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WeatherZine #6

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WeatherZine #6
Number 6, october 1997
"What's happening on the Societal Aspects of Weather WWW Site."

WeatherZine is a bi-monthly on-line and e-mail distribution newsletter for the Societal Aspects of Weather Site. It contains a summary of recent changes to the site (along with links to relevant sections), and news, events, and announcements of interest to the community.

WeatherZine, and its parent WWW site, accept and encourage the submission of activities, events, or links of interest to the community. You can use the on-line forms in the Feedback section or can send an email to with the item you would like to see posted on the site or included in the next issue of the Zine.


  1. Editorial
    • Cute and Fuzzy, Discrete and Destructive

  2. Community News
    • Spotlight on El Nino

  3. New Additions to the WWW Site:
    • A New El Nino Page
    • Emergency Management
    • General Public
    • Tropical Cyclone
    • People & organizations

  4. Subscribe Now!

[1] Editorial -- Cute and Fuzzy, Discrete and Destructive

If we are to understand research on the societal aspects of weather, we have to understand "the cute and fuzzy problem." By "the cute and fuzzy problem" I am referring to the frequent complaint of colleagues who work in the area of endangered species that the general public (and policymakers) only care about saving species that are cute and fuzzy, like bears, wolves, ferrets, etc. Those species that fail the cute and fuzzy test (e.g., frogs, insects, or fish) fail to capture public sympathy and therefore support for their protection.

In the world of research on the societal aspects of weather, it seems we have an analogous problem. Ours is not "cute and fuzzy" but instead" discrete and destructive." We in the atmospheric sciences and natural hazards communities tend to focus our attention on those phenomena and impacts that are easily characterized (i.e., discrete) and visually powerful (i.e., destructive). The examples are familiar: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, blizzards, etc.

Our attention to the discrete and destructive is appropriate given that these phenomena wreak havoc on society and, in many cases, our past responses have been less than successful. But, this attention can become problematical in two ways.

First, it is a problem when the attention focused on the discrete and destructive come at the expense of attention to phenomena that are perhaps less easily characterized or less visually powerful, yet nonetheless result in significant impacts to society. Examples include extreme heat and cold, fog, and even air quality. The examples go beyond extreme events to more typical weather: For instance, I was most surprised to learn that while many in the research community consider temperature forecasting to be a "solved" problem, many users of weather information in the private sector feel that enormous benefits could accrue with only modest improvements in temperature forecasts.

A second problem exists when we take phenomena that are not easily characterized or not visually powerful and try to force them into the "discrete and destructive" mold. It is a little like trying to make the cockroach seem "cute and fuzzy"! Perhaps the best recent example of this is the ongoing attention to the present El Nino. Many in the media, often encouraged by researchers, have painted the present El Nino as the "worst climate event" this century. Whether or not this is true is less important than the fact that policy responses to El Nino forecasts have much more in common with response to precipitation forecasts than hurricane forecasts (e.g., bring an umbrella but don't evacuate). So trying to make El Nino "discrete and destructive" could lead to confusion and hype that threaten both our ability to respond effectively and the credibility of the scientific community.

Just as with endangered species, we can expect that the public and policy makers will always focus on the "discrete and destructive." However, this need not sway us in the research community from focusing our efforts on problems and phenomena that are no less important but perhaps less "cute and fuzzy."

- Roger A. Pielke, Jr.

[2] Community News -- Spotlight on El Nino

El Nino of 1997-98 Could Resemble the Destructive 1982-83 Event

If you'd like to learn more about El Nino's impacts on the United States, check out the new page we have added on El Nino. For more general information on El Nino, check out the ENSO Colloquium site (

The following press release was issue by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency last month. WASHINGTON September 5, 1997 - The strong warm-episode oceanic conditions known as the "El Nino" is forecast by the National Climate Prediction Center to cause wetter and cooler than normal conditions over the northern Rockies and portions of the Great Plains and drier than normal conditions in the mid-Atlantic states. The High Plains and portions of the Midwest, on the other hand, will see a warmer than usual winter this winter because of the event. These conditions are expected to continue through the winter months of 1997 and into the early months of spring 1998.

The peak impacts from the El Nino are most likely to occur during the winter months, beginning in November, when a stronger than normal North Pacific jet stream is predicted to develop bringing above-normal precipitation to the southwestern states. Other areas of concern are the coastal areas of southern California (during the 1982-1983 event, Los Angeles received almost triple than normal amounts of rainfall) and the Gulf States.

Forecasters base their predictions on past El Nino events and anomaly patterns, which have remained highly consistent from episode to episode, especially when forecasts for the winter can begin to be formulated in the summer. This year's El Nino is most comparable to and could be even stronger than the 1982-1983 event, which caused more than $8 billion in damages worldwide. Forecasters called the 1982-1983 El Nino the greatest El Nino of the century and the 1997-1998 event could reach the same destructive level.

Damages to the continental United States exceeded $2 billion from storms and storm-related floods from the 1982-1983 El Nino with almost $1.2 billion in flood damages to the Gulf States alone. The Mountain and Pacific States had $1 billion in damages and Hawaii had $230 million in damages due to a hurricane which is partially blamed on the El Nino. The death toll from all the storms exceeded 160 people.

[3] New Additions to the WWW Site:

A New El Nino Page

This El Nino-Southern Oscillation page does not attempt to cover all available El Nino information. It does attempt, however, to link to sites dealing with the impacts of El Nino focusing on U.S. weather and extreme weather phenomena. Go Ahead, Check It Out!

Emergency Management

Disaster Relief ( Worldwide Disaster Aid and Information via the Internet. A joint effort of the American Red Cross, the IBM corporation, and CNN - offers much background information about disasters, disaster relief, and disaster preparedness, as well as news about ongoing and recent events. Moreover, it provides a means for locating worldwide disaster relief organizations and either soliciting or providing aid for specific disasters. During emergencies, it can provide referrals to means for reaching friends and family at risk, as well as referrals to sources of recovery assistance and support.

General Public - Current Events ( Disaster management Internet pioneer Art Botterell recently established this Web site, which includes a world map of recent (the last few days) disasters - click on the disaster and receive information about it. The site also includes a few of Art's insightful and provocative papers and musings on the Internet and disasters.

Coalition for Global Business Protection ( The Coalition's mission statement calls for developing a program that outlines the requirements for responsible, comprehensive disaster planning and management, and then disseminating the information to corporate management in an effort to upgrade corporate attention on the issue around the world.

Project Safeside - Keeping you ahead of the storm ( Project Safeside is a joint effort of The Weather Channel and the American Red Cross intended to educate individuals and families about meteorological hazards and to increase their recognition of the importance of preparing for natural disasters. The Safeside Web site includes information about extreme heat, flooding, hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, and the creation of a family disaster plan.

Tropical Cyclone

STORM97 Hurricane Central ( A complete resource covering the 1997 U.S. hurricane season.

People & Organizations

Millersville University of Pennsilvania, Social Research Group ( The mission of the Social Research Group (SRG) at Millersville University, Millersville, Pennsylvania, is to:

  • Study the Behavioral and Organizational Response to Disaster
  • Study the Impact of the Media on the Response to Disaster
  • Study and Assess Emergency Preparedness
  • Study and Assess Disaster Mitigation Activity
  • Contribute to the Dissemination of Knowledge Regarding Disaster Response, Preparedness, and Mitigation

[4] Subscribe Now!

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