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For millennia seafarers adhere to the adage, “Red sky at night, sailors’ delight; red sky in the morning sailors take warning.” This proverb has old roots. It appears in Matthew 16:2-3 which quotes Jesus, “When it is evening, ye say, It will be fair weather: for the sky is red. And in the morning, It will be foul weather to day: for the sky is red and lowering.”

During the renaissance in 1643, Evangelista Torricelli recognizes that air has weight. He invents the barometer for measuring atmospheric pressure. In the late 19th century, recording barometric pressure enables short-term weather forecasting. As Ambrose Bierce notes, “A barometer is an ingenious instrument that indicates what kind of weather we are having.” Storms form in areas of low atmospheric pressure.

Nowadays, weather forecasters track atmospheric parameters of wind velocity, pressure, humidity, temperature, visibility, cloudiness and precipitation. They use radar to pinpoint impending bad weather. Tagging severe weather conditions by referencing a 30-year average for a location becomes common practice. Tornados (EF2 and above) lay waste within their paths in minutes. Weather conditions last minutes to months, whereas climate change takes decades. The past 40 years see tornado activity diminishing in the Great Plains while growing in the eastern U.S.

The most destructive storm on record transpires 18 March 1925 with the tri-state tornado winding 219 miles across Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana. On 10-11 December 2021, warm weather spawns the quad-state tornado. It cuts a swath of destruction through Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Kentucky.

Beginning with the industrial revolution until now, accumulating carbon dioxide promotes new weather patterns. Present carbon dioxide levels register about 50% higher than those of preindustrial times. Pent up atmospheric heat from greenhouse gases dissipates by uneven warming of earth’s surface. Added heat evaporates extra water and fuels greater storm intensities. Expect a substantial increase in widespread weather extremes going forward.

Roger Combs


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