Did you hear the one about the guy that goes to buy a suit?

downloadbadsuit twi

A man goes to a tailor to try on a new custom-made suit. The first thing he notices is that the arms are too long.

“No problem,” says the tailor. “Just bend them at the elbow and hold them out in front of you. See, now it’s fine.”

“But the collar is up around my ears!”

“It’s nothing. Just hunch your back up a little… No, a little more… That’s it.”

“But I’m stepping on my cuffs!” the man cries in desperation.

“Just bend you knees a little to take up the slack. There you go. Look in the mirror–the suit fits perfectly.”

So, twisted like a pretzel, the man lurches out onto the street. Reba and Florence see him go by.

“Oh, look,” says Reba, “that poor man!”

“Yes,” says Florence, “but what a beautiful suit.”

It started with James Pollard Espy, the Storm King, who, around the 1840s, proposed an explanation for the power and vertical uplift witnessed in thunderstorms: moist air is lighter and, therefore, more buoyant than dry air.  He accompanied his claim with an argument based on ideal gas laws that, it seemed, substantiated the claim that “gaseous vapor” was lighter and, therefore, convected up through drier air. However, the notion stood in sharp contrast to the people’s basic senses. Everybody, it seemed, felt that warm, moist air was heavier than dry air, not lighter.  Additionally ideal gas laws are only applicable to–you guessed it–ideal gasses.  It was well-known that H2O is not an ideal gas and, in fact, only becomes a gas above 212 degrees F, and the atmosphere rarely got above 100 degrees.  Some suggested that maybe we should measure, just to be sure.  But scales with the high degree of precision necessary to measure the weight of such small traces of gas were not as common back then as they are now.  Espy dissuaded them from these concerns by pointing out that without this explanation we don’t have any other way to explain how moisture travels up high in the sky to produce clouds.  With that everybody’s objections were overcome.  The notion just made too much sense to not be correct, they assured themselves.

Then people started noticing a long flat layer no more than a thousand feet above the ground.  This layer was prominent during calm weather conditions and was especially evident on the mornings of windless nights.  There was no denying that the section below was the more moist, seemingly a direct contradiction to the previously agreed upon notion that moist air was lighter and would, therefore, convect up through dry air.  By this time there was a whole collective of people that had followed in Espy’s footsteps.  They had long since begun referring to themselves as meteorologists. Knowing their status as predictors of future weather was in jeopardy if they didn’t find a resolution to this discrepancy they conferred among themselves.  One of them mentioned that the layer that sat atop the moist layer was often (not always) warmer than the layer below, itself being a contradiction to the normal tendency of air to get cooler with height.  “That’s it,” one of them declared.  The warmer layer must act as a cap, presenting a surface that defies the upward movement of more buoyant moist air.  Others objected. Even then it was known that of the four states of matter (solid, liquid, gas, and plasma) one property that distinguished a gas from all others was that it did not have a surface and/or surface tension. However, by this time the methods of consensus were well established among meteorologists, having no other option they ignored these objections and decreed the discovery of inversion layers and ordained them as the agents of atmospheric stability.

There were, of course, grumblings with the emplacement of such an artificial notion into the working principles of the young scientific discipline.  But these gradually subsided as they began to realize its residual benefits.  Another observation that had been problematic for the notion of up-welling, moist air as the cause of the power and vertical uplift witnessed in thunderstorms was the observation that very often the thunderstorms happened hundreds of miles away from the warm bodies of water that produced the moist air.  With its inclusion as an addendum to the greater body of meteorological theory this notion that inversion layers formed a cap or widespread barrier to up-welling, moist air provided an explanatory avenue of escape, allowing these kinds of observations to be considerably less bothersome.  But some were concerned that, possibly, the greater theory was evolving into a comedy of contradictions.  If the dry air that exists in abundance in the upper altitudes is both the agent of stability and the substrate through which moist air convects to cause storms then how do we convince the public–a public increasingly aware of the death and destruction associated with large tornadoes–that our understanding of storms is rooted in sound theory.

