Reader Q&A 9/1/16

Hi Alex, my daughter is majoring in Atmospheric Sciences. What advice would you give students studying meteorology?

Question from Aida Papazian

Hi there!  My best advice is to ask questions!  It’s a tough major with lots of math and science, and honestly there’s so much to learn in the field I don’t know if you can ever really “know it all.”  So keep reading, keep asking questions and keep yourself involved in organizations like the AMS or collegiate groups so you can learn from others.  And if she is interested in television meteorology, I’d suggest she complete an internship at a local station or work for the college tv station or newspaper to get communications experience.  Tell her good luck!!

Alex Wilson

Hi Alex. I would like to know if there is heat lighting or does there have to be a storm close by? Also I enjoy watching u on with every night, you make weather interesting.

Question from Don Stull

“Heat lightning” is a myth – you’re actually just seeing lightning from a thunderstorm very far away.  Thank you for the nice words!

Alex Wilson

To Alex Wilson: Do you think there will ever be a technology to determine which supercell thunderstorms will produce tornados and which ones won't?

Question from Jordan Burch

I think there is a lot of research being done on tornadic vs. non-tornadic supercells, so I’m hopeful one day we’ll be able to know.  But it’s still not certain now, which makes forecasting tricky at times!

Alex Wilson

Hello Alex. I'm an amateur radio operator and help out with weather related emergencies, especially when cell phone towers are down and people are trying to find out about their loved ones. Being just north of Huntsville, AL with all their tornadoes, there are a few that storm chase..Nothing like The Weather Channel...Question..Where is the line that chasing is too close? I see a lot of people chasing storms and sometimes they end up being too close..Thanks Rick Robbins K4YPS

Question from Rick Robbins

You are right that some people get too close.  In many cases it’s a personal decision but we like to work with knowledgeable meteorologists who know to stay in safe viewing locations.

Alex Wilson

Alex, here's my question: It amazes me living in the Knoxville area, being originally from up north, the weather is so hot and humid in the summer months; however, it's so cold in the winter months. With that said, what's your 'humble' prediction for a great snowy winter in southeast Tennessee to offset the frigid temps? I promise to not hold you to your prognosis! David

Question from David Noël

Hahahah I like to think we’ll get one snow “event” this year in the southern states – didn’t have much last year… but who knows for sure.  It only takes one!

Alex Wilson

Alex-- I've lived in the mountains of Colorado (Silverthorne), and now live in Raleigh, NC. Why is it that in Colorado the snow is much lighter and "fluffier" than what little bit we get here in NC, which is generally heavy, wet slop on the rare occasions when we do get a few inches, and everyone freaks out over it? P.S. I've become very proficient at falling when I ski (think: yard sale!!), so falling in powder is much preferred!

Question from John Anderson

The liquid-to-snow ratio can be different – it’s not always the “average” 10:1.  When temperatures are very cold, you often times get that light, powdery snow with a very high liquid-to-snow ratio.  When temps are warmer, that’s when you’ll get the heavy, sloppy snow with a lower liquid-to-snow ratio.  You are right that different regions react differently to snow!  I lived in Syracuse and the reactions were much different to snow than here in the southern states!

Alex Wilson

We have had a relatively mild summer, with more rain than usual. Haven't reached 100F so far, 98F has been our top. That being said, what might we except for fall and even winter this year. Thank you Alex!!

Question from John DeGraff

The 3-month outlook from the Climate Prediction Center actually has the entire US in “above-average” temperature likelihood for the first time ever. So while there may be cool/cold snaps here and there, it’s expected that the overall trend will be for above-average temps.

Alex Wilson

Is there a way to become a meteorologist without having to go through all the math?

Question from Kevin Marrero

There are some “broadcast meteorology” certifications you can get but to be fully accredited and get the meteorology degree you have to do the math.  You can do it!

Alex Wilson

Would you ever go "storm chasing" ?

Question from Chrissy Coughlin

I would love to!

