Posts Tagged ‘Weather’

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Adiabatic—a what?

October 28, 2014

If you listen to the explanations given by weather forecasters, you may have heard the word adiabatic.

No, it’s not a disease related to blood sugat—that has a BET in the middle, not a BAT.

Instead, it is one very cool reason that storms suddenly pop up out of a clear sky in the desert.

Adiabatic cooling or warming happens when the pressure on a blob of air increases or decreases. When desert air hits a mountainside and rushes up the mountain, the air expands, gets “thinner” and cools as it rises to a higher elevation.

This means that if there is any moisture in the air, there is less energy to keep it suspended, so the moisture is more likely to condense, and form rain.

The opposite happens when air flows downslope—it warms as the pressure increases because the molecules are closer together and bump into each other more.

Adiabatic air activity over mountains

Maybe that is one reason that places east of mountains in North America are often more warm and dry than places to the west of mountains. Not only does the moisture get wrung out of the air on the western upslope, even very wet air from the ocean, but following that, some of the moisture on the downslope gets absorbed back into the falling, compressing, warming air.

Cool!

Or rather, cool, then warmer and drier!

 

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A Dry Heat

June 29, 2011

The joke is, in the Sonoran desert, even though it’s 114, it’s a dry heat.

The idea being that with very low humidity, amazingly, under 5 percent at times, the heat is easier to bear.

114, an average high for a few days each summer, is still bad enough, but given how few trees and other shelter there is in the desert, it’s almost always a sunny heat during the daytime, which adds another 7 to 10 degrees.

All plants and animals and people that live in the desert need to be built or adapt in some way to survive these extreme temperatures.

The hottest time of year is a few days before the summer Solstice on June 21, and a few weeks after that. Then the average daily temperature starts going down again, very very gradually.

A few weeks after the solstice is also the time when the summer monsoons really get going. The standard definition of monsoon season is the change in the wind, but in the desert, the important thing is that the monsoon usually brings moisture and finally rain from the Gulf of California and the Gulf of Mexico.

And of course, when the humidity goes up and the rains start, it’s still over 100 degrees in the desert. And it’s no longer a dry heat.

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Leafing again: the strange case of the ocotillo

August 6, 2010

One of the odder native residents of the Sonoran desert is the ocotillo bush. It typically consists of several spindly branches, vertically striped and spiny, up to 20 feet tall, that are leafless for long periods, only to sprout thick lines of small leaves within a few days after a rain.

Ocotillo branches with few leaves

Ocotillo branches with few leaves

Its desert adaptation of dropping leaves and playing possum is so complete that ocotillo plants for sale, in their leafless phase, with their branches tied in a bundle and roots bare, look thoroughly dead.

Ocotillo branches with many leaves

Ocotillo branches with many leaves


In the spring, they produce numerous red tubular blossoms at the ends of the branches that attract insects and birds of many species. They make great landscape plants because of their sparse sculptural look, and extremely low water requirements, and striking seasonal changes.