15 weather facts you should know

We are all interested in the weather but many of us don’t know the basic facts about it

The fact is, not everyone can give you a precise answer to the difference between weather and climate or cummulus clouds and nimbus clouds. But given our extreme interest in the weather every day, it won’t hurt to be a bit more knowledgeable about it. Ali Musallam, a forecaster at the National Centre of Meteorology in the UAE, said that while weather forecasting is not an exact science, the centre has the infrastructure and the experts needed to make the forecasts highly accurate.


“Like any other meteorological centre in the world, we have our tools, mostly the numerical weather predictions (NWP) that use ‘models’ of the atmosphere and computational techniques and we use satellite images and pictures from our radars that are placed all over the UAE. We have more than 70 weather stations in the UAE. We have the best infrastructure in the Middle East for gathering all the data of meteorology needed for weather forecast issuing. On top of this, we have qualified weather forecasters. And based on all these things, we are doing daily studies, and daily monitoring, analysing the atmosphere or the weather based on the data that we collect from all these tools before we issue the weather forecast,” Musallam explained. “We issue the weather forecast in the morning and late night but in between, weather is monitored at all times for any updates. Rarely does it happen that we have to change the forecast because we have a very good accuracy rate – of more than 85 per cent,” he added. He concurred that forecasting the weather comes with its own challenges, especially in the UAE.

“It’s not very easy, especially in our region which is subtropical. The weather in Europe depends on the system that is coming over the land. Here, we have two things: systems and the locality but mostly the locality in the Arab Peninsula and especially UAE also. It depends on the local topography and the nature of the land. These are the difficulties in the UAE or Arab Peninsula. It’s easy in the UK, Europe and Switzerland, unlike here [because] mostly, locality is controlling our weather here.”

Hail is not sleet and sleet is not freezing rain.

Whenever it sleets in winter, and someone says “hey, it’s hailing out,” my skin really crawls. And when the sleet pinging on the window is mistaken for freezing rain, I can’t help but feel that our education system has let us all down.

Sleet is a partially melted snowflake that freezes into ice pellets before it hits the ground; freezing rain is rain that freezes when it hits the surface, and hail forms during intense thunderstorms, usually during the warmer months.

Weather and climate are not the same thing.

Rule of thumb: when it’s unusually cold for a week where you’re located, that’s weather. When it’s warmer than normal over the entire planet for a period of years, that’s climate. There’s a reason it’s called “climate change” and not “weather change.”

There are sayings/metaphors to help you here:

Climate is what you expect, weather is what you get.

Climate is your personality, and weather is your mood.

What causes wind to blow.

To paraphrase a weather expert, it’s all about those pressure gradients, those pressure gradients, those pressure gradients. You see, when high pressure gets too close to low pressure, like two people crammed on a subway train, the air needs to move somewhere, so it goes from high pressure to low pressure. Areas of high and low pressure are caused by ascending and descending air.

When we say “it’s humid,” we really mean “it’s relatively humid”.

The percentage of humidity in the air doesn’t mean much unless you know what the temperature is. Hot air holds a lot more moisture than cold air, so 50 percent humidity at 90 degrees is a much bigger deal than 50 percent humidity at 40 degrees.

It’s never too cold to snow.

Next time you hear someone say “it’s too cold to snow,” ask them: Why is it so white in Antarctica?

You can still get sunburn when it’s cloudy.

Believe it or not, up to 80 per cent of the sun’s UV rays can penetrate cloud cover. OK, so maybe you can apply 20 per cent less sunscreen.

Forecasting the weather is actually pretty hard.

Blaming the weatherperson for a botched forecast is like blaming an odds maker when your team loses. Predicting weather isn’t an exact science, and when you utter “but it was supposed to rain today,” you’re basically saying “I don’t know what the word ‘prediction’ means.” There’s no “supposed to” in weather. It’s all about probability, and chaos plays a large role in what kind of weather actually occurs.

Hurricanes, tropical cyclones and typhoons are all the same thing.

And they’re all different from tornadoes. Tornadoes form in unusually violent thunderstorms when there is sufficient instability and wind conditions prevalent in the lower atmosphere. When there are warm and humid conditions in the lower atmosphere, and possibly cooler than usual conditions in the upper atmosphere, the wind shear factor means the wind is changing direction and increasing in speed, with height.

A snowstorm isn’t a blizzard unless it’s a blizzard.

A heavy snowfall isn’t a blizzard. The US National Weather Service defines a “blizzard” as heavy snow with winds in excess of 35 mph and visibility of less than a quarter mile for more than 3 hours. Also, please don’t use “blizzard,” as a verb, as in “it’s blizzarding outside.”

There’s no such thing as “heat lightning.”

It can’t be so hot that lightning spontaneously happens, though that would be pretty cool. What you think of as “heat lightning” is really just lightning that’s coming from a thunderstorm far away.

And get the spelling right. It’s not “lightening,” which “involves feminie pusuits of skin beautifucation and stuff we don’t need to be talking about here.

In summary, it doesn’t matter which side of the world you belong to, the world would just be better place if more people could correctly talk about the weather.

If it’s cloudy, will it always rain?

No. There are many types and kinds of clouds and they also depend on their elevation. Sometimes you can see that it is cloudy but it is not raining. Here at NCM we can tell you whether it’s going to rain or not.

When there are chances of rain, does it mean it less likely to rain or more likely?

– If we say there’s a chance of rain, it means there is a high probability of rain. The chance is very high, 80 per cent for example, if we say “there’s a chance”. If we say, light chance of rain, that means the type of the clouds present does not necessarily bring rain but maybe something may happen in the locality that might change the humidity or amount of water in the clouds. Or it will rain but only a little amount or in a small area.

Is shammal a wind or a sand storm?

Shammal in Arabic means the north. So anything coming from the north, or the wind coming from the north means it’s coming from the Arabian Gulf which is it’s strong and humid. It also causes a cooling down in the temperature in the UAE because it’s coming from the sea.

Monsoon is about winds and it does not mean rain. True or false?

False. Monsoon refers to when the wind is coming from the east during summer, especially we have the Indian Monsoon that’s coming from the east. In the higher level and upper level, there’s the easterly wind but sometimes it comes with humidity that might bring rain. Monsoon usually means it’s mostly rainy in the India but sometimes it extends in the UAE.

How do we know if it’s a dust storm or a sand storm?

There’s a difference between sand and dust. A sandstorm happens when a very strong air or wind came over the land and took out the sand from the land and raised it up. For dust storms, loose dust is already suspended in the air and is blown by gust front or strong wind. We have strong winds but it’s not necessary that the dust is coming from our land. It might come from other land but suspended in the air.

— With inputs from Washington Post

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