition exists in a vacuum, but these more prevalent ones tend to control much of hurricane development. Currently in this 2018 season though there has been a more unique occurrence that has been helping to keep the Atlantic quiet. That would be the clouds of dust carried from the Sahara in West Africa by winds moving towards the Americas. 

These air masses are extremely dry, and while they’re not an uncommon event at all due to the Easterly winds in that region, the plume observed at the end of June was visibly larger than most on satellites. This larger mass of dust has likely been preventing larger storms from forming as the dryer conditions lie above the moist layer that’s at the surface and restrict convection and keep storms from intensifying. This is such a regular occurrence in the region that the term “Saharan air layer” is used to refer to the section of atmosphere all this heat and dust resides in. This influx of particles is also tied to air quality in the southern united states and the Caribbean with the dry, hot, and dusty air interacting with local air masses and adding to pollution problems.

In May, NOAA predicted that the Atlantic was likely to see an “near or above normal” hurricane season, but this hasn’t come to pass exactly. There have been relatively less storms and even fewer have intensified enough to be named. The conditions at face value should be favoring storms as sea surface temperatures are higher and broke records in June. The month was the fifth warmest June ever for the planet, and the sea surface temperatures when averaged made it the sixth warmest June ever for the sea surface. Ocean temperatures of this sort should be ripe for severe weather development, but the dust plumes that were also pushed into the atmosphere at the same time seem to be contributing to the lack of storms and keeping this available energy under wraps. But while this is the current pattern now, as the dust clears and ocean temperatures continue to rise with the rest of summer, the chance of a hurricane becomes higher. The later half of the season is normally the more active and intense part to begin with and this effect might only be a break before the 2018 shifts once again.


Summary: The recent weeks the Atlantic’s hurricane season has been going slowly, and while things can change, dust plumes from Africa could be keeping the effects of a warm ocean in check for now.

Ozone Pollution and its Sources

Ozone Pollution and its Sources

By: Marina Kobasiuk

Tracking the air quality of a region becomes vitally important in the summer months as pollutants along with heat and humidity can combine to create major health risks. One of the most commonly observed gasses is Ozone (O3), a molecule formed from three atoms of oxygen. Ozone is naturally found in large amounts in the stratosphere, and high up in the atmosphere like that it is actually part of the reason life can thrive on Earth. Ozone absorbs the UVB rays that are from the ultraviolet part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Since these rays are tied to cellular damages in humans, plants, and marine creatures, the ozone layer protects us from those effects. Midway through the stratosphere this molecule is extremely helpful, but lower down in the troposphere it can become part of smog along with other compounds in the air, which is how ozone becomes a health risk. Sensitive populations such as the young and elderly, or those with conditions like asthma, should always be considered if there are air quality alerts, but healthy individuals are also effected so be aware of what official outlets in your local area recommend when these conditions occur!

Interestingly, ozone itself is not a pollutant that humans create directly. It is created when compounds containing nitrogen react in sunlight along with volatile organic compounds (VOCs). As it is technically a secondary pollutant, tracking the multitude of ways in which ozone can be created is a daunting task. Especially when VOCs are in so many of the products people use daily. In fact they have recently been found to be produced by many items designed to evaporate quickly, such as drying paint. As well as products that disperse scents through the same mechanism of evaporation, such as perfume or anything with a manufactured smell. And a significant number of the products created today have these chemicals added to make them less offensive to our senses. These all emit various VOCs and therefore are contributors to the creation of surface ozone all around the globe. Common assumption puts these as minor emissions but the quantities add up to create major pollution, as the study estimates they could equal that of vehicles. This disparity is due to how engines and their fuels are designed to prevent evaporation, which along with cleaner transportation has greatly reduces pollution. In direct contrast these scented products are made to create emissions for their own sake. Which means in daily life these compounds could linger inside and contribute to indoor pollution before they even reach the outdoors and diminish the overall air quality. So the research done on how these emissions interact with ozone levels and how they could possibly be regulated will be an important next step in controlling pollution.


Summary: Air Quality is a frequent concern in the summer months, so looking at ozone and how it is produced is one important part of a much bigger picture.

Weather Hall of Fame!

Weather Hall of Fame at the National Weather Museum and Science Center.

We are pleased to announce the establishment of the Weather Hall of Fame at the NWMSC. Nominations are open now and will be due back to us by July 29th at midnight.
Please take some time to nominate a well deserving member of the weather community.

Nomination Guidelines
Any member of the National Weather Museum and Science Center (NWMSC) may nominate one or more individuals for election to the Weather Hall of Fame at the National Weather Museum and Science Center each year. There are three categories for nomination; representatives from the private sector, from the public sector, and from the media. A nomination consists of a letter to include the following information and attachments of up to two supporting letters or statements.

  • Name of Individual
  • Affiliation
  • Sector representing (private, public or media)

A brief description (up to one-page) of the individual’s contributions to the weather enterprise. Up to two supporting letters/statements (not to exceed one-page each) may be included in the nomination package.

Nominations not successful in the first year of submission will be automatically reconsidered in the following two years. After three years a new nomination will be required.

