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March-April 2013

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From the Editor

Like most of us involved in the field of meteorology, I've always been fascinated by storms. The bigger and more dramatic the storm, the better, and I was always one of those crazy people who decided to suit up and go outside when a good downpour starts, instead of holing up inside waiting for the system to pass the way most people do. I never gave too much thought to the potential dangers involved in wanting to experience extreme weather firsthand; never having lived in tornado alley or Florida or other places prone to extreme weather, I simply didn't have the fear that most residents of those areas do for hurricanes or tornadoes. In fact, when Hurricane Isabel bore down on Washington, D.C., in 2003, I was out in the thick of it, watching the winds tear street signs off their posts. In retrospect, it was not smart for me to be out there.

Those who have lost their homes or even their loved ones to extreme weather know the dangers it can pose. And although the drama of big storms still fascinates me, I cannot ignore the fact that such drama can bring tragedy. This awareness is heightened even more now that I am a new mother. After this summer's derecho event in the Washington, D.C., area, several friends asked if I'd enjoyed the storm, and I had to admit that excitement hadn't really entered into the equation for me—my first thought was for my daughter's safety.

The victims of Superstorm Sandy know as well as anyone the tragic reality that a hurricane can bring. No doubt, there are many in the New York and New Jersey areas who have a healthy new respect for the weather and a greater concern for the potential consequences of climate change. If storms like Sandy really are the “new normal,” as some fear, what does that mean for us as a society? Can we afford to continue to bury our heads in the sand when it comes to global warming and concomitant extreme weather events? We can only hope that out of this devastating storm can come some good—forward momentum on climate change legislation.

That meteorological facets of Sandy certainly bear consideration. In their article “Hurricane Sandy: The Science and Impacts of a Superstorm,” Jeffrey Halverson and Thomas Rabenhorst call the tempest “the storm of a lifetime—a massive, freakish confluence of a tropical hurricane and a winter, extratropical vortex” that measured over 1,100 statute miles in diameter. How did such a storm develop, and could such massive events really become the new norm?

In this issue we also take a new look at how new theories about atmospheric conditions contributing to the 1912 sinking of the Titanic put the disaster in a whole new light. In addition, we examine how a network of volunteer weather observers helps to complete the weather picture for the United States each and every day. Finally, on a fun note, Randy Cerveny takes a light-hearted look at the “Weather of Hell” as portrayed in Dante's Inferno.

We at Weatherwise hope that, as time passes, we gain a better understanding of how the climate might be contributing to storms such as Sandy, and we think of those who lost so much in the storm. We will continue to do our small part in helping to contribute to the study of our changing climate.

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