OK, let's get the cliché out of the way: "Everybody talks about the weather but no one does anything about it."
The fact is that there are a lot of things that can be done about the weather few if any that can change it but many that will help you deal with and even benefit from it. Since most masonry work is done outdoors, where obviously weather has a great impact, knowing a bit about what to expect can help you make better critical decisions.
For example, if you know it will rain, sleet or snow, you can postpone sending a crew out or have them take adequate shelter material to protect them and their work from the elements. Obviously, if there is a hurricane coming, you'll dispatch your workers as far away from danger as possible.
Let's look at some weather phenomena that might impact your work this year. If you are in the Gulf Coast, Texas Coast, Florida or Atlantic Seaboard, hurricanes are, indeed, a concern.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is the official government weather service. It provides forecasts, observations, climate data and much more from 122 local offices that blanket America and its territories.
The NOAA issued a rash of predictions well prior to the 2005 hurricane season obviously, not all of them heeded. Now, in a forecast eerily similar in importance to those in 2005, NOAA has announced the official return of La Niña. El Niño, perhaps a better known weather pattern in the west, heats up the Pacific Ocean surface; sister La Niñña has an ocean surface cooling effect.
Generally, they both aggravate existing weather trends. For example, hot arid areas suffer warmer temperatures and drought conditions and normally colder, moist regions get colder and wetter. According to NOAA, 2006 had the driest March on record for five East Coast states and the wettest month in parts of the Hawaiian islands.
Vice Admiral Conrad C. Lautenbacher Jr., NOAA administrator, recently said, "In mid-January, the atmosphere over the eastern North Pacific and western U.S. began to exhibit typical La Niña characteristics in response to the cooling in the tropical central Pacific Ocean. This pattern will favor continued drought in parts of the South and Southwest, from Arizona to Arkansas and Louisiana, and above normal precipitation in the Northwest and the Tennessee Valley area."
While it is too early to say with confidence what effects La Niña will have on the 2006 hurricane season during the record breaking 2005 hurricane season, there was no La Niña or El Niño pattern it is one of the elements to be considered. La Niña events recur approximately every three to five years; the last La Niña occurred in 2000-2001 and was a relatively weak event compared to the one in 1998-2000.
After September 11
Much harder to predict, hurricanes and tornados are not the only weather events that can make a difference to a contractor. To take an extreme example, the World Trade Center, in the aftermath of September 11, 2001, was hit by rain and wind that caused a great deal of trouble for the crews at the site. According to writer Susan Kohl, "More than 1,000 workers, 150 pieces of heavy equipment, 20 cranes and 1.2 million tons of steel, concrete, ash and debris resided at the destruction site of the World Trade Center. On September 13, a storm hit Ground Zero with rain and winds. The rain showers were clearly a concern, especially with the two large cavities in the ground. The rain turned the ash into something comparable to wet cement. The wind also played a dangerous role as it blew abrasive debris and particles around the site. There were reports of downdrafts and dust devils.
"On normal days, wind was a constant danger with all of the pollution and debris in the air. Every time a crew moved a large piece of debris, dust and particles kicked up. Wind made the situation even worse. Strong winds at higher elevations had the potential to wreak havoc with tall cranes and heavy equipment, endangering not only the operators but also the people on the ground."
Forecasting the weather, as the experts will admit, is an art more than a science. When Eisenhower was planning the D-Day assault, the decision to invade Normandy on June 6 was based on weather forecasts, which indicated the correct combination of tides and winds. And that was before weather satellites! It was done with what was known as the Norwegian Model of statistical probability: what the odds are for an event based on previous events in the area. A large amount of data from many years was collected, analyzed and re-analyzed.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in a history of World War II recalled, "At first the meteorologists studied the climatology at the most likely time of the invasion, to give them an idea of the most usual weather for that time of year. This showed that either May or June was probably better than July, but by that time it was already too late for arrangements to be made for May.
A Day Later
"The tide, state of the moon and time of sunrise combined favorably on Monday, June 5, and the following two days. The tide, but not the moonlight, was right again two weeks later. So all eyes focused on June, with the right moon phases for the tides on June 5."
As we know, conditions changed and the assault was actually postponed until the sixth of June. In 1944, a forecaster trying to see even 48 hours ahead was at or beyond the limits of what was possible.
Today, via satellite photos, we can literally see what is happening anywhere in the world and track paths of winds, storms and other weather minute by minute. We can dial into the National Weather Service online at www.weather.gov and get an update; we can tune to the local radio station and get a forecast; we can pick up satellite radio and get a constant stream of data. We can even put a weather station on the job site and collect our own data, as finely tuned to local conditions as possible.
See the "Weather Products" sidebar article for further information on a few of the retail items available to help track and anticipate your job site conditions.