When I was a little boy, weather forecasts on the black & white TV were different than on today’s internet. In the late 1950s, the privilege of explaining the weather was reserved for males. Never mind scientists of that time like Rosalind Franklin discovering the structure of DNA, or Moira Dunbar investigating Arctic glaciers and pack ice. On TV, scientists were male, standing at a whiteboard and drawing weather symbols over an outline of the continent to explain what was happening.
To me, 4 years old, it looked like a reading game. Letters and cloud symbols appeared on the board, similar to the alphabet books that were the focus of my studies back then. On the book pages, “B” was always associated with “Bear”, and “Z” came with some kind of striped horse. On the TV weather board, the “H” was followed by the man’s quick sketch of a sun and its rays. The other letter, the “T” (“Tief” instead of “Low” — this was in Germany) invariably brought a little cloud and some hatch marks indicating rain. A scary moment always came when he drew a curved line. It wasn’t a smiley face because it had a threatening set of teeth at its bottom. My father sometimes confirmed the hazard by mumbling something about a “monster storm coming”.
Today’s weather charts still use these symbols. The mouth of the monster, less scary now 6 decades later, is a cold front. Along a line, often in blue, barbs show the direction of its movement. Cold fronts are nothing but the edges of a bubble of cold, dry air. But they can do scary things by kicking warm, moist Georgia air up into the sky, which can build massive storm clouds and bring heavy rain and even hail.
My favorite, back in 1959, were the H’s. High pressure means air is sinking down from a few miles of altitude. This makes it get warmer and drier, allowing for ample sunshine. When the H is located offshore, east of Georgia’s coastline, we can expect muggy summer weather because the airflow around a high is clockwise. This means air from Albany and Thomasville coming to North Georgia. Lows tend to be smaller. But the letter L on the map still means rising air, with stormy weather. Frequently a cold front looking like a monster’s mouth is nearby as well, frightening 4-year-old kids somewhere.
Rudi Kiefer, Ph.D., is a professor emeritus of physical science at Brenau University. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com.