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Rudi Kiefer: A weather lesson useful at any age
Rudi Kiefer

Teaching is a learning experience for the teacher as well as the students. This is especially true when one works with a group of young children, as I did at Brenau’s Child Development Center two weeks ago. The perception and memory of 5-year-olds resemble a collection of short anecdotes, like a series of very short Youtube videos. As I was explaining how the weather works in Georgia, a picture of hurricane Florence (2018) generated excitement. Shouts of “Rain!”, “Tsunami!”, “Hurricane!” and “Climate Change!” were competing for the teacher’s attention.  It’s a reflection of the confusion that persists even among college students. One phenomenon, like climatic change, isn’t responsible for every natural hazard.

Making a quick change in the planned content, I explained that tsunamis come from the ocean, just like the waves produced by a hurricane. But the two aren’t related. A tsunami is produced by an earthquake. Rattle a tub of water, and ripples form on the surface.  The same is true for an ocean when an underwater quake shakes the seafloor. Human activity, carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution have nothing to do with it. The tsunami disasters in Indonesia (2004) and Japan (2011) were caused by weaknesses in the earth’s solid crust, which is only a few miles thick underneath oceans. Hurricanes form in the atmosphere, unrelated to the activity of the planet’s building blocks. The common cause why so many people are hurt and homes are destroyed by both phenomena is the ongoing movement of population to the coast. We don’t get tsunamis at Georgia’s coastline, but storms can create trouble.

At kindergarten level, that’s sufficient detail. North Georgia isn’t near the ocean, so the kids are more likely to experience lightning storms, and they may never feel an earthquake here. It’s never too early to teach prudent behavior, so I showed them my thunderstorm pictures and explained that I really wasn’t safe photographing lightning outside in pouring rain. A picture of a tree with a black burn mark, running all the way down the trunk and ending in a massive charred hole near the base, was graphic enough. They all understood what can happen when one seeks shelter under a tree. To reinforce the point, the children had fun practicing a chant that’s useful for anybody, of any age, to remember: “When thunder roars – stay indoors”.

Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor at Brenau University, teaching physical and health sciences on Brenau’s Georgia campuses and in China. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.

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