Is the End of the World 3 years from today in 2012? The big hit movie that is out called 2012 claims that the end of the world will be upon us exactly 3 years from today. There have been many end of the world movies over the years. I like the Koko the Clown animated short that shows Koko unsuccessfully keeping the world from destruction from the actions of Fitz the Dog…click the photo to the right for the film…it’s great. No, in 2012, there will be huge floods, a big planet crashing into the earth and the sun will burn us to a crisp among other things. This is all based on the Mayan calendar that ends on December 21, 2012. There’s even at least one website dedicated to helping you survive 2012. But, according to the National Geographic, it’s all nonsense. They point out that the Mayans had a long calendar that lasted 1,872,000 days or over 5125 years. But, according to the experts, the Mayan calendar does not mark the end of all time, but instead marks the time when the calendar simply rolls over to another enormous cycle.
Now, the movie has sparked fear around the globe with reports of people threatening suicide to avoid the trauma of the impending doom. Some women are said to have decided that they would kill their children and then commit suicide to spare the family from the fate of an apocalyptic world. So much anxiety has been brought forth that NASA dedicated an entire webpage to try and aleviate fears. However, back in 2006, NASA reported predictions that the current cycle of solar activity will peak soon. A lead scientist predicted that it would be in…2012. But others think its 2010 or 2011. It is supposed to be the biggest burst of solar activity in 50 years. Many people think that climate change is connected to solar activity, so this should add to the debate.
Who knows what will happen 3 years from now…we don’t even know what’s going to happen this year except that one thing is for certain…
December 21, 2009 is the start of Winter, or the Winter Solstice. It starts at 17:47 UTC or 17:47 Z. That is 12:47 pm EST. That is when the earth is positioned such that the sun shines directly over 23.5 degree south latitude, which is the Tropic of Capricorn. Actually, I think its 23 degrees and 27 minutes south latitude. The day is the longest in the Southern Hemisphere and the shortest of the Northern Hemisphere. So, why is it the beginning of winter in the Northern Hemisphere? It’s because the earth’s atmosphere has lots of water vapor. What has that got to do with anything? Well, the heat capacitance of water is rather high so it takes a while for it to warm up and cool down. Think of a pot of water. When you add heat to the stove, the water doesn’t boil immediately, it takes awhile to heat up. When you remove the heat, it doesn’t cool right away but takes awhile to return to room temperature. Same with the earth. When the radition of the sun is decreased, it takes awhile for that part of the earth to cool down. From this point forth, the Northern Hemisphere will start receiving a more concentrated dose of solar radiation, but it will take a few months for the atmosphere to react. Hence, spring does not come until around March 21 when the sun’s radiation is generally perpendicular to the equator. NASA explains fully the seasons.
The same principal holds for weather conditions with regard to geography or local atmospheric conditions. In the desert, it is not uncommon for there to be a 40 degree difference in day and night temperatures. But, along the coastal regions, there can be as little as a 5 degree difference between daily highs and lows. That is because in the desert, it is dry and along the coast there is an abundance of humidity levels, or moisture content in the air. That is why it is pretty tough for temperatures along the coast to hit 95 degrees or higher. It does happen but there has to be perfect conditions. People who talk about a place like New Orleans claims it gets to 95 degrees with 95% humidity. That is simply not pragmatically possible. But, what is quite frequent in New Orleans is a temperature of say 88 degrees with 60% humidity. The chart on the left indicates that would create a heat index of 95 degrees. Oh, it does happen from time to time in the middle east, particularly in the Persian Gulf. I think Ethiopia has the record highest dewpoint at 94 degrees. To make my point, if it were 115 degrees and the dewpoint was 94, the relative humidity would be about 54%.
Now, one should not confuse the solstice with the perihelion. The earth rotates about the sun, not in a circle, but instead in an eliptical orbit. The earth tilts on it’s axis at about 23.5 degrees and when it is near its closest, or the perihelion, it is tilted away from the sun. It’s seems counterintuitive for residents in the Northern Hemisphere, which is most of humanity, but the earth is closest to the sun not long after the winter solstice. The earth’s perihelion is around January 3 of each year, which one in Chicago would call the dead of winter. The aphelion is when the earth is about 152 million kilometers from the sun, or about 7 million kilometers more than it is at the perihelion. You have a different reason to celebrate the 4th of July now that you know that July 4 is the earth’s aphelion. I’ve always reasoned that nature shows its wisdom in this process. See, when the earth is at its closest, the landmass of the southern hemisphere is tilted toward the sun…the region of the earth that has far less landmass than the northern hemisphere. Perhaps we would suffer extreme global warming if the majority of landmass were closest to the sun when the tilt was toward the sun. True perfection, this planet of ours.
Weather Bottom Line: To begin Winter, the lower 48 of the United States has about a 52% snow cover. Louisville got a bit of a dusting late Sunday night. I typically do what weather guys do which is follow the Jackson Browne methodology and “forget about the losses and exaggerate the wins. But, I will break with tradition and tell you that I was a dunce. I did not see this little snow event. My guess is that it’s not because it wasn’t there and was a “surprise” as newscasters like to say when a forecast doesn’t come about. No, I believe that it was probably right there in the data and I simply missed it. I was a dunce. But, I am confident of victory regarding Christmas. It will not be a White Christmas. The big storm coming out of the southwest will pass to our west. We will have rain with steadily rising temperatures as we go through the week. As I had mentioned the other day, there was a weird push of cold air with the low remaining somewhat stationary to our northwest, which I believe is an indication that the low is going into it’s dying stage and we have an occlusion developing. But, I don’t think that will result in any significant snow and if anything does come about, it would be in the form of a dusting for Friday. But, after warming above seasonal levels by midweek, we go back below seasonal temperatures for next weekend.