Why Chicago Set Records with Another Polar Vortex

For those of us here in Illinois, the end of January this year was mind-blowingly frigid. Wind chills dipped as low as minus 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the upper Midwest, and in Chicago it was not much warmer than that. In fact, temperatures that week were substantially colder in the states along the Great Lakes than in the world’s northernmost permanent settlements on the island of Spitsbergen in Norway, where daylight will be returning this month for the first time since October. Whenever temperatures get lower than normal here in the US, there are many people (our president included) who question the existence of climate change. Continue reading “Why Chicago Set Records with Another Polar Vortex”

Does Climate Change Make Hurricanes Stronger?

At 7:15 AM ET on Friday, September 14, 2018, Hurricane Florence made landfall along the coast of North Carolina as a Category 1 storm. Although, by this point, it had weakened from its peak intensity as a Category 4 hurricane, Florence still inundated communities in the region with torrential rains and a sizeable storm surge before dissipating over the east coast within a few days. Despite its monopoly over the airwaves in September, however, Florence was only one of four storms in the Atlantic at the time of landfall (the other three being tropical storms Helene, Isaac, and Joyce). Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Olivia (which was a Category 4 storm at peak intensity) had just dumped copious quantities of rain over Hawaii, and Typhoon Mangkhut in the west Pacific was still threatening populations in southeast Asia. In October, Hurricane Michael made landfall over the Florida panhandle with wind speeds only 2 mph shy of a Category 5 rating, making it the most powerful hurricane to hit the US since Andrew in 1992. How could so many terrible storms develop in such a short time span? Does climate change have anything to do with this? To figure that out, we first need to learn about what hurricanes are and how they form. Here’s an overview: Continue reading “Does Climate Change Make Hurricanes Stronger?”

A Brief Guide to the 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower

For those who enjoy observing the night sky, summer is a great time of year to look for meteors blazing through the atmosphere, also known as shooting stars. Because of the favorable weather, more of us get the chance to go outside at night to look up. The Perseid meteor shower takes place each year from mid-July through late August, peaking in mid-August. With up to 100 observable meteors per hour, this particular meteor shower is easily among the most spectacular of the year. Additionally, the peak of this year’s shower coincides with a new moon, when the sky is much darker, so the 2018 Perseids will be especially exciting for stargazers. Continue reading “A Brief Guide to the 2018 Perseid Meteor Shower”

Everything You Need to Know About the Summer Solstice

Today is the 2018 summer solstice, which marks the longest day of the year and the official start of the summer season for those of us in the northern hemisphere. Many of us in the Midwest enjoy celebrating the occasion by going outside to fire up the barbecue, soak up the sun, and enjoy some much needed vacation time in our flip flops and swim trunks. Any Pagan readers out there most likely recognize the June solstice as an event of great spiritual significance with a number of associated rituals and religious practices. But for most of us, it’s just a warm weekday toward the end of June and an opportunity to spend more time outside. Back in March, we discussed the science behind the spring equinox. But what happens (astronomically speaking) on the summer solstice? Here are the most important facts to know about the longest day of the year. Continue reading “Everything You Need to Know About the Summer Solstice”

Why Do We Get Cold Weather When the Climate Should be Warming?

While it’s widely understood that our planet’s climate is warming, there is a lot of confusion about how this influences our weather from year to year. If you kept up with the news at all between June and November of 2017 and 2018 (the time frame that defines the Atlantic hurricane season), you may remember seeing one headline after another with updates on the latest major storm to wreak havoc on the coastal communities of the southeast and Puerto Rico. Perhaps you even saw some heated discussions about whether or not these storms had proven the existence of climate change (click here for the latest evidence). With the cold snaps in the winter of 2018 and the polar vortex of 2019, though, many have publicly questioned why cold weather doesn’t disprove climate change. Despite the confusion in the media, the scientific consensus is clear – the global climate is warming, and the cold weather is part of it. Continue reading “Why Do We Get Cold Weather When the Climate Should be Warming?”

Are We Prepared for a Large Asteroid Impact?

asteroid near earth object
The astroid (light green orbit) passed very close to Earth (blue orbit). Click to enlarge.

On December 16, 2017 at about 5:00 PM CST, the asteroid 3200 Phaethon passed within 64 million miles of Earth. That’s about 27 times the distance to our Moon. While this may sound like a long distance (indeed, it would take on the order of one million hours to drive that distance in a car!), this particular approach will be our closest encounter with the asteroid for another 75 years. Continue reading “Are We Prepared for a Large Asteroid Impact?”