Wednesday, Dec. 07, 2011

Cone of Uncertainty

It seemed like every other week in 2011, the weather was breaking records — and not pleasant ones. Record flood levels. Deadliest tornadoes. Most-sweltering temperatures. Biggest megafires. Reporters were all aflutter, particularly when weather events were taking place near the U.S. East Coast. That was certainly the case during Hurricane Irene, when one couldn't open an umbrella without poking an analyst who was explaining the "cone of uncertainty." This is the dreaded teardrop-shaped area indicating the likely paths a hurricane's center might take, and in the case of August's Irene, the cone of uncertainty enveloped New York City, Boston and Washington. In the midst of the hurricane talk, the word spread across the pundiverse: news anchors used cone of uncertainty to describe everything from a satellite's fall toward the earth to Apple stock's potential volatility following Steve Jobs' resignation.

Note: The runner-up for weather buzzword of the year is haboob, a term derived from the Arabic habub. A haboob is a dust storm like the monstrous one that swept across Phoenix in July — and also a hilarious thing to call someone who is habitually awkward.