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Trivia Testers

What's the safest airline in the world?

Falling Kangaroos
What's the safest airline in the world?

  1. AirTran
  2. Qantas
  3. El Al
  4. Hawaiian Airlines

Answer: Many factors contribute to the safety rating of an airline and its accident history, such as maintenance, management, operating procedures, training, the age of its fleet, and routes flown. In addition, accidents are often caused by circumstances beyond an airline's control, including navigational aids, instrumentation at airports, ATC errors, other aircraft at fault in collisions, sabotage (and terrorists), design flaws, and also of course, weather. Even if all factors were considered, an airline accident is still a very rare event, although of course poor weather information, crew miscalculations, and a few questionable flying procedures have taken their toll. Still, the probability of your being killed on a single flight is approximately eight million to one. To put it another way, if an otherwise immortal passenger boarded a flight at random, once per day, every day, it would be almost 22,000 years before he or she would die in an airline accident.

El Al, Israel's national airline, and Qantas appear to be two of the safest in the world. In the 1988 movie Rain Main, Dustin Hoffman stated that Qantas was the world's safest. While at that time it may have been true, and no flying kangaroos have exactly fallen from the sky, on September 23, 1999, a Qantas Airlines flight did crash on landing, in Bangkok. (There were no fatalities, however.) To date, Qantas has never lost a passenger...since airliners began flying jets, that is. The last recorded El Al fatality was in 1955, and for Qantas (which stands for Queensland And Northern Territory Aerial Services), it was in 1951. Incidentally Qantas is one of the world's oldest airlines (ca. 1920), with only KLM being older. Also incidentally, KLM stands for Koninklijke Luchtvaartmaatschappij NV, which in Dutch means Royal Air Transportation Company (like you really needed to know that). Before 1951 though, the accident picture wasn't so rosy; Qantas has lost some passengers & aircraft in its long history:

de Havilland DH-9C G-AUED 24 Mar 1927 - 3 fatalities
de Havilland DH-86 VH-USG 15 Nov 1934 - 4 fatalities
de Havilland DH-86 VH-USE 20 Feb 1942 - 9 fatalities
Short S-23 (flying boat) VH-ADU 22 Apr 1943 - 13 fatalities
Lockheed 18 Lodestar VH-CAB 26 Nov 1943 - 15 fatalities
Short S-23 (flying boat) VH-ABB 11 Oct 1944 - 1 fatality
Lancastrian VH-EAS 07 April 1949 - no fatalities
de Havilland Drover II VH-EBQ 16 Jul 1951 - 7 fatalities
Lockheed L1049 VH-EAC 24 August 1960 - no fatalities

On the other hand, a number of less well-known airlines haven't done so poorly, either, and actually, just based on pure numbers (with no regard for passenger volume, nor any attempt to normalize the data), their numbers are even better. As of this writing, in February of 2003, Hawaiian Airlines hasn't had a fatal accident since 1929; PLUNA, not since 1936; and Arkia Israli Airlines, not since 1950. So, technically, the answer is, for the moment, D, although realistically, one might side with Dustin. (AirTran used to be known as ValuJet, and no, there's no letter "u" in Qantas.)

Hurricanes
How many hurricanes strike the continental United States each year, on average?

  1. 10
  2. 6
  3. 4
  4. 2

Answer: Every year on average, there are 10 tropical storms that begin their life in the Atlantic basin. Out of those 10, six will become hurricanes. However, of those six, only about two (choice D) strike the U.S. mainland in any given year.

More About Hurricanes

If a hurricane dissipates back into a tropical storm, but then regains strength and redevelops back into a hurricane, does it

  1. get a new name
  2. keep the old one
  3. remain unnamed
  4. This is a trick question; dissipated hurricanes never regain strength.

Answer: First of all, the naming starts as soon as a tropical depression reaches tropical storm status. So reverting from hurricane strength back to a tropical storm doesn't change anything. Before anything ever gets to tropical storm status though, there are earlier and less sinister formative stages of development, the first of which is just simply a low pressure system. When there is a low pressure system that is non-frontal in origin, is fairly large (so called "synoptic scale"), it forms over tropical or sub-tropical waters and has organized convection (i.e., thunderstorm activity) as well as definite cyclonic surface wind circulation, the generic term used to describe it is the "tropical cyclone".

Now you're probably wondering: what does he mean by cyclonic? Well, that just refers to rotation in the same direction as that of the Earth, as seen from above either pole. For the Northern Hemisphere, cyclonic rotation is counter-clockwise, and for the Southern Hemisphere, cyclonic rotation is clockwise. So these terms cyclonic and anti-cyclonic are relative; which way they rotate is related to the hemisphere in which they occur.

But back to that strength thing again: just when does a cyclone become a tropical storm, and when does a tropical storm become a hurricane? Tropical cyclones with maximum sustained surface winds of less than 34 knots (about 39 mph) are called "tropical depressions". Once a tropical cyclone reaches winds of this velocity however, it's then called a "tropical storm" and is assigned a name. If winds reach 64 knots (or 74 mph), then they start referring to it as a "hurricane". Note that this applies in the North Atlantic Ocean, the Northeast Pacific Ocean east of the dateline, and the South Pacific Ocean east of 160 degrees East longitude. For those of you in (or traveling to) the Northwest Pacific Ocean west of the dateline, the term is "typhoon"; in the Southwest Pacific Ocean west of 160E or Southeast Indian Ocean east of 90E, it's called a "severe tropical cyclone"; in the North Indian Ocean, the term is "severe cyclonic storm"; and in the Southwest Indian Ocean, it's a "tropical cyclone". (Clear as mud, right?)

And just what "maximum sustained surface winds" means depends on who is doing the measuring; World Meteorology Organization guidelines say that a 10 minute average defines "sustained", and most countries use this. But the National Hurricane Center and the Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC) use a one minute period to compute sustained winds. This difference introduces some complications in comparing statistics from one ocean basin to another (because using a smaller time interval probably increases the number of occurrences).

By the way, names are reserved for tropical storms years in advance. If you'd like to see if your name is on the list of names that might be used in the near future, have a look:

Figure 1

For hundreds of years, many hurricanes (at least in the West Indies) were named based on whatever saint's day a particular hurricane occurred. Clement Wragge, an Australian meteorologist, began giving women's names to tropical storms in the late 1800s. Starting in 1953, Atlantic tropical storms were named from lists originated by the National Hurricane Center. (They're now maintained and updated by an international committee of the World Meteorological Organization.) The practice of naming hurricanes after women only ended in 1978 when men's and women's names were included in the Eastern North Pacific storm lists (and in 1979, lists for the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico as well). Six lists are now used in rotation, being "recycled" every six years (e.g., the 2002 list will be used again in 2008). The one exception is when a storm is so deadly or costly that the future use of its name on a different storm would be insensitive to the loss of property and life, in which case the WMO committee removes it and chooses another name. (For example, on the 2004 list, Gaston has replaced Georges, and Matthew has replaced Mitch.)

And finally, in case you were wondering what happens if a storm, fluctuating between hurricane and tropical storm strength, were to migrate from one ocean basin to another, the answer is that it would keep the same name. Prior to April 2000, the naming protocol would change the name of a storm that crossed from one basin to another to the next available name on the list of the "inheriting" basin. But the World Meteorological Organization recently changed the rules so that "a tropical cyclone which passes from one basin to another will retain its name." (This is from Public Affairs at the National Hurricane Center, in Miami.)

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