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In May 2011, our son celebrated his first birthday. As I was watching him mash birthday cake all over his face, two thoughts occurred to me. First of all, it's really hard to remove cake crumbs from a child's nose. Secondly, most of his birthdays will take place in hot weather. The profuse sweating I endured while hanging decorations was a constant reminder.

I was born in the month of July, so hot birthdays are a family tradition. Most years, I would receive some kind of water toy as a gift. One of my favorite gifts was a product called the "Wet Banana". More or less, it was an imitation "Slip and Slide". It consisted of a long yellow strip of plastic that was staked into the ground. A plastic banana-shaped sprinkler head was attached to a garden hose and placed beside the slide. Once everything was set, kids would take a running leap onto the wet slide and careen wildly down the track. Back then, it was fun. If I tried it now, I would need a chiropractor.

July was often a stormy month back home, with those "summertime thunderstorms" firing each day with some regularity. Still, I can't remember a single hurricane hitting our state in July during my childhood years. Adulthood was a different story. Most of us remember Hurricane Bertha, which struck North Carolina on July 12, 1996. July hurricanes are relatively rare, but June hurricanes are even more scarce. If you look at hurricane history, only about 6% of NC hurricanes hit in June. Part of this has to do with water temperature. Hurricanes thrive on water temperatures of 80 degrees or warmer. As late as mid-May of 2011, water temperatures were only in the low 70's in our local coastal waters. In fact, most of the "storms" that threatened North Carolina in June were actually subtropical storms, not true tropical systems.

So what is the difference between tropical, subtropical, and extratropical storms? Tropical storms are "warm-core" systems. In other words, tropical systems are warmer at their center than on their periphery at any given level. The reverse is true of subtropical systems ("cold-core") systems. Both of these systems draw their strength from ocean water, rather that from non-related features such as cold fronts. A subtropical system often has a larger wind field, with the strongest winds displaced away from the center. A tropical system is much more "tightly wound", with stronger winds near the eye wall. An "extratropical" system has characteristics of both tropical and subtropical systems- with one important difference. An "extratropical" system relies on external features (such as cold fronts) for energy.

Here's hoping we all have quiet birthdays this year, at least as far as the weather is concerned.


By: Jerry Jackson