The following is what I learned about weather and climate during my first session of Virginia Master Naturalist training.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the only organization that issues weather warnings and watches. Local TV and radio stations only relay information from NOAA and can never be the source of an announcement. Weather warnings are serious, only issued when an event is imminent (i.e., within the hour), and specific to a set of counties where residents need to take action. A weather watch is less serious, issued when conditions for an event are favorable (but not guaranteed to happen), cover a large area (i.e., region), and span a long period.
What is weather and what causes it?
Weather is the state of the atmosphere, ocean, and land over a short period. Climate is defined as weather patterns that occur over months, seasons, and decades. Climate averages are usually reported as 30 year averages with the most recent 30 year span starting in 1981.
The sun’s influence on temperature, pressure, and air masses causes weather. The atmosphere is constantly trying to balance temperature (measure of heat energy); which is continually in flux due to the earth’s rotation and tilt. The earth’s tilt causes seasons and noteworthy is the fact the earth is farther away from the sun during the summer.
High air pressure results in tranquil conditions and clockwise wind rotations. Low air pressure causes inclement conditions and counter-clockwise wind rotations. Wind blows from high pressure areas to low pressure areas. Strong winds are located in areas where there are large differences in pressure.
Air masses include warm fronts, cold fronts, and stationary fronts. Warm fronts are warm air pushing on top of cold air. Cold fronts are cold air undercutting warm air. A stationary front is when warm and cold air are clearly separated.
Learning how to identify and report weather
Cumulus clouds are low hanging and, when vertically tall, can be bearers of thunderstorms.
Our local NOAA office sends up two weather balloons a day; one in the morning and one in the evening. A helium weather balloon carries a single-use radiosonde high into the atmosphere. A radiosonde is a small device that reports temperature, pressure, and humidity.
You can become a volunteer weather spotter through NOAA’s Skywarn training program and/or a volunteer weather observer with CoCoRaHS; both of which help the federal government’s scientists.