Karin Heineman, Inside Science – Predicting and analyzing weather is a highly sophisticated scientific endeavor these days. But, it is also peppered with a good deal of lore.
We're here to debunk some popular weather myths.
Myth #1: Heat lightning, or the distant flashes of lightning you see in the sky (without hearing the clap of thunder) during the hot summer months, only occur because it is hot out.
Wrong. The truth is you're actually seeing lightning from a storm that's really far away. Since most severe thunderstorms often happen during hot summer months – the name "heat" lightning stuck.
Myth #2: The Earth is farthest from the sun in January.
Not True. January is wintertime in the U.S. often bringing colder temperatures. The earth itself, however, is actually closest to the sun this time of year. But since the U.S. is located in the Northern hemisphere, which is tilted slightly away from the sun in January, the temperatures tend to be chilly.
Myth #3: Hurricanes and typhoons are different types of storms?
Wrong. They are the same type of storm. What they're called depends on the location of the storm. What's known as a hurricane in Florida is called a typhoon in the Western Pacific. What's called a typhoon in the Western Pacific is called a cyclone in the Indian Ocean.
Myth #4: Clouds coming out of airplanes are filled with chemicals.
No. What you see is basic physics. When warm air from the engines hits the cool air in the atmosphere, it produces condensation that you can see. The same process happens when you breathe out on a cold day.
Myth #5: Lightning only strikes close to a storm.
Wrong. Lightning can strike as far as five to ten miles from the storm. So don't underestimate your risk for being struck by lightning even if you're not in the middle of the storm.
The odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 12,000 and the odds of hitting the Powerball lottery are 1 in 175 million. You're more likely to get hit by lightning.
Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV. She has produced over 600 video news segments on science, technology, engineering and math in the past 14 years for Inside Science TV and its predecessor, Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science. Reprinted with permission from Inside Science, an editorially independent news product of the American Institute of Physics, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing, promoting and serving the physical sciences.