Nominations should be emailed to: or snail mailed to:

The National Weather Museum and Science Center

1200B W Rock Creek Rd

Norman, OK 73069


We will be hosting a Banquet for Recipients:
A banquet will be held in the fall to honor the recipients and acknowledge their contribution to the weather community.

Stay on the lookout for more information and be sure to get your nominations in by July 29th!

Hawaii’s Volcanic Effects

Hawaii’s Volcanic Effects

By: Chris Michaels

Recently, Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano erupted and sent an ash column 30,000 feet into the air. That’s just under cruising altitude for most airliners and led to many airport delays in the local area. While that is impressive, it likely is not enough to cause any global cooling episode in years to come.In order to impact the earth’s climate, the ash column would have needed to extend into the stratosphere. According to climate scientist, Dr. Michael Mann, the stratosphere is roughly 46,000 feet above ground level. Meaning the ash is currently in the lower troposphere, where clouds, and most of the Earth’s other weather phenomena occur alongside airline flight paths. It is capped by the tropopause at the top which is a border between the troposphere and stratosphere, and can be difficult for particles to cross, since the temperature and density of the atmosphere is different for each layer.

Why would it have to reach the stratosphere to impact the climate? This is where aerosols released during the eruption can float without settling out of the atmosphere and reflect incoming solar radiation. That would, in turn, lead to cooler temperatures on Earth. We saw this happen in the early 1980s, after Mount St. Helens sent an ash column nearly 80,000 feet into the atmosphere.

Summary: Kilauea volcano is unlikely to directly change Earth’s climate on a significant scale due to the height of its major ash plume, which stayed below the level of the stratosphere.



Fewer deaths in the 2018 Tornado Season?

Fewer deaths in the 2018 Tornado Season?

By: Chris Michaels

The United States as a whole is having what National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration calls, “an incredibly quiet tornado season.”

As of June 4, there have been 449 reported tornadoes in the country. Keep in mind that reports are not all confirmed tornadoes, some have not been validated yet, and may never be as reports overlap or there is not enough damage to assess. On average, we normally see 792 tornado reports by this time of the year.

So far this year, there have only been four tornadoes rated EF-3 or higher in the country. On average, there are 37 tornadoes within this range per year in the U.S. Since more than 85 percent of tornado fatalities occur in EF-3 tornadoes or stronger, there have been significantly less fatalities this year than normal as well. Alongside these numbers increased public awareness has also helped lower the number of overall deaths.

It’s always good to have a safety plan and continually keep it up to date. Make sure your family, friends, and co-workers are aware of that plan, whether it be at home or at work. It should always be ready to be put into action should a tornado warning be issued wherever you are, and practice is always recommended for this kind of precaution.


Summary: Low fatalities have been reported up to this point for tornadoes in the United States, due to below average activity this season and increased safety efforts.

The Beginnings of the National Weather Museum & Science Center

The Beginnings of the National Weather Museum & Science Center

The National Weather Museum & Science Center (NWMSC) was established to capture the rich history of Meteorology and related sciences. Originally, the museum was meant to look back at the roots of weather tools and forecasting. However, through discussions, the decision was made to also focus on current weather developments and future plans to better understand our atmosphere. These include better preparation and mitigation of the impact of severe weather, enhanced actionable communication about it, and learning from each of these events.

Douglas Forsyth, then [title/position within NOAA?], volunteered to spearhead the effort to bring the NWMSC to reality. Doug gathered a team of people with similar passion and started three parallel efforts: starting a 501 (c) (3), pulling together artifacts and exhibits for the NWMSC, and making plans for a home for it in Norman.

So how did this growing treasure in Norman, OK, come to be?

It was an output of the Norman Chamber of Commerce Weather Committee. The group started in 2004 and is still active today. The first Weather committee co-chairs were Dr. Kelvin Droegemeier and Warren Qualley. The logic behind the formation of the Weather Committee was two-fold: 1) the large and increasing presence of weather-related activities in Norman (e.g. the University of Oklahoma School of Meteorology, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, the National Severe Storms Laboratory, as well as the increasing number of commercial weather-related businesses starting up or relocating to Norman), and 2) the fact that Norman is situated in Tornado Alley, basically smack in the middle of a natural severe storm laboratory, making it an awesome site for weather enthusiasts. There were several ideas that the Weather Committee discussed, including the National Weather Festival, arguably the largest and best (maybe the only?) in the country and world.

While this is only a small glimpse into the NWMSC Several future Blogs will explore more of the rich history of the National Weather Museum & Science Center, so stay tuned!


Social media summary: If you’ve never heard of the National Weather Museum and Science Center, now is a great time to learn! Read about how this amazing museum came to be, the idea behind it, and what it aims to do.  

Space Weather

Space Weather

By: Warren Qualley

Most of us know about meteorology which, according to the Oxford Dictionary (, is defined as: The branch of science concerned with the processes and phenomena of the atmosphere, especially as a means of forecasting the weather. People also know weather which they define as: The state of the atmosphere at a place and time as regards heat, dryness, sunshine, wind, rain, etc. However, what most people don’t know is that there is something called space weather. Oxford Dictionary’s definition of space weather is: Conditions in the region of space close to the earth, especially the presence of electromagnetic radiation and charged particles emitted by the sun, that can affect human activity and technology. 

So how did the “weather” get carried over into “space weather”? The short answer, at least in regard to aviation, can be found on a website from The American Meteorological Society ( which states, in part, the conditions on the Sun and in the solar wind, magnetosphere, ionosphere, and thermosphere that can influence the performance and reliability of space-borne and ground-based technological systems and can endanger human life or health.”

It’s amazing how weather activities outside our atmosphere, can affect us. Even though earth’s weather forecast might seem clear, threats can still be out there. The three main hazards to aviation from space weather include disruption in High Frequency (HF) communications, satellite navigation system errors, and radiation hazards to humans and avionics. Fortunately, there is some predictability to these events. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Space Weather Prediction Center in Boulder, CO, monitors solar activity and issues outlooks, forecasts and warnings of events. To mitigate the effects of the three hazards when they are predicted or present, airlines avoid high latitude routes (e.g. cross-polar) and higher altitudes.

Monitoring and predicting space weather is a high priority for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), a United Nations body, which establishes the rules for global aviation. The World Meteorological Organization provides scientific input into this process as well, and those involved in all aspects of aviation continue to make flying safer from the effects of space weather.


Social media Summary: Almost all of us have heard of weather, but not everyone knows about space weather! Learn a little bit about the amazing nature of space weather, and how it can impact us here on earth.

Volcanic Ash and Aviation

Volcanic Ash and Aviation

By: Warren Qualley

In 1980, When all four engines on British Airways flight 9 in 1982 shut down, the crew was baffled. They couldn’t quite figure out what had happened. Shortly after the initial shut down, Captain Eric Moody, made the following announcement, which was a masterpiece of understatement: “Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain speaking. We have a small problem. All four engines have stopped. We are doing our damnedest to get them going again. I trust you are not in too much distress.” It turns out, that the shutdown was due to volcanic ash from Mount Galunggung. This volcano is about 100 miles southeast of Jakarta, Indonesia. The flight was near 35,000 feet (msl) when this occurred and drifted down to about 13,500 feet (msl) before the crew could re-start the engines. The full story can be found here:

Similar to Galunggung, Sarychev Volcano in Russia’s Kuril Islands is one of hundreds of volcanoes located in what is known as the Ring of Fire, which stretches nearly 25,000 miles around the Pacific Ocean basin. It arcs from near New Zealand through Indonesia, the Philippines and Japan across the North Pacific, the western U.S., Central America and down the west coast of South America. Here’s a link to short video of the 2009 eruption of Sarychev Volcano taken from the International Space Station: The ash is the grayish cloud, with the white clouds made up of water droplets.

The ash from volcanos can fill the sky for miles and can be extremely corrosive. It can damage windows, homes, and as it turns out, aircraft engines! The amazing meteorological effects of volcanic ash are one of the earth’s greatest phenomena’s, but also one of the scariest.

Fortunately, British Airways flight 9 did land safely in Jakarta and there were no injuries, but this event and others like it since underscore the danger of volcanic ash to aircraft. Therefore, countries around the world monitor volcanic activity and issue warnings so that these encounters with ash can be avoided.


Social media Summary: Most of us know about your typical weather, windy, rainy, and sunny, but what some people don’t know is that volcanic ash is also part of meteorology! Learn about volcanic ash and how it can impact normal everyday flights.

Automating Weather Balloons

Automating Weather Balloons

By: Marina Kobasiuk

Weather prediction depends on getting the newest and most accurate data possible, and with satellites around to help, it’s sometimes easy to forget how important local conditions are. This is why the National Weather Service still launches weather balloons on a regular schedule, twice a day, or more if severe conditions are on the way. As the balloons travel with their radiosondes up through the atmosphere they track temperature, humidity, air pressure, and other variables, which all get transmitted back to the ground. 

Doing this across the country allows the full vertical profile of the atmosphere to be observed at specific times. These current conditions inform predictions and future research so it’s vital for a NWS office to perform this well so any changes can be tracked. Wherever the local office is for your region you can bet they do their launches daily, and some offer tours of the experience so anyone from the public can see what this part of weather research entails!

But, human error happens, and many offices where balloons are supposed to be launched from are not pleasant locations to reside in for the long term. Alaska is home to a number of these more remote stations so NOAA is working on an improvement by automating the weather balloon releases. These autolaunchers are being put into place all across Alaska’s stations so they’ll only need to be restocked with materials every twelve days or so, depending on if extra balloons are used to analyse major weather events. Automation is intended to improve the data set Alaska provides to the NWS since fewer launches will be missed and all of them will be timed preciscely by computers, which takes human issues out of the equation. More reliable data will also hopefully lead to more accurate predictions nation wide as systems move inland from the west coast.

For more detailed discussion on the financial and career benefits of this change, NOAA has a full press release on the program, as well as an additional article on 6 benefits to the automation.

Summary: The National weather service is starting to implement automated weather balloon launches in Alaska. It’s a great look into the long term goals of improving data collection!