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Posted at 10:45 AM ET, 04/22/2009

No Separating Weather From the Environment

By Ann Posegate

* Full Forecast | NatCast | UnitedCast | Changes in Hurricane Scale *
* Live Chat on Climate Change w/ CWG's Andrew Freedman (11 AM) *

Weather and the environment are inextricably connected, yet often seen as separate. Weather is part of our environment -- really, there's no separating the two. I don't think this connection is highlighted enough in the weather world. So today being Earth Day, I challenge us to find as many connections between weather and what we typically think of as "the environment" (air, land, water, wildlife, vegetation, human health, human impact, green living and technology, energy, etc.) as possible.

Here are a few weather-environment connections to get things started:

Watersheds -- In a watershed, rainwater falling onto land either soaks into the soil becoming groundwater, or is carried into local waterways. Both of these are sources for our drinking water, and in turn, the water we use in our daily lives is cycled back into this loop, contaminated or not. Drought and flooding affect the quality and accessibility of these sources.

Keep reading for more weather-environment connections...

A cumulus cloud grows above the Gros Ventre River in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The rocks in the foreground have been smoothed by abrasion, the scraping of a rock's surface caused by friction between the rock and particles carried by wind or water, and an example of the connection between weather and the environment. Photo by Vanessa Carney. Courtesy UCAR.

Air Quality -- Our activities alter the quality of our air -- and, subsequently, our health -- and also lead to changes in microclimates, such as increased temperatures and thunderstorm development due to the urban heat island effect. Ground-level ozone/smog is exacerbated on sunny, warm days.

Animals -- All living things have adaptations (changes in their bodies or behavior) in order to survive in their environment. Take a North American wood frog, for example -- it can literally freeze itself in freezing temperatures, stopping its heart and lungs and filling with ice during winter and thawing out in spring. A more obvious example is your dog growing a thicker coat of fur for the winter and shedding it before summer.

Plants -- Plants need sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to survive. They affect temperature and humidity, but also have adaptations to respond to changes in weather variables. To our benefit, they help filter pollutants from stormwater and air. Trees help reduce the temperature of city streets, homes and buildings, saving energy during hot summer months, and act as a wind block. Some plants -- including many crops -- depend on the wind for pollination and seed dispersal.

Energy Use -- We use a lot of energy at home and work on heating and cooling degree days by cranking up heaters or air conditioners. Weatherproofing our homes and businesses to prevent cold air from sneaking in during winter and air-conditioned air from sneaking out in summer can save energy and money. Using water also uses energy: a faucet running for five minutes uses about as much energy as letting a 60-watt light bulb run for 14 hours (source).

Human Health -- Seasonal and short-term weather conditions -- hot and cold temperatures, severe weather, flooding, UV radiation, air and water quality, pollen -- can affect almost every aspect of our health and well-being. Biometeorology is a very cool field that studies the relationship between living things, including humans, and the atmosphere.

Can you think of other weather-environment connections?

For more info on weather and the environment and what you can do, check out Earth Gauge.

By Ann Posegate  | April 22, 2009; 10:45 AM ET
Categories:  Environment, Posegate  
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That's called causality. Everything affects everything. Every cause has an effect. Every effect can in turn be a cause. Extend the chain to infinity and everything will eventually be effected. It's one of the root priciples of the Butterfly Effect theory in Quantum Mechanics.

Posted by: akmzrazor | April 22, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

A brief sprinkle in sunny Annandale followed by thunder. We await the next shoe.

Posted by: jhbyer | April 22, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Any news on how Tuesday's and Wednesday's rains will affect the drought?

Posted by: stuckman | April 22, 2009 2:05 PM | Report abuse

Annandale update: The other shoe was a flip-flop. We have a beaming, blue sky.

Posted by: jhbyer | April 22, 2009 2:25 PM | Report abuse

stuckman, there will be a drought monitor update tomorrow morning. I would anticipate it has improved at least some... last week's forecast was for it to do so.

Posted by: Ian-CapitalWeatherGang | April 22, 2009 5:02 PM | Report abuse


"every cause has an effect" and visa versa; true but with the essential caveat that both the causes and effects in the complex interaction between them are effectively indeterminate, i.e. deterministically unknowable such that it’s impossible to identify a given single effect with precision from a single definitive cause, and visa versa. The best science will ever be able to provide are the probabilities of possible causes and effects. And, of course, that’s the case with weather forecasting.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | April 23, 2009 9:53 AM | Report abuse

An increasingly critical area of weather in relation to environment is in coastal meteorology. It's estimated that that almost half the population of the U.S. lives along the coast and the numbers are increasing.

As reported by a National Academy

"The unique weather and climate of the coastal zone, circulating pollutants, altering storms, changing temperature, and moving coastal currents affect air pollution and disaster preparedness, ocean pollution, and safeguarding near-shore ecosystems. Activities in commerce, industry, transportation, freshwater supply, safety, recreation, and national defense also are affected."

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | April 23, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

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