From an Islamic point of view, weather is one of the Five Decrees solely under divine control, far beyond men’s knowledge and prediction. The Decree includes the Hour (of Resurrection), the weather (rain), the nature of the fetus in the mother’s womb, the sustenance of an individual, and his place of death:
“Verily Allah, with Him (Alone) is the knowledge of the Hour, He sends down the rain, and knows that which is in the wombs. No person knows what he will earn tomorrow, and no person knows in what land he will die…” [Sûrah Luqman, 31:34]
The existence of human life, and in fact of all lives, is dependent on the condition of the environment. Our environment, whether on land or water, is influenced by the weather/climate, and it is governed by atmospheric conditions.
The Study of Weather
Our predecessors perceived the crucial role of weather on our survival very early in our existence. They studied the direction of winds and water currents to predict the prevailing weather and made it public knowledge through word of mouth and/or posting on stone, before there was paper or a printing machine available.
Weather Forecast Stone
Throughout centuries attempts have been made to produce forecasts based on weather lore and personal observations. But the conclusions were unsubstantiated and remained illusive at times. Historically forecasts always include grades of possibility, probability, or even “ifs.”
The recorded history of meteorological evolution dates back to the time of Claudius Ptolemy of Alexandria, the renowned astronomer of the second century. He applied a complex mathematical model to predict the relative position of the earth to the sun, moon and other planets throughout the year, and concluded that their interactions can impact earth’s atmosphere; accordingly, it can influence the weather:
“When planets are in significant relationship to one another, they produce associated variations in the state of our atmosphere, which must be factored together with seasonal conditions and prevailing