Some myths about the weather

cloudy skies over town
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When I talk to groups about the weather, I usually first open things up for any question someone may have on the subject. A lot of times I get similar questions, so I thought I would address some of those questions in this post.

How do landscapes affect storms?

One question I get is whether or not rivers, river bluffs or tall hills, which is all we have in Illinois, can affect storms or tornadoes. The answer is no. The processes that are making the storm or tornado occur are up thousands of feet off the ground. The little bit of height difference that a river or river bluff has in relationship to a storm or tornado is minor. 

There have been many instances of tornadoes jumping the Mississippi River and moving from Missouri or Iowa into Illinois.

Can storms merge with each other?

Do storms split apart? Yes and no. Do they come back together? Typically no. Sometimes our perspective plays tricks with us. Think about a photo or painting of a road. What does the road appear to do in the distance? Come together. 

The same thing may occur for a storm, which may be made up of individual cells close together. Off in the distance, it looks like one big storm, but as it approaches, you end up seeing the space between the individual cells. As the cells move past and into the distance again, it would appear they’re coming together, when they’re not.

There are certain strong storms that do however split apart. Typically with these storms, the more southerly part of the storm will move to the southeast, while the more northerly one will weaken and die out.

Where does fog go?

Does fog actually lift? Fog does not lift, nor does the sun directly burn the fog off.  It’s another perspective thing. Once the sun comes up, it starts heating the earth’s surface.  Yes, solar energy is still coming through the fog.  As the ground warms, it warms the air above it, causing the fog to dissipate.  As the air warms to higher elevations, it makes it appear as if the fog was lifting.  If the sun directly “burned” the fog off, that would have to occur from the top of the fog on downward.

No need for sirens

Are all funnel-shaped clouds or low-hanging clouds potential tornados? No. True funnel clouds are rotating. Even if you have seen what appears to be a low-hanging cloud that somewhat looks like a funnel cloud, if it is not rotating, it is not something that will turn into a tornado.

What is “heat lightning?”

A very common type of lightning is heat lightning, right? I’ve mentioned this one before. Once again, it’s perspective. We live on a round surface. Thunderstorms 100 miles away may only have their top visible. Thunder at best can only be heard 10 to 15 miles from its source. So, what is being seen on a warm summer night is a distant storm, too far away to be seen or heard. It may be warm out, but it’s not causing lightning by itself.

Clues from the sky

Is there truth to the saying, “Red sky at night sailors delight, red sky at morning, sailor take warning?” Yes, if you were on a sailing ship in the Atlantic. When sailing ships were the mode of ocean travel, they needed to be in the trade winds to get to the Americas. The trade winds come out of the east and move to the west. 

If sailors saw a red sky in the morning, it could be the harbinger of a storm heading in their direction. Since the prevailing winds in the contiguous U.S. states come out of the west, seeing a red sky in the morning means the storm has probably already passed through.

I welcome any questions you may have on the weather. Feel free to send them to my email at friend@illinois.edu

MEET THE AUTHOR
Duane Friend is an energy and environmental stewardship educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving the organization in many roles since 1993. Duane provides information and educational programs to adult and youth audiences in the areas of soil quality, weather and climate, energy conservation, and disaster preparedness. These programs provide practical solutions for families, farms, and communities.  He assists families in creating a household emergency plan, farmers with the implementation of soil management and conservation practices, and local government officials and business owners with energy conservation techniques.

ABOUT THE BLOG
All About Weather is a blog that explores the environment, climate, and weather topics for Illinois. Get in-depth information about things your weather app doesn't cover from summer droughts to shifting weather patterns.