Why Measure Weather ?

Why measure weather? It doesn’t matter where we live in the world, being able to predict the weather is an advantage. Most activities are closely linked to the weather, and communities that have some idea about, “what the weather will do” can plan their in activities. People have developed local lore about weather, for example; “Red Sky at night, sailor’s delight; Red sky in the morning, sailor take warning; Clear moon, frost soon; Rainbow in the morning gives you fair warning.” How useful do you think these saying are? By measuring and observing weather we see patterns occurring and these patterns often continue providing a basis for predicting, or forecasting weather.

To do this weather and radar stations around the globe measure wind speed and direction, rainfall, cloud type/height/direction/coverage, the air pressure, snowfall depth etc which provides an information base to predict or forecast future weather.

Stability and averages of weather is important because civilisations rely on consistent predictable conditions for resource supply. For instance, weather warnings are often issued for safety and economic reasons, and can include the following:

Why Measure Weather

• Stock Warnings – Weather warnings for stock farmers, advising them of cold, wet and windy weather which otherwise can have a disastrous impact on livestock, particularly freshly-shorn sheep, as well as young animals such as lambs and calves. One cold winter morning I saw over three hundred freshly shorn sheep lying dead in paddock. The farmer had ignored meteorological warnings and did not move the animals into a protected area, which cost hundreds of animal lives and destroyed a significant portion of his breeding ewes.

• Crop Warnings – The weather not only affects comfort levels for humans, it can also have a serious impact on agricultural crops. When the weather is warm and humid, people can feel lethargic, but these conditions also mean fungal diseases can take hold in crops, reducing yields and spoiling fruit. Warnings where humid conditions are predicted allow farmers time to treat fruit crops in order to prevent out-breaks of fungal diseases.

• Marine and Boating Warnings – Apart from issuing forecasts for recreational boating pleasure and safety, warnings for shipping are important as water transport is generally the most economical and efficient means to move goods between countries. Warnings and forecasts assist marine traffic to avoid hazardous weather conditions, which keeps transport costs down, and thus making products more affordable. The U.S. Department of Commerce reports that, “more than 90 percent of the goods imported into the United States arrive via the oceans. Why measure weather ? – Maritime commerce results in a contribution of $78.6 billion annually and generates nearly 16 million jobs. One out of six jobs in the U.S. is marine related. Further, over 77 million Americans enjoy recreational boating, an industry that generates nearly $18 billion annually in sales of boats and related materials.”

• Air traffic – The aviation industry is especially sensitive to the weather. Fog and/or exceptionally low cloud ceilings can prevent many aircraft landing and taking off. Similarly, turbulence and icing can be hazards whilst in flight. Thunderstorms are a problem for all aircraft, due to severe turbulence and icing, as well as large hail, strong winds, and lightning, all of which can cause fatal damage to an aircraft in flight. On a day to day basis airliners are routed to take advantage of the jet stream tailwind to improve fuel efficiency. Air crews are briefed prior to take off on the conditions to expect en route and at their destination.

• Cyclones, Hurricanes, Tornadoes and Storms – One of the main end users of a forecast is the general public. Thunderstorms can cause strong winds, dangerous lightning strikes leading to deaths and power outages, and widespread hail damage. Heavy snow or rain can bring transportation and commerce to a stand-still, as well as cause flooding in low-lying areas. Excessive heat or cold waves can kill or sicken those without adequate utilities, to warm or cool themselves.

There is no doubt that weather plays a major role in all human life, and extreme variations cause personal distress, disrupt economies and can even destroy life. For instance the heatwaves that swept across Europe in 2003 were responsible for 20,000 deaths in France alone. Flooding causes more damage in the United States than any other severe weather related event, with an average annual cost of around $4.6 billion.

Why measure weather? Prolonged droughts in developed countries costs billions of dollars in lost revenue, and in fragmented under-developed countries it often means millions of people dying.

Why measure weather? Hurricane Katrina was the deadliest hurricane to strike the United States since 1928 and mortality reports indicate approximately 1,000 Katrina-related deaths in Louisiana, 200 in Mississippi, and 20 in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia.