For much of the last century, people in parts of the United States have come to notice that just as they got the weekends off to relax, so too did it seem, did serious weather. Big booming thunderstorms that produced large hail and/or tornados, seemed to strike at will during the week, but come the weekend, things grew quiet. While there have been many theories as to why this might be, mostly religion based, it hasn’t been until much more recently that researchers have begun to take a closer look.
Now, in a truly interesting study, Daniel Rosenfeld and Thomas Bell, a seemingly odd paring when you consider that Rosenfeld is with the Institute of Earth Sciences in Israel, while Bell is with NASA, have found that the phenomenon is apparently real, though it’s clearly not because of an otherworldly presence. As they describe in their paper published in the Journal of Geophysical Research, it has far more to do with more down to earth human activities. Rosenfeld and Bell limited their study area to a specific region of the American Southeast, an area that receives a number of thunderstorms and tornados every summer, and has been seen over the years as being particularly sensitive to the weekend weather syndrome.
Because prior research by other groups showed that there were indeed more serious type storms in the area during the week, the two suspected it had something to do with air pollution. Using data (1995 to 2009) obtained from the EPA, which monitors air quality, they found that during the three summer months of June, July and August, there was a clear correlation between certain days of the week and the amount of aerosols in the atmosphere. As an example, they found that aerosols hit peak concentrations on Tuesdays, while bottoming out on weekends; evidence of the human work week, which causes much less particulate matter to be spewed when people are home relaxing on weekends.
Then, because aerosol concentrations are known to cause small water droplet formation in the air, causing clouds to form, they theorize that the addition of more aerosols leads to smaller droplets in those clouds because there is only so much water in the air to cling to. Smaller droplets means less regular type rain because the droplets are lighter and get carried up higher into the atmosphere. When those lighter droplets do eventually condense into rain, they release a lot of upper atmospheric energy, which creates even more updrafts, which can pull hail upwards over and over increasing their size and produce more dramatic lightning and wind. The end result is a storm that is more powerful than it would have been were it not for the addition of extra aerosols.
But that’s still only part of the story. More here thunderstorms and tornados are less prevalent on the weekends.