What's What With The Weather?

Dec 9, 2016

We're getting answers to all of your weather questions! Where does snow come from? Why do clouds stay up in the sky? How hot is lightning? What are thunderstorms? How is wind made? Those questions and more are answered by meteorologist Mark Breen, author of The Kids' Book of Weather Forecasting.

We have kids from all over the world in today's episode. Our questions come from New York, New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas, Colorado, Switzerland and Mozambique!

"I want to know where snow comes from, real snow!" - Corey, 9, Underhill, VT

Corey, 9, lives in Underhill, Vt. She enjoys playing in the snow and she was excited that she was able to build a snow person before Halloween this year! She is very curious about how and why things work and dreams of becoming a scientist when she grows up.
Credit Photo courtesy Corey's mom

"Snow is how clouds make their precipitation, both rain and snow. So even in the summer time, when it's raining outside, those rain drops started as snowflakes. So when you ask 'where did snow come from,' it certainly comes from the clouds but what happens is when the moisture near the ground moves up into the air and turns into clouds, the air above is so cold that the little bit of moisture turns into frost hanging around in the air. Those are the little ice crystals that we call snow crystals or snow. When it gets heavy enough it starts coming down. Of course, in the winter when it's colder it's cold all the way down to the ground so it stays as a snowflake. In the warmer months, snowflakes melt on their way down and that's how we get rain."

"How are clouds made and why are they there?" Maya, 8, Shelburne, Vt.

"They come from moisture, but the moisture has to go up into the air. As the moisture goes up and as you go up higher in the air it gets colder. If you think about mountaintops for example, mountaintops are very cold. So as the moisture goes up, it basically turns into fog way up in the sky. As that fog collects together, we get clouds. Depending on whether the air is going up or coming back down they'll either stay there, or if the air comes back down, it tends to dry the cloud out and that's why the sky sometimes clears and we get some sunshine."
 

"How do rainbows come from sun and rain?" Owen, 5, Pennsylvania

Rainbows are caused by raindrops reflecting all of the colors of light.
Credit Jane Lindholm / VPR

"You're right, you have sun and rain together. A very smart man who lived many, many years ago, named Isaac Newton, figured out that sunlight is not one color. We see it as one color, but he actually figured out there are lots of colors, what we see is the rainbow. In order to figure this out, he used a special piece of glass. It took all of that light and it kind of spread it out. When it spread out, it turned into all of the different colors that we see.

"The same thing happens with a small piece of glass that people sometimes hang in their windows. They sometimes call them crystals. When the sunlight comes through, they put little rainbows all around the room. That's kind of fun to look at. In the sky, that's what the raindrop does. When the light comes into the raindrop it actually bounces around and it spreads out, and if it spreads out, you see the different colors."

- Mark Breen, Fairbanks Museum meteorologist.

Listen to the full episode for more answers to your weather questions.

Read full transcript.

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