Alex Wilson

Alex, what got you into weather and meteorology? Do you have a mentor? I really love watching you on #WUTV. Thanks

Question from Pam weber

Hi there!  Thanks for the nice words!  I actually went to school (Syracuse University) to pursue a career in sports journalism, but a meteorologist came to speak to our class.  As I listened, I remember thinking “I do watch The Weather Channel a lot…”  That summer I did an internship at his station, and also got to work with his coworker Maria LaRosa (YUP! That Maria LaRosa!).  Both Maria and he have been great mentors – and now it’s so funny that I get to work with her!

Alex Wilson

Alex Wilson you asked for a question. My question is how do I tell the height of a weather system or clouds at my house. I do not have all the fancy toys that you have at The Weather Channel therefore I have no way to tell?

Question from Terry Foor

There are several great apps that will allow you to see the height of a storm – Radarscope is one that many of us here at TWC use.

Alex Wilson

Alex, with the Sun reaching its northern most point on June 21 or 22, why is August the hottest Month here in the Shenandoah Valley?

Question from Don Landes

Hi there!  There’s often a lag between the longest day/most sunlight and warmest average temps – the warmest average temperatures typically come a few weeks after the longest day.  The sun is still providing lots of energy and is high in the sky throughout those weeks.  The same goes for winter – the coolest average temps come after the shortest day for many locations.

Alex Wilson

Hi Alex, I love cold fronts, especially in the summer. I've noticed this year that the cold fronts are weak ones. The ones that clear out the humidity and lower the temps substantially for a couple of days are my favorites type. What determines what makes fronts weak or strong? Thank you!

Question from Brad Wanik

Summertime cold fronts don’t usually pack the punch of spring or fall fronts, so while they may bring a slight change they don’t often provide the HUGE contrasts of temps/dewpoints. The jet stream is usually positioned further north during the summer, but as we get to the transitional seasons (fall/spring) it shifts southward and those fronts are often stronger and can bring those drastic changes.

Alex Wilson

What college did you go to? And what one would you recommend?

Question from Tyler Knott

I went to Syracuse University and majored in Broadcast Journalism and Marketing.  But once I decided that weather was my passion, I went to Penn State and got a degree in Meteorology.  Penn State is a fantastic school for mets, but there are many others: Florida State, Oklahoma, Florida, Georgia and Georgia Tech (just to name a few!!).

Alex Wilson

Is it fact or just an old wives tale that tornadoes cannot form in a hilly or mountainous region.

Question from Anna DuBois

Old wives tale!  Tornadoes can (and do) affect hilly and mountainous regions.

Alex Wilson

Alex, because of a strong cold front about to sweep the United States will this temper any future tropical development?

Question from Raymond Rickley Jr.

Fronts and troughs can help to guide the movement of tropical systems this time of year, but it won’t inhibit development.  In fact, we’re currently watching two TD’s near the US coast as well as a new wave coming off of Africa.

Alex Wilson

What advice would you offer to someone looking into the career of meteorology?

Question from Emilee Ney

Take in as much information as you can – watch The Weather Channel (our experts teach something every time they’re on-air), read about weather and take any and all meteorology, math and science classes as you can.  You’ll find when you get to college that the Meteorology major is very heavy in math and physics!  Also, involve yourself in a communications club or class if you’re looking to do broadcast meteorology.

Alex Wilson

As a weather enthusiast I've always been fascinated by the forecasting aspect of it. What is the most challenging part of forecasting?

Question from Jackson Mitchell

Probably winter weather – trying to forecast the different precip types (rain/freezing rain/sleet/snow) can be VERY difficult!

Alex Wilson

Hi Alex, I wanted to see if you knew, why we miss out on the rain that comes through Elberton, we are close to the lake, would that have anything to do with it?

Question from Catherine Bradford

Hi Catherine!  It seems like this year the showers and storms have been scattered across the SE – here in Atlanta I’ve noticed there are many days where we’ve missed out. I don’t think the lake would cause a difference – more that we have not had many widespread rain events across north GA.

