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Q&A: It's all about heat capacity

It's all about the heat capacity

Why does 71 degrees air temperature feel nice and warm, but 71 degrees water temperature feel real cold when you're first trying to get in?

We ran this one by Dr. Jeff Masters, director for meteorology at Weather Underground, which supplies some of the daily weather information in the Times and on He writes:

"Body temperature is 98.6 degrees, so any temperature below that will take heat out of the body. Water does it much faster, since there are a lot more water molecules packed against your skin to take heat away than there are for a gas (air) when it is against your skin.

"Thus, we say water has a higher 'heat capacity' than air."

Hurricane season was busy

This hurricane season started out like it would be a really bad one, but seemed to kind of fizzle. How does it rank in history against other seasons?

While it may not seem that way to some people because Florida wasn't hit by any hurricanes or even threatened often, it's been an extremely busy hurricane season, which ends tomorrow.

There were 18 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes, which are Category 3 or higher. The 18 named storms ties 1969 as the sixth-busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record, according to Masters of Weather Underground. Only 2005, 1933, 1995, 1887 and 2010 had more named storms.

Masters pointed out in his blog that only 33 percent of the named storms reached hurricane strength, well below the usual 55 to 60 percent most years. He attributed the anomaly, at least in part, to the unusually dry and stable air over the Atlantic for most of the season.

Weather disasters costly

Someone told me the other day that there have been a lot of expensive weather disasters in the United States this year. Is that right?

Absolutely. Once again, we'll cite Weather Underground's Masters, who wrote recently that there have been 14 weather-related disasters in 2011 with damages of more than $1 billion.

Topping the list: The tornadoes that struck April 25-28, known as the 2011 Super Outbreak. More than 330 tornadoes were counted in the Midwest, South and Northeast. Alabama was especially hard-hit. Damage was estimated at $9 billion, and more than 300 people were killed.

Next was the tornado outbreak across the Midwest and South from May 21-26, which caused $8 billion in damage and killed about 180 people, most of them in Joplin, Mo.

Third was Hurricane Irene, which passed Florida to the east, then roared up the East Coast from Aug. 26-28. The storm made landfall in North Carolina, then New Jersey and again in New York. Damages were estimated at about $7.2 billion in damage and almost 50 people died.

Q&A: It's all about heat capacity 11/28/11 [Last modified: Monday, November 28, 2011 5:35pm]
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