Monday, December 2nd, 2019

The new language of weather

The United States was tied up in winter weather over the Thanksgiving weekend just ended, from torrential rain in the West to ice and snow in the Midwest to cold winds in the East. Traffic, airports and family travel plans all seemed to be snarled, or worse.

Nothing new there — weather messes things up all year long, especially as the calendar hits December, wherever you are in the Northern Hemisphere. What’s new is the kind of weather we’re experiencing, along with the growing list of weather terms being used by meteorologists to describe it.

It’s not simply a matter of coining new words. No doubt, weather experts must tire of the relatively limited vocabulary of quotidian forecasts: wind, rain, snow, sleet, hail, clouds, sunshine, fog and all the rest. What’s driving the new verbiage are actual shifts in the weather itself — exacerbated, if not caused, by a changing climate.

I’ve been collecting these terms, as befits a self-described “word guy” who revels in new coinages and usage cases. (Most of them, at least. I’m still grappling with such linguistic manglings as “gendering,” “efforting,” “glamping,” “listicle” and “worstest,” among others. But I digress.)

Here in California, we’ve had a series of heavy downpours over the past week — up to half a foot in some areas. It is a much-needed drenching to quell, finally, another season of hellacious wildfires — not to mention blanket the Sierra mountains to the east in several feet of snow, helping ensure our drinking water supply for the coming year (and a happy ski season for some). The rain and snow will continue well into the coming week, say forecasters, a blessing in this parched state (if you don't count the resulting mudslides).

But these days, it’s no longer just garden variety precipitation. Over the weekend, an atmospheric river led to flooding in some parts of California, while a bomb cyclonethe result of something called bombogenesis, wreaked havoc on the plans of some holiday travelers.

Say what?

In this week’s column, I explain seven newfangled weather terms you need to know. To read on, click here.


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Melina Polly, CEO and co-founder (along with actor Michelle Pfeiffer) of fragrance startup Henry Rose.