The solution kind of presented itself.  It is called parcel theory.  Parcel Theory is a set of abstract rules purported to indicate when and why certain “parcels” of the atmosphere remain stable or become unstable.  From the perspective of any kind of practical applications, however, parcel theory has severe limitations, ” . . . since it is difficult to define how large or small a parcel really is and what mechanisms exist that selectively lift the small parcel and not the entire atmospheric layer. In addition, parcel theory fails to accommodate the fact that considerable entrainment of surrounding air occurs as buoyant plumes develop.” Ultimately what this all means is that since parcel theory is based on phenomena that is immeasurable and un-testable and since it has no practical applications to predicting or preventing storms or tornadoes it usefulness is solely diversionary.  And it is most useful in this respect when directed at outsiders to meteorology who start poking around, asking too many questions, especially when it involves questions about the previously mentioned contradictions.

So, if you do come across a meteorologists, especially one focused on the sub-disciplines of Storm Theory or Tornadogenesis and they appear to be somewhat bumbling, take pity on them.  Keep in mind the unseen, underlying contortions they are doing to keep their twisted suit of a theory looking presentable.

12 responses to “Did you hear the one about the guy that goes to buy a suit?”

  1. tallbloke says :

    Reblogged this on Tallbloke's Talkshop and commented:
    An interesting and provocative post from a newish meteorology blog

  2. cartoonmick says :

    I have a technical and an elementary scientific background, and find it reasonably easy to explain mysterious matters in a scientific manner.

    For example, a couple of years ago (1st July 2012) Carbon Tax was introduced to the Australian economy.

    So, the challenge was; How do we combine components of our monetary system with a chemical element?

    I found it easier to explain by drawing a cartoon on it . . .

    http://cartoonmick.wordpress.com/editorial-political/#jp-carousel-487

    Cheers
    Mick

    • solvingtornadoes says :

      Hi Mick,

      There are aspects of my book, Solving Tornadoes, that are extremely difficult to communicate verbally. Although I’m probably not going to do anything immediately, I am thinking along the lines of collaboration with a cartoonist. But that probably won’t be a serious consderation on my part until after I’ve made some Youtube videos. Stay in touch.

  3. solvingtornadoes says :

    Posted from : Roger Tallbloke in Uncategorize; July 14, 2014
    July 14, 2014 at 3:50 pm

    lucia liljegren (@lucialiljegren) says:

    That low density fluids can lie below high density is well accepted, can and has been shown. One way to show it is slowly heat water (oil, air or any fluid) from below. If you heat sufficiently slowly, you’ll maintain a temperature inversion. Surface tension need not be involved. (The existrnce of surface tension can increase the range of stable inversions, but it is not at all necessary to their existence.)

    There have been scads of demonstrations of this fact– generally focusing on identifying when inversions become sufficiently stable to self-destruct. Early studies involve Rayleigh Bernard convection: “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayleigh%E2%80%93B%C3%A9nard_convection” Similar things can be shown with air– but it’s easier to do thing with water or oil in the kitchen. The stability analysis is easier too.

    The field of ‘stability analysis’ is well understood and has vast applications in fluid mechanics– especially in engineering! The claim that unstable situations can exist is not singular to meterology– engineers rely on the fact they can and do exist (and sometimes exploit their existence!)

    The “cap” thing is well understood and accepted. It’s one of many “continuity” effects. (And yes, it’s understood by those doing stability analysis in fluid dynamics- especially the Bernard Cell convection problem mentioned above.

    I can’t find anything that guy insinuates as being a “problem” for meteorology as being any sort of ‘problem’. If they were problems, engineers working in fluid dynamics be criticizing meteorologists for those claims we don’t because we know it’s true that
    (a) water vapor is less dense than air at similar Pressure and Temperature.
    (b) temperature and density inversions can exist both in our kitchens and the atmosphere.
    (c) inversions are unstable and when they “pop” we can see dramatic effects. (Tornadoes are a claimed ‘dramatic effect’).

    That whole thing is just whacked. They only conversation worth having is “How whacked is it?”

    Response to Lucia

    Lucia:
    That low density fluids can lie below high density is well accepted, can and has been shown.

