Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Weather (continued)

As late as the 1960s, science clearly defined the Coriolis effect as just what it is, an effect. It results from the Earth’s west to east spin. It has to be accounted for when launching a rocket. If the rocket is launched due north, it’s landing point will be east of its departure point because it will be traveling east at the same speed the Earth was moving when it departed, but as it moves north, the Earth’s speed is lessening, which means it is traveling increasing faster than the Earth is rotating. Thus, it will land east of where it took off. This is not the result of a force, it is the result of an effect due to the rotation of the Earth, and was clearly labeled as such in the dictionaries of the time. In fact, during the period of change, most dictionaries cautioned that it wasn’t a force, but merely an effect.
Now, it’s universally accepted as a force, which goes to show, science can petty much get away with anything it wants and we’ll sit here like the dummies we are and accept it.
How did the Coriolis effect become a force? It has to do with the jet stream.
For all those amateur meteorologists who’ve ever seen the majority of the clouds traveling west to east, opposite the direction the Earth is turning, and fleetingly wondered why they aren’t spinning with the Earth, the answer is coming up. The movement of the clouds, though, is nothing compared to the speed of the jet stream. First encountered by high-flying B-29s at the end of WWII, it really came into the conscious debate with the beginning of the jet age in the mid-fifties. The jet stream in the U.S. moves from west to east, providing a tail wind to jets from the west coast.
Up until the jet stream intervened, meteorology was simply fronts moving between highs and lows. Now, combined with the fact that the clouds went in an opposite direction than would be intuitively expected, the table was set for the real explanation for the wind, the Coriolis force. Instead of a rocket taking off and, due to the Earth’s spin and its diminishing circumference, landing to the east of where it took off, the rotation of the Earth was forcing the rocket to veer to the east.
Sound like the same? Sure does except now it’s not a result of the Earth turning, the Earth doing something, forcing the rocket to veer east, it's the result of the Earth's rotation forcing the rocket east and therefore the result of a force. This rote piece of nonsense, the Coriolis force, mindlessly repeated, is taken as fact and is the founding principle of meteorology. Now instead of using a realistic explanation for why clouds and the jet stream move from west to east, an explanation that is by no means difficult, one that is indisputable, we have the clouds and the jet stream being pushed east by the Coriolis force.
And once we have a force, we have something that can be measured, if only by reference to the self-referential force itself, measuring the supposed force by what it does.
Once we have something that can be measured, we have empirical science.
(To be continued)

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