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November-December 2011

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From the Editor

Because of the long lead time of Weatherwise's publishing schedule, I often find myself writing and editing articles about one end of weather extremes while personally experiencing the other. The November/December issue of Weatherwise is no different. As I write this, we are enjoying a hot, muggy August day here in the nation's capital, but the articles in this issue of the magazine are all about the extremes of winter weather. It's a strange juxtaposition that always helps me get excited for the change of seasons on the horizon. In this case, the record-breaking heat waves of July 2011 have given way to slightly milder heat in August as we look toward fall, my favorite season; hot days turn to cooler weather as the leaves here on the East Coast turn a spectacular variety of colors.

Of course, in the meteorological world, the change of seasons often means dramatic weather, and the late-summer/early fall hurricane season is the perfect illustration of that drama. As I write this, Hurricane Irene, the first hurricane of the 2011 Atlantic season, is pounding the Bahamas, on its way to likely becoming the first hurricane to strike the mainland United States since Ike in 2008. Currently a Category 3 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson intensity scale, Irene is expected to hit the Carolinas as a Category 2 storm and then continue up the East Coast. By the time this article is published, the verdict will be in, and data will be compiled on the exact impacts of the storm, but for now, evacuations are occurring, and residents and emergency managers alike are battening down the hatches based on the forecast intensity of the storm.

Although hurricanes receive significant attention from both the media and meteorologists alike for their dramatic and destructive potential, other storms can impact the U.S. population even more than hurricanes do. Yet, unlike hurricanes, they do not currently have the same type of intensity scale that allows people to prepare for the worst. Of all types of storms, winter storms have the greatest impact on the highest number of people each year in terms of disruptions to daily life and transportation. Henry Margusity, a senior meteorologist at Accuweather, has developed a scale to rate the intensity of winter storms the same way that hurricanes are rated. If it is widely adopted, it could help people get a better picture of what the storm will look like in their area and what they need to do to prepare.

Meanwhile, another article in this issue of Weatherwise also reminds us of the power of winter weather—“Sentinels Encased in Ice.” The article chronicles the dramatic encasing of lighthouses around the United States in thick, spectacularly beautiful layers of ice under just the right weather conditions.

This issue also contains the latest installment of the climate and weather of the 50 states series. Here we take a close look at the climate and weather of Oregon. The diverse geography of this Pacific Northwestern state results in a dramatic and varied climate with many different types of weather, from extreme heat, to snow and ice, to wind and tornadoes.

As we wait for Hurricane Irene to make its presence felt in the United States, those of us in the meteorological community—a well as the general public—would do well to remember the destructive potential of severe weather, from hurricanes to winter storms, and know to always be prepared when severe weather hits.

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