Forces of Nature

We see the destruction that the Earth can unleash in the news on a regular basis. Here you can learn about hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes and other forces of nature.

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What causes the smell after rain?

Especially in the spring and summer, there's often a strong, funny smell right after it rains. What's behind "rain smell"?

How does the aurora borealis (the Northern Lights) work?

How does the aurora borealis (the Northern Lights) work? What causes it? Why can you only see it in the North? Are the myths about it producing sound true?

How Hurricanes Work

How often have you watched a weather forecaster point to a spiral-shaped cloudy mass with a sense of dread and fascination? What fuels these ferocious storms?

What is the UV index and how is it calculated?

Every night on the news, the weatherperson reports the UV index. What is the UV index and how is it calculated?

What causes the seasons?

What causes the seasons? Why are the seasons reversed in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres? And if the Earth moves in an elliptical orbit around the Sun, why don't we have two summers and two winters every year?

What is the heat index that the weatherperson talks about during the summer?

What is the "heat index" that the weatherperson talks about during the summer? Also, why is the air comfortable at only 80 degrees F even though body temperature is 98 degrees F?

Can you calculate how far away lightning struck by thunder?

You may have heard that you can figure out how far away lightning is by how long it takes for the thunder to arrive after you see the flash. Is this true? How do you calculate it?

Why Is It Colder at the Top of a Mountain Than It Is at Sea Level?

Why is it colder at the top of a mountain than it is at sea level? Heat rises, and the top of a mountain is closer to the sun, so shouldn't it be hotter at the top of a mountain?

Why do hurricanes seem to move as if they have a mind of their own, and why do they follow such peculiar tracks?

Hurricanes seem to have a mind of their own as they track across the Atlantic Ocean. While they all follow the same general directions, local weather patterns effect where they ultimately land. Find out why hurricanes move the way they do.

If the temperature is 30 degrees F, why do we sometimes get snow and other times get freezing rain?

Precipitation can vary from rain to snow when the temperature is below freezing. Why does precipitation not always fall as snow when it's below freezing?

What causes a rainbow?

We can usually see rainbows right after a rainstorm on a warm Spring day. These giant colorful arcs stand out against the dark rain clouds. Have you ever wondered what causes this phenomena? Find out how rainbows are created in this article from HowStuffWorks.

How does the windchill factor work?

What is "wind chill"? Does it have any effect on inanimate objects?

How Tornadoes Work

A tornado is one of those amazing, awesome acts of nature that simply leaves you dumbfounded -- a huge, swirling, 200-mph beast of a storm that appears to have a mind of its own.

How Lightning Works

Lightning is an incredible force of nature. And like many natural phenomena, lightning is not always what it seems. Go behind the mystery and learn what's really going on when lightning strikes.

Can I get struck by lightning when I'm indoors?

You’ve heard the warnings about thunderstorms: Stay out of the tub, unplug your TV and don’t call people from your land line. But can you really get struck by lightning while you’re inside?

What is St. Elmo's Fire?

Sometimes a lightning storm heralds sightings of St. Elmo's Fire. What causes the mysterious glow sailors interpreted as a sign of salvation?


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