Alex Wilson

What's your favorite part about being a meteorologist? (Freshman in college on track to becoming a meteorologist here)

Question from Jayse McCallister

Every day is different!  There can be similar patterns or storms but each day presents something unique.  Also, I LOVE working here at TWC because I’m surrounded by the best-of-the best!  It’s great getting to talk weather with so many experts and people who are as fascinated as I am!  PS GOOD LUCK!

Alex Wilson

When a named tropical storm that forms in the Atlantic/Caribbean crosses over to the Pacific and reforms/strengthens again, does it get a new name?

Question from Dean Schankin

Hi Dean!  If the system remains a tropical cyclone as it passes from the Atlantic to the Pacific, then it keeps its name.  If it dissipates and the remnant circulation reforms into a tropical cyclone, then it gets a new name.

Alex Wilson, On-Camera Meteorologist

What are some good things to do now to start getting to know the job of a meteorologist? I am 14 and need a bit of guidance on how to become one. Thank you!

Question from Gwen Fieweger

Hi Gwen!  In school you’ll want to take all of the math and science (particularly physics) classes that you can.  You’ll find once you get to college that the Meteorology major is very math/science heavy.  If your school has some kind of communications program (TV station, newspaper), get involved in it — that experience will get you comfortable writing and/or broadcasting.  Finally, read and take in as much weather information as you can!  Honestly, watching The Weather Channel is a great way to learn – our amazing experts are always teaching the audience!

Alex Wilson, On-Camera Meteorologist

Join the Discussion


  1. When are we going to get snow is in North West Missouri? And I feel very sorry for the families that were burned out do to the wildfires that lost everything.

  2. Hi Alex, The thing I wonder the most about weather is thinking of the massive rain in La. lately, how does all that water get into the clouds, what keeps it there, and what triggers the release of it?
    Tell Mike B. that Jym Ganal just retired. He was the Channel 4 weather man.

  3. When they talk about climate change, which I believe exists due to measurable amounts of greenhouse gases increasing in our atmosphere, how does that relate to the extremes in our weather? I’ve noticed that there is no more spring and fall either excessive heat or frigid cold as well as extreme drought or flooding rain,

  4. Why doesn’t the weather service offer advanced spotter training anymore. The last spotter class I was to was weak. The best spotter class I was to was 15 years ago in Tucson, AZ. Since then they have all been the same, weak.

  5. Hey Alex, as a budding weather geek, I’ve always wondered what storm chasing was like and in the past few months I’ve been pondering tornadoes. I saw the movie The Day After Tomorrow and the part where the tornadoes were in L.A and the chopper was able to glide through the air like nothing. But in a real tornado, isn’t the air too unstable for a helicopter to travel safely through air?

  6. I always wanted to know, what gives clouds there different shade (colors). Was wonder if it had anything to to with the different moisture content that the clouds may be holding.

  7. I hope this question has not actually been asked before, but I wondered about the significance of mb’s (millibars).I notice that they are discussed a lot when forecasting hurricanes and perhaps tornadoes.

  8. Since light travels at 186,000 miles per second, you see the lightning the instant it flashes. But sound, including thunder, travels about a mile in five seconds near the ground. If 15 seconds elapse between seeing a lightning bolt and hearing its thunder, the lightning was about three miles away.
    -from google

  9. I work at a golf course and spend a lot of time in the weather. I get customers that ask me the best way to judge the distant of lighting. What is the best answer other than get indoors?

    1. Let them know, if they can see it, they are too close. Living in Florida since 1956, I know what I am talking about.

    2. One time it was really windy and very stormy. We were right next to a golf course and suddenly we heard this siren. I knew it wasn’t a tornado siren due to the shortness of it but it was the golf course telling the players to come inside.

    3. When you see the strike, start counting the seconds. When you hear the thunder stop counting, divide that number by 5. And that will roughly give you the miles from the storm. (15 seconds ÷5=3miles)

  10. I’ve noticed that after a snow storm, or an outbreak of thunderstorms, that the sky is so extremely the most vivid blue , and is so beautiful. Why is that?