Friday, June 4, 2010
It's Hurricane Season!
The hurricanes that come to America start out in a place called the doldrums, which is really close to the equator. If you are in a sailing ship in this area, you might get stuck for days because there is no wind. This is what happened in the poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner," by Samuel Coleridge. Maybe you read this poem in your high school English class. But anyway, the funny thing about the doldrums is that you can be in them even without being in them physically. This is because anytime the wind goes out of your sails, you can end up in the doldrums.
I'm not sure how the doldrums make hurricanes, but it has something to do with a bunch of warm, moist air. And because of all this warm, moist air, these great big huge storms get started and some of them end up being hurricanes. In the middle of every storm, there is an eye, and all the stormy parts swirl around the eye. And if the hurricane is north of the equator, it swirls counter-clockwise, and if it's south of the equator, it swirls clockwise, which I think is very interesting.
But what I think is the very most interesting thing about hurricanes -- besides the fact that they can blow your house down or flood it or drown you -- is that they all have names, just like dogs and cats have names. For example, here are all the names that hurricanes will have this year:
There are people who have already made up lists of hurricane names for the next six years, and if you want to see these lists all the way through 2015, you can go here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lists_of_tropical_cyclone_names
Mom was very disappointed that there is no Hurricane Eva, which is her other name besides "Mom." And I was shocked to find that there is no Hurricane Piper either. But in 2013 there will be a Hurricane Barry, so my brother Barry is feeling very smug about that. There is no Hurricane Mel or Gabe, but there is a Hurricane Gabrielle on the list for 2013. Gabe says that doesn't count, though, because it's a girl's name.
There are different systems for naming hurricanes and other tropical cyclones in different parts of the world. In the North Atlantic and Northeastern Pacific, storms are given names in alphabetical order, alternating between boys' names and girls' names. If they use up all the names on the list, they will start using letters of the Greek alphabet to name storms. These same lists get used over and over except when one of the hurricanes is really big and does a lot of damage. Then that hurricane's name is retired.
In the old days, people used to name hurricanes after the saint's day when they occurred. Then at the end of the 19th century, this meteorologist named Clement Lindley Wragge started using regular people's names for hurricanes. Mr. Wragge mostly used female names and the names of politicians he didn't like and also names from mythology.
Later on, when people started being able to track more than one storm at a time, they started using all female names and also giving out names in alphabetical order. Then people decided this was sexist because hurricanes could be so nasty and destructive, so in 1979, male names started getting used, too. And also some of the names were French or Spanish instead of all of them being English.
The nice people at NOAA who try to predict the weather said that there will probably be more hurricanes in the Atlantic this year than there were last year. In fact, they say there is an 85% chance that we will have an "active to extremely active" season. This means that if you live near the coast, you had better watch out for hurricanes, and if one is coming your way, you should leave town and go away from the coast. But be sure to take your dogs and cats with you so they will be safe, too!