Weather Words

It’s said that the Inuit have 400 different words for snow. Whether it’s true or not is hotly debated, however, so much so that am not entirely comfortable passing the information along to my innocent readers. But there’s a good reason why it seems so plausible that it’s been making the rounds since long before the dawn of the Internet Rumor Mill. The truth is, weather has always been and will continue to be a vitally important part of our lives, no matter who we are, where we are or what we do.
And hence, there are lots of interesting and obscure terms for weather phenomena that are fun to know and might just come in handy one day. If not when discussing your local forecast, then during a soon-to-be-unfriendly game of Scrabble. Here’s a few to get you started.

Haboob: This is worth knowing for its funny sound alone. Say it aloud a couple times; I’ll wait. You can’t help smiling, can you? It sounds like an Arabic insult, doesn’t it? “Ali, you great gallumphing haboob, you! You’ve spooked my camel!”
Okay, but what is a haboob? In a nutshell: a sandstorm, a bad one. A haboob forms and moves ahead of a thunderstorm in an arid region, most commonly in the Middle East, Saharan Africa, the US Southwest, and the desert regions of Australia. The wall of dust appears with little warning and advances quickly, (up to sixty miles per hour) filling the air with particles of all sizes, damaging cars and buildings and injuring the skin, eyes and respiratory tract of anybody foolish enough or unlucky enough to be caught out in it without a mask and goggles. Though the storm cloud is just behind the haboob, the rain usually evaporates before it hits the ground. However, when the rain does fall, the water is mixed with dust and you now have a mudstorm.

Virga: Yes, there’s even a name for weather that doesn’t happen. Remember just above when I mentioned that during the haboob the rain usually evaporates before it can fall? That’s virga. It happens often, especially in desert areas. It even happens in Antarctica, with snow instead of rain.

Derecho: I first encountered this Spanish word this very morning. A derecho is a powerful, very wide and fast-moving storm system notable for it’s straight-line winds that can reach 100 miles per hour. A derecho is at work in the Mid-Atlantic states right now, or soon will be. Despite the fact that the term is not often heard on the news, derechos are fairly common, and account for more wind damage than their better-known, rotating cousins, the tornadoes.

The Whispering of the Stars: This pretty, poetic phrase is the English translation of a native Siberian term. Siberia is one of the coldest continuously-inhabited places in the world. Winter temperatures routinely drop to eighty below, and ninety below is not unheard of. At such frigid temperatures, steel shatters like glass, skin freezes instantly, and supply-truck drivers in the remote region light fires directly beneath their trucks to thaw the engine blocks, and once they get the motor going, they don’t dare turn it off again.
Also in this extreme cold, if you do go outside and listen carefully, you’ll hear a soft tinkling sound. It is your own breath, freezing into tiny droplets of ice as soon as you exhale, those drops falling to the frozen ground, tinkling as they go. It’s seeing your breath but with added audio effects.
Just don’t stand out there listening to your breath for very long.


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