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Weather Wizards: Inside the Ongoing Effort to Master Mother Nature

Can science fight climate change by tinkering with the weather?

Last month, Cynthia Barnett, an unostentatious workhorse of an environmental journalist with an incredible track record for nailing issues of water security, released a new book that’s a bit of a departure from her previous works. Entitled Rain: A Natural and Cultural History, the tome is a curious exploration, not just of the science of rain, but what it means to us as a species on an emotive and anthropological level. A meditative and engrossing work of ranging non-fiction, peppered with fascinating anecdotes and solid insights, one of the most interesting sections of the book is on the little-known phenomenon of weather manipulation. Throughout history, people have sought to control their environment, and attempts to change the weather have come along with many of our breakthroughs in science and technology. And while the pursuit can claim a couple of partial successes, weather alteration is mostly characterized by a string of crazy failures and dangerous, unworkable ideas.

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Watch: A Stunning Tribute to San Francisco's Fog

Over the course of two years, Simon Christen became familiar with SF's fog, documenting its movements, shadows, and whimsicality in time lapse video.

San Francisco's fog has a personality all its own. It can alter moods, landscapes, and temperatures with the blink of an eye. And just as quickly, it rolls out, migrating to a different part of the city. Ultimately, this cloud cover is in charge, and the area's inhabitants know it as a part of daily life. It is as synonymous with San Francisco as cable cars, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Ghirardelli Chocolate.

Over the course of two years, video artist Simon Christen documented the fog's movements, shadows, and whimsicality. The result is Adrift, a stunning short video and "love letter to the fog of the San Francisco Bay Area."

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"For about two years, if the weather looked promising, I would set my alarm to 5 a.m., recheck the webcams, and then set off on the 45-minute drive to the Marin Headlands," he explains. "I spent many mornings hiking in the dark to only find that the fog was too high, too low, or already gone by the time I got there. Luckily, once in a while the conditions would be perfect and I was able to capture something really special. Adrift is a collection of my favorite shots from these excursions into the ridges of the Marin Headlands."

In Adrift, Christen shares, in time-lapse format, what he saw on each of these adventures. His discoveries are so beautiful they might even make SF residents sorry they ever cursed this heavy mist for making it feel like winter in July.

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How Weather Inspired My Creative Intervention for a Johannesburg Bus Stop

How one artist tried to create the visual effect of a ‘wet bus stop’ in Johannesburg by hanging straight stripes of white and blue barrier tape.

I was born in South Africa and I lived in the U.K. for several years, and in both places I couldn’t escape noticing the weather and its impact on my daily life. Since I returned home earlier this year, I’ve been amazed by how powerful a much-missed blue sky can be.

As an artist, I play with my immediate environment and question familiar things we often take for granted. Recently for a project, I had an idea: I wanted to create the visual effect of a "wet bus stop" in sunny Johannesburg by hanging straight stripes of white and blue barrier tape on the inside of a bus stop. To me, the tape looked like rain drops. So when installed, the bus stop—supposed to protect us from the elements—would look like it was raining from the inside.

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Climate Change Happening Now, Even if Media Hasn't Caught On

The Colorado wildfires are "a window into what global warming really looks like." Someone just needs to tell most media outlets that.

Climate scientists have usually hesitated to attribute specific weather events to climate change, but with wildfires blazing across Colorado, extreme heat advisories and droughts across the United States, and flooding in Minnesota and Florida, that’s starting to change. As one atmospheric scientist put it, “this is what global warming looks like at the regional or personal level.” Or as a member of the United Nations’ climate science panel said, the extreme weather is “a window into what global warming really looks like.” But while scientists have known for a while that climate change is causing increasingly extreme weather events, it seems that most of the media still hasn’t caught on.

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Not Cool, Man: Cities Crack Down on Stores Blasting Air Conditioning Outside

New York City banned stores from keeping their doors open while the air is blasting. But it's a problem worldwide.


On the very first day they could justify it this summer, big stores in New York City already had their doors open, air conditioning blasting out onto the street. It served as an invitation to potential customers—step inside, it’s cold in here—but it’s not the most environmentally responsible practice. And in New York City, it’s illegal.

Open-door air conditioning is a worldwide plague. Last year The Economist called out Tokyo stores like Louis Vuitton and Hermès for blasting cool air out the door, even while Japan was hustling to keep energy use low after the Fukushima nuclear meltdown. A former Marine and one-time journalist got riled up about the issue two summers ago after he found an entire mall's worth of shops keeping their doors open during a heat emergency. A couple of concerned citizens are trying to end the practice in Hong Kong, while campaigners in Toronto, sponsored by the local power authority, have been fighting it since 2005. And in Seoul, officials preparing for a heat wave are touring stores to ask them to keep the temperature at a reasonable level and the doors shut.

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3D Solar Structures Create More Power in Small Spaces

These structures don’t behave quite like fields of solar panels. They produce power more consistently and, in some conditions, more of it.

Right now, designing a solar power installation generally means figuring out how to orient flat or angled panels so that they’ll capture the most light. Or the panels are put onto expensive, swiveling mounts, which move the panels over the day to track the sun. But a team of researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has a different theory about how to best design solar power systems—by using solar panels to build three-dimensional structures.

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