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Haven't The Foggiest

Is it a hurricane? Or just hurricane-force winds? What counts as a heatwave? Was 2014 the “coldest winter for 100 years”? Test your knowledge and arm yourself with the facts so you’re not caught without an umbrella the next time sensational weather stories start raining down.

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  1. 1. Which of these is a real weather term?

    Dennis Hill (CC BY 2.0)
    Willy-willy
    Chinny-chinny
    Dusty-dusty
    Nosey-nosey
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Also known as a ‘dust devil’, a willy-willy is a vortex of dust formed by wind. (Source: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/learn-about-the-weather/weather-phenomena/willy-willy)

    Via Christopher (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  2. 2. What is the definition of a monsoon?

    At least 3 days of heavy rain
    At least 4 days of heavy rain and winds of 35mph+
    A seasonal wind shift
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    A monsoon is a seasonal wind shift that mostly occurs in tropical parts of the world, not just a period of heavy rainfall as it often seems to be dubbed in the media. Monsoons commonly occur in India, East Africa and South-East Asia. These wind shifts, which persist for months, can bring moist air from the sea to land which leads to “monsoon rains”. However some monsoons are dry and can cause droughts. (Source: http://education.nationalgeographic.org/encyclopedia/monsoon/)

  3. 3. What is a blizzard?

    Snow with winds or gusts at 35mph+
    Snow that frequently reduces visibility to <1/4 of a mile
    Continuous snow for 3+ hours
    All of the above
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    All 3 of the criteria must be met for such a weather formation to count as a blizzard. (Source: http://glossary.ametsoc.org/wiki/Blizzard)

    Via Anthony Quintano (CC BY 2.0)
  4. 4. How often is London hotter than Athens?

    About once a week
    About once a month
    About once a year
    About once a decade
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    We frequently see headlines like “UK hotter than [somewhere that sounds hot]”. Greece, Spain and other Mediterranean locations are popular targets, and sometimes Australia is mentioned (where it is usually winter AND night time). There are so many places to choose from that you could write a headline like this most days. For more details on this, get in touch with enquiries[at]senseaboutscience.org.

  5. 5. When was the UK last hit by a hurricane?

    Paul Townsend (CC BY-ND 2.0)
    October 1987 (the “Great Storm”)
    October 1987 (the “Great Storm”)
    August 2014 (Bertha)
    August 2014 (Bertha)
    October 2015 (Joaquin)
    October 2015 (Joaquin)
    Never
    Via Wikicommons
    Never
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    The UK is often hit by strong storms, some with hurricane-force winds (>74mph). However the UK has never been hit by a hurricane and probably never will be. Hurricanes are tropical storms that only form in the tropics and are much stronger than anything we experience. They get their energy from warm seas, and can produce half-a-metre of rain in a day (roughly equivalent to London’s rainfall in a year) and wind gusts over 200 mph. Sometimes these storms head towards the UK, but when moving across the cooler North Atlantic, they lose much of their energy (fortunately for us). Sometimes they will still be known as ‘ex-hurricane XXXX’, but this is for ease of reference rather than because they are any more significant than other storms we experience. (More information on hurricanes: http://blog.metoffice.gov.uk/2013/10/26/the-severe-storm-this-weekend-and-why-its-not-a-hurricane/)

  6. 6. What is the minimum speed of a hurricane-force wind?

    About as fast as a:
    David Saddler (CC BY 2.0)

    Horse
    Via Coen Dijkman (CC BY-SA 2.0)
    Horse
    Pronghorn antelope
    Via U.S. Department of Agriculture (CC BY 2.0)
    Pronghorn antelope
    Cheetah
    Via Michael Moss (CC BY-ND 2.0)
    Cheetah
    Greyhound
    Via saris0000 )CC BY-ND 2.0)
    Greyhound
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Hurricane-force winds come in at a whopping 74mph, about as fast as a cheetah. But remember, just because the winds are hurricane-force it doesn’t mean it’s a hurricane! (More info on hurricanes: http://blog.metoffice.gov.uk/2013/10/26/the-severe-storm-this-weekend-and-why-its-not-a-hurricane/; http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/weather/tropicalcyclone/hurricane)

  7. 7. Headlines have told us that 2012, then 2014 were to be the coldest winters in Britain for 100 years. Both were wrong. So when was the coldest UK winter in the last 100 years?

    1946-1947
    Via Julia Rubinic (CC BY 2.0)
    1946-1947
    1962-1963
    Via Gene Bowker (CC BY-ND 2.0)
    1962-1963
    1978-1979
    Via Wystan (CC BY 2.0)
    1978-1979
    2009-2010
    Via Junya Ogura (CC BY 2.0)
    2009-2010
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Beginning in December and lasting until March, the UK experienced its coldest winter for over 200 years in 1962-1963, and it is still the coldest winter recorded since 1740. Temperatures dropped below -20 degrees, lakes and rivers froze over, animals starved, and villages were cut off. Visit the MET office website to find out more (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/learn-about-the-weather/weather-phenomena/case-studies/severe-winters).

    Via rstrawser (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  8. 8. Which of these is a real weather term?

    Dennis Hill (CC BY 2.0)
    Sharknado
    Fogstorm
    Flurrycane
    Thundersnow
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Although relatively rare, thundersnow is the term given when a thunderstorm produces snow. Thunderstorms require a lot of energy (usually hot air) and so they rarely form in winter. (Sources: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/learn-about-the-weather/thunder-and-lightning/thundersnow; http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2009/03/090303-thunder-snow-storm.html)

    Via anokarina (CC BY-SA 2.0)
  9. 9. What is the definition of a heatwave?

    “When the temperature is higher than the average maximum temperature for the time of year by…
    Kerrie Brailsford (CC BY-SA 2.0)

    …5 degrees for 5 consecutive days”
    …5 degrees for 7 consecutive days”
    …10 degrees for 1 day”
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    We often hear a a spell of hot weather called a ‘heatwave’. But if it doesn’t match the criteria above then strictly speaking it can’t be classed as a heatwave. (Source: http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/learning/learn-about-the-weather/weather-phenomena/heatwave)

  10. 10. What does an '80% chance of rain' mean?

    Benjamin Stäudinger (CC BY-ND 2.0)
    There is an 80% likelihood that it will rain
    There will be rain in 80% of that area
    There will be rain for 80% of the time
    Correct!
    Wrong!

    Meteorologists use models to make predictions about the weather and these are improving all the time. However, weather is very unpredictable at small scales (e.g. it might be raining on one side of a town but not the other), so even the most advanced models can’t be 100% certain. Visit the Met office website to find out more about their modelling systems for forecasts (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/modelling-systems), and read our ‘Making Sense of Uncertainty’ guide to find out more about the role of uncertainty in science (http://bit.ly/1ZlUsf4).

Haven't The Foggiest

Drizzle

We don’t want to rain on your parade, but you may want to brush up on your meteorological know-how. Not to worry, you can check out the Met office website (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather) for some clarity, or contact Sense About Science at enquiries[at]senseaboutscience.org with your weather questions and we can get in touch with a scientist on your behalf!

Drizzle
superscheeli (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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Foggy

Not bad but don’t turn off your fog lights just yet! If you want to brush up on your weather knowledge why don't you check out the MET office website (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather). Not found what you're looking for? Contact Sense About Science (enquiries[at]senseaboutscience.org) with any terms that you think are being misused or are made up and we can contact scientists to find out!

Foggy
J P (CC BY 2.0)
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Sunny spell

Nice! Your weather knowledge is pretty bright with just the odd patch of cloud. Why not have a scroll through the MET office website (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather) for those terms you’re not so familiar with.

Sunny spell
Andreas Wienemann (CC BY 2.0)
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Steam devil

Amazing! You have breezed through our weather quiz, but keep an eye out. Tomorrow there could be a flurry of misused or fake terms on the headline horizon. If you see any terms that you're not sure of, either check the MET office website (http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/public/weather), or get in touch with Sense About Science (enquiries[at]senseaboutscience.org) and we can put any questions you have to a meteorologist.

Steam devil
Marcelo Albuquerque (CC BY-ND 2.0)
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Double rainbow

Fantastic! You stormed through our weather quiz, so here’s a fun fact for you – the second rainbow of a double has the colours in an inverted order. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

Double rainbow
Serge Melki (CC BY 2.0)
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