DENVER — Days after a bomb cyclone (plus a series of atmospheric rivers, some of which was the Pineapple Express) devastated California last week, a downtown convention center here was flooded — not because Downpours and wind are not forecast.
Dozens of the world’s most authoritative meteorologists and weather scientists gathered to share the latest research results 103rd Meeting of the American Meteorological SocietyThe subject line of the e-mail sent to participants on the first day heralded optimism – “Daily Forecast: A deluge of scientific knowledge”.
But there are disturbing undercurrents, too. Scientists agree on the increasing frequency of extreme weather events — snowstorms in Buffalo, floods in Montecito, California, prolonged droughts in East Africa — and their worrying impacts. Yet another growing concern at the Denver meeting: how people talk about the weather.
The widespread use of such colorful terms as “bomb cyclone” and “atmospheric river,” as well as the ever-increasing categories, color And the names of storms and weather patterns have mixed feelings among meteorologists: good for public safety and climate change awareness, but potentially amplified to the point where the public is numb or unsure about actual risks. New vocabularies devised by the meteorological science community in many cases are in danger of spinning out of control.
“Language evolves to get attention,” says Cindy Bruyere, Director of the Climate and Extreme Weather Capability Center at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. In between meetings, she became increasingly animated as she sat at a coffee bar with two fellow scientists, discussing what she called “buzzwords” that lacked meaning.
“When I hear the words ‘bomb whirlwind,’ I have zero images in my head,” she said. “We need clearer language, not hype.”
Others find these words, while evocative, are sometimes misused. “Worst of all is the ‘polar vortex,'” says Andrea Lopez Long, an atmospheric scientist at SUNY Albany, stands in the hallway between weather science classes. Dr. Lopez Lang is an expert on the polar vortex, which is technically a stratospheric phenomenon that occurs at least 6 miles above sea level. “But in the last decade, people started describing it as cold air on the ground,” she said.
In an effort to curb runaway nonsense, weather scientists have begun studying the effects of extreme weather language. How do people react to how the weather is communicated? Are they taking proper precautions? Or did they tune it out?
It’s a “hot topic,” says Gina Esco, Social Scientist in NOAA’s Office of Weather Programs. “Communication is literally our number one priority.” In 2021, Dr. Eosco is the author of a paper with a not-so-succinct title, “Is consistent messaging achievable?: Defining ‘message consistency’ for weather enterprise researchers and practitioners.”
Currently, the answer to the thesis question is: cloudy. To emphasize the point, Dr. Eosco, sitting on the floor of a conference hall, pulls out her cell phone, Showcasing a series of messages from different TV stations and websites using competing graphics, colors and language to describe Tropical Storm Henry in 2021. In the method of branding bad weather.
“I wanted to see how people styled it this year,” she said. “Essentially, they’re doing cosmetic surgery.”
Dr Eosco said more information was needed to fully understand the impact of how people talked about the weather. Her division at NOAA called on researchers to quantify the effectiveness of weather information strategies, including “visual, verbal messages, nomenclature, categories.”
The broader goal, she said, was to ensure that the official range of weather terms facilitated public understanding and appropriate responses, rather than confusing them.
“I got a text message from a family member this weekend saying, ‘Are rivers in the atmosphere real?'” says Williams Castle, A social scientist sits on the floor next to Dr. Eosco; the two are co-authors on a 2021 paper on consistent weather information. “She thought it was a made-up word for heavy rain.” He added, “I gave her a lot of information about atmospheric rivers.” Dr. Eosco noted that researchers are exploring whether atmospheric rivers can be divided into categories, like hurricanes based on Severity is sorted numerically.
Some vivid terms started with scientists—such as “bomb cyclone”. “The reason we call it a bomb is because it’s the explosive intensification of a ground-level cyclone, in other words, the wind you encounter near the ground where people live,” said John Garcum, a meteorologist at McGill University who helped coin the term in the 1980s. A less concise definition is “a drop in central pressure of at least 24 millibars in 24 hours”, which is a measure of atmospheric pressure.
Dr Gyakum said that in the early days of these terms, weather patterns were “primarily an ocean phenomenon”, and largely still are now. Probably more people are affected these days because of the dense population along the coast. “Why do we hear more about bomb cyclones than we did 40 years ago?” he said. “People are paying more attention to extreme weather than they have in the past,” he added. “Talking about bomb cyclones doesn’t necessarily indicate an increase in frequency.”
Some meteorologists said they were becoming cautious about what they said so as not to cause a stir. “Once you use a word and get the cat out of the bag, you can never take it back,” said andrew hall, a research meteorologist at NOAA, where he co-leads the Drought Task Force. “It can be used in ways you never imagined.”
He just finished his speech at the “Explaining Extreme Events Press Conference,” which, linguistically, was rather dry.Afterwards, Dr. Hall put more emphasis on what he wouldn’t say: “I don’t use ‘megadrought.'” Still, later in the meeting, he was scheduled to attend a town hall Discussion topic is“Drought, Megadrought, or Permanent Change? A Paradigm Shift in Drought in the Western United States.”
“You won’t hear me use that word,” Dr. Hall said again. “It doesn’t matter. I can describe it in more plain language.”
Such as? “A prolonged drought,” he said.
Finally, the language dilemma reflects a larger challenge. On the one hand, scientists say, it’s hard to underestimate the profound risks global warming poses to Earth’s inhabitants over the next century and beyond. But the drumbeat of language may not suit the everyday nature of many weather events.
Blame often comes in the passive voice: Meteorologists craft catchy terms that get sucked into a ratings-driven media vortex. Daniel Swain, A climate scientist at UCLA said traditional news outlets and social media widely use technical terms without context, and “some people may use the term half-jokingly, while others are really freaking out.”
He added, “The headlines sound like the end of the world.”
consider”Ark Storm. “ The word appeared in 2010 In a project led by the US Geological Survey, the project explored “megastorm scenarios initially projected as 1,000-year events.” The word is a combination of “atmospheric river,” “k” (for 1,000), and “storm,” with overall biblical resonance.
“As one might expect, the acronym exists as a tongue-in-cheek reference to Noah’s flood, although, frankly, the situation doesn’t stray too far from the biblical account,” said Dr Swain, He was one of the researchers involved in a 2018 report called ARkStorm 2.0.
The weather proposed by the ARkStorm study could inundate thousands of miles, cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage, prompt the evacuation of more than a million people, and occur more frequently than once every 1,000 years, especially on the West Coast. (According to the book of Genesis, the original prophecy calls for “a flood that will destroy everything under heaven and destroy every living thing. Everything on the earth will perish.”)
Epic, epochal, or apocalyptic, there was no ARkStorm in mid-January, despite an email sent to Dr. Swain asking if ARkStorm would “hit California tonight.”
Dr. Swain said he called back quickly to prevent the spread of misinformation. He speculated that the outlet had read the report or read its headline, but not the report itself. “No,” he said he told the media, “it’s not literally the end of the world.”