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What Does the Weatherman Say?

Some changes in the weather may be a mystery, but there are many questions about the weather that can be answered. Tom Moore, a meteorologist at The Weather Channel, in Atlanta, answered weather questions from curious SN readers.

Q: Why are there hurricanes on the East Coast and not on the West Coast?
Brett Kishkis, Reno, Nevada

A: Hurricanes need heat to develop. The ocean temperature needs to be at least 80° Fahrenheit. From late spring to fall, the water temperatures off the southeast coast are usually above 80°. On the West Coast, the cold California ocean current keeps water temperatures lower than 80°.

Q: How did people predict weather before they had radar?
Chrissy Moorman, Newport, Kentucky

A: Before radar, forecasters relied more on observations from hundreds of weather stations around the world, and calculated the speed of storms. Today, radar helps pinpoint severe storms and helps make forecasts more accurate.

Q: What is lightning made of?
Michael Hall, Newport, Kentucky

A: Lightning is a huge electric spark in the sky. Raindrops in clouds break up and reunite when they are jumbled around during rough weather. This jumbling makes the clouds get charged with positive and negative electricity. The electricity gets more and more unbalanced until  — crack! — lightning is released as nature tries to restore balance.

Q: Why is it so hot near the equator?
Renee Nava, Alameda, California

A: One reason why it's hot there is that the equator is never far from the direct rays of the sun. On the first day of spring and fall, the sun's rays shine directly on the equator. On the first day of summer and winter, the sun is only 23 1/2 degrees north and south of the equator. This means that intense heating occurs at the equator almost all year round.

Q: How do snowflakes form?
Cora Treadway, Alameda, California

A: The sun's heat causes water to evaporate and turn into a gas, which rises into the atmosphere. When the gas mixes with cold air in the sky, it turns back into water droplets. The droplets cling to bits of ash or dust in the air. If it is freezing, these droplets become ice crystals. The crystals join, grow bigger, and form snowflakes. When the snowflakes get too heavy, gravity pulls them down to earth.



December 11, 1992

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