“Atmospheric river”, “bomb cyclone” and “snowmageddon”; Are you tuned into the latest weather conditions? – The Durango Herald


Some phrases appear in the meteorological glossary, others are not

Cold temperatures in January 2017 created fog along the Animas River north of Durango. Meteorologists have a glossary of terms to describe weather phenomena, including Pineapple Express, Atmospheric River, and Bomb Cyclone. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald file)

Sierra cement, snow yellow, express pineapple.

Haboob, in North Texas, bombs the cyclone.

They seem to be ridiculous terms used to describe a messy room or types of ice cream.

But these are actually meteorological terms, and meteorologists use them.

Sierra cement refers to the heavy, wet snow that often falls on the West Coast.

Yellow snow is not urine, but snow gilded by the pollen of pine or cypress.

And pineapple express is a strip in the atmosphere that carries moisture from Hawaii and the tropics to the coasts of the United States and Canada.

Who makes up these terms and how they enter the public lexicon are often unclear.

“Sometimes someone puts something in there and it sticks, especially these days with social media,” said Jeff Colton, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Grand Junction. “These (terms) are gaining ground and continuing.”

Spring weather passes through Durango in March 2019, bringing a mix of snow and rain. Pineapple express weather systems that originate in Hawaii and the tropics can bring snow and rain to southwest Colorado. (Jerry McBride / Durango Herald file)

Some terms come from the meteorological community.

“Pineapple Express” first appeared in the 1970s with satellite images that clearly showed wet rivers stretching as far as California. A meteorologist in Seattle maybe invented term, but debate remains as to which weather announcer said it first, according to San Francisco Bay Area meteorologist Jan Null.

The media are often responsible for both creating and popularizing new weather terms. The Herald of the North Kitsap in Washington was one of the first publications to use the “snow pocalypse” after a storm in 2008. The Washington Post and other national publications spread the term “Snowmageddon” during the major snowstorms that hit the east coast in 2010.

Sometimes it can just be meteorologists looking for a shorter way to tell an often complex weather phenomenon.

“Snowmaggedon” and “snowpocalypse” are too informal and imprecise to appear in the American Meteorological Society’s meteorological glossary, but the media have used these terms in the past to describe snowstorms that hit the east coast. (Jacob Byk / The Wyoming Tribune Aigle via AP)

“As scientists, we love shorthand too,” said Ankur Desai, professor and department chair at the University of Wisconsin – Madison’s Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences. “Forecasters, in particular, need to have the means to communicate complex ideas with simple words.

“Many of them came out familiarly. Some of them date back to the days of discussions about weather forecasts as they were teletyped, ”said Desai, who is also deputy editor of the American Meteorological Society Glossary of Meteorology.

The Meteorology glossary is the American Meteorological Society’s attempt to standardize and clarify meteorological terms for scientists and the public.

“The main purpose of the glossary is to be science-specific so that we can all be on the same page,” Desai said.

The Meteorology glossary is a collaborative effort, so members of the weather community will contact Ward Seguin, Glossary Editor, when a new word appears and needs to be added and defined.

Committees within the American Meteorological Society then review the word, looking at criteria such as how often the term is used in academic articles or by journalists and whether the word has an agreed definition.

“Sometimes committees reject the term simply because it is not that commonly used or there is not enough agreement on the meaning of the term, or it is really a very familiar term that has of importance but maybe not for something like the American Meteorological Society glossary, ”Desai said.

Some words like snowmageddon never appear in the glossary because they don’t have weather standards, he said.

On July 21, 2012, a large haboob swept through downtown Phoenix. Derived from Arabic, a haboob is a large sandstorm that can create a “wall of dust,” according to the American Meteorological Society’s Glossary of Meteorology. (Ross D. Franklin / Associated press kit)

Ross D. Franklin

But others like Pineapple Express or Texas Norther, an arctic cold front that drops temperatures quickly and dramatically, will be included as they describe a specific weather phenomenon that meteorologists are tracking.

The Meteorology glossary has evolved a lot since the publication of its first edition in 1959.

The same goes for many terms used by meteorologists.

Desai recently found old hard copies of the Meteorology glossary and recognized few of the terms meteorologists used at the time.

“There were all kinds of words in there that I had no idea what they were,” he said. “There was a very specific and unique weather phenomenon that no one calls that way anymore.”

In recent years, scientists have moved from Pineapple Express to “atmospheric rivers” to more accurately describe the precipitation carried in long, thin streams from the tropics to the Pacific coast.

“We’re trying to take out some of that slang and go more with the scientific terminology,” Colton said.

While haboob and cyclone bomb may sound like slang, they aren’t.

A haboob is a large sandstorm that can create a “wall of dust” several thousand feet high. The word is derived from the Arabic word habb which means “to blow”, according to the Meteorology glossary.

A bomb cyclone refers to a rotating storm that quickly loses pressure, often producing heavy precipitation and fast winds.

Desai said meteorologists are not completely deviating from popular terms, but “there has certainly been a demand to make the terms clearer.”

Like their genesis, it is difficult to trace the disappearance of meteorological terms.

Years from now, meteorologists may look back and wonder what forecasters meant by Sierra Cement or Pineapple Express.

“It’s a natural evolution,” Desai said.

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