    Jim McGinn:
    LOL. Why would you think what is or is not accepted is, somehow, relevant in a scientific discussion? Do you consider *acceptance* empirical evidence? Do you normally come to scientific conclusions based on what somebody tells you? If it “can be shown,” under controlled conditions that would mean something. You haven’t established anything like that.

    All you loons have is vague hearsay based on stories told generations ago.

    Lucia:
    One way to show it is slowly heat water (oil, air or any fluid) from below. If you heat sufficiently slowly, you’ll maintain a temperature inversion. Surface tension need not be involved. (The existence of surface tension can increase the range of stable inversions, but it is not at all necessary to their existence.)

    Jim McGinn:
    You are just spouting generalities to no good effect. If belief is your only criteria then what is the point of scientific methods?

    Lucia:
    There have been scads of demonstrations of this fact–

    Jim McGinn:
    A “demonstration” will normally do nothing but confirm what you’ve already chosen to believe.

    Lucia:
    generally focusing on identifying when inversions become sufficiently stable to self-destruct. Early studies involve Rayleigh Bernard convection: “http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rayleigh%E2%80%93B%C3%A9nard_convection” Similar things can be shown with air– but it’s easier to do thing with water or oil in the kitchen. The stability analysis is easier too.

    Jim McGinn:
    You seem confused. Nobody is saying that the notion of warm/cold convection is dispute/refuted. Try to follow.

    Lucia:
    The field of ‘stability analysis’ is well understood and has vast applications in fluid mechanics– especially in engineering! The claim that unstable situations can exist is not singular to meterology– engineers rely on the fact they can and do exist (and sometimes exploit their existence!)

    Jim McGinn:
    The principles of flight are also well understood. But that doesn’t mean pigs can fly. Why would you respond without bothering to address the specific points in the article? Your evasiveness is indicative of intellectual dishonesty.

    Lucia:
    The “cap” thing is well understood and accepted.

    Jim McGinn:
    It’s not well understood. It’s pseudo-science. That gasses don’t have a surface and/or surface tension is well understood and accepted. (In fact it’s a law.) Regardless, its a blatant contraditions of the notion that moist air convects through dry air. Explain to us how both can be true. Leave your spiritualistic speculations and pseudo-scientific excuses out of your explanation.

    Lucia:
    It’s one of many “continuity” effects. (And yes, it’s understood by those doing stability analysis in fluid dynamics- especially the Bernard Cell convection problem mentioned above.

    Jim McGinn:
    Do “continuity” effects involve a crystal ball, tea leaves?

    Lucia:
    I can’t find anything that guy insinuates as being a “problem” for meteorology as being any sort of ‘problem’. If they were problems, engineers working in fluid dynamics be criticizing meteorologists for those claims we don’t because we know it’s true that

    Jim McGinn:
    Only the purveyors of a pseudo-scientific cult can view direct evidence of a contradiction and conclude: “I don’t see a problem.” Well, I see a problem. People like yourself, Lucia, have no business representing yourself as scientists. That is the problem.

    Lucia:
    (a) water vapor is less dense than air at similar Pressure and Temperature.

    Jim McGinn
    Weight per volume (bouyancy) is the issue. Not density. And water vapor is heavier (not lighter) than dry air. Explain to us how something that is heavier than dry air convects up through dry air (only to be trapped again by dry air).

    Lucia:
    (b) temperature and density inversions can exist both in our kitchens and the atmosphere.

    Jim McGinn:
    If everything you conclude to be true is true based on the fact that you claim to be able to see what you obvious cannot then what is the point of having scientific methods?

    Lucia:
    (c) inversions are unstable and when they “pop” we can see dramatic effects. (Tornadoes are a claimed ‘dramatic effect’).

    Jim McGinn:
    First you pretend you have a surface. Then you pretend the surface “pops” and creates a tornado. This is the kind of fairly tale approach to science that has reduced meteorology’s storm theory to being a joke. You are just pretending to see what you want to believe. That isn’t science. That’s creative writing.

    Lucia:
    That whole thing is just whacked. They only conversation worth having is “How whacked is it?”

    Jim McGinn:
    Your thinking is so simple-minded it would be laughable if not for the fact that it deals with such a serious subject.

  4. solvingtornadoes says :

    Lucia: In fact: we know the density of water vapor is less than that of air because it’s been measured in laboratories. Go get yourself a dang steam table– using the data in that table gives the “right” answer in engineering design problems.

    ST: Weight per volume (bouyancy) is the issue. Not density. And water vapor is heavier (not lighter) than dry air. Steam only exists above 100C. Try to follow.

  5. gnomish says :

    density is mass per unit volume. what distinction without difference are you trying to make?
    water gas exists at all temperatures. it doesn’t have to be called steam.
    water gas is abundant and is the least dense gas in earth’s atmosphere except for hydrogen and helium which are not abundant.
    so water gas does not require convection to float to the top.
    i love your twisted suit metaphor but some of your assertions about some basic physics suck.
    the gish galloping, too.

    • solvingtornadoes says :

      gnomish, check into Avogadro’s law. Steam is less dense than N2 and O2.” However, moist air at ambient temperatures contains no steam. IOW, it is not monomolecular. Moist air, therefore, is HEAVIER, than dry air. A fluid that is heavier does not “float” through a fluid that is lighter. Please do research on concepts like convection and buoyancy before you respond.

      • daveburton says :

        That’s wrong, solvingtornadoes.

        For one thing, your claim that “moist air at ambient temperatures contains no steam” is nonsensical. Steam is just water vapor. Moist air, by definition, contains water vapor.

        One molecule of H2O has molecular weight of 1+1+16 = 18.

        By volume, dry air is 78% N2, 21% O2, and 1% Ar.

        One molecule of N2 has molecular weight of 14+14 = 28. One molecule of O2 has molecular weight of 16 + 16 = 32. One molecule of Ar has atomic weight = its molecular weight = 40.

        So dry air has an average molecular weight of (0.78 x 28) + (0.21 x 32) + (0.01 x 40) = 28.96, which is 61% heavier than the molecular weight of water.

        So, for a given temperature & pressure (or partial-pressure) at which all are gaseous, water vapor is just 62% as dense as dry air.

        That means humid air must be correspondingly less dense than dry air, according to the proportion of air molecules which are H20, if temperature and pressure are equal. For example, if a particular humid atmosphere consists of 2% H2O vapor and 98% dry air, then the atmosphere’s density will be (0.98 + (0.62 x 0.02)) = 99.24% of the density of dry air at the same temperature and pressure.

        That’s a very slight difference, compared to the differences in density which result from changes in temperature and pressure with altitude. But it is nevertheless a fact that, at a given temperature and pressure, humid air is lighter than dry air.

        (Of course, foggy or cloudy atmosphere is another matter, because it also contains droplets of liquid water.)

        • solvingtornadoes says :

          August 14, 2014 at 12:08 am

          daveburton says:
          That’s wrong, solvingtornadoes. For one thing, your claim that “moist air at ambient temperatures contains no steam” is nonsensical.

          Solving Tornadoes:
          LOL. It’s a wonder you meteorological geniuses don’t design an engine that runs on the “power” of evaporation. You’d make billions!

          daveburton says:
          Steam is just water vapor. Moist air, by definition, contains water vapor.

          Solving Tornadoes:
          Steam only exists above 100 degrees Celsius. Water vapor (ie when part of moist air at ambient temps) is not monomolecular. The fact that it is invisible when clusters are very small is what is confusing you. Your only argument, therefore, is to insist that I submit to your confusion, which I will not do. If meteorology was a real science and not a cult then tests/measurements would be done to resolve the issue. If you yourself were a scientist and not a cultist then you would be suggesting the same. And I’m not interested in joining your cult.

          daveburton says:
          (Of course, foggy or cloudy atmosphere is another matter, because it also contains droplets of liquid water.)

          Solving Tornadoes:
          It’s “another matter,” only because the droplets have gotten large enough to be visible.

          Your decision to base your conclusions on lack of evidence is your decision. It is not my decision. Your decision to remain confused is your decision. It is not my decision. Your decision to submit to the authority of a confused paradigm is your decision. It’s not my decision. You and the other members of your cult need to stop insisting that people accept what you have failed to demonstrate empirically.

          If you have evidence that H2O is monomolecular in our atmosphere then please present it. Otherwise kindly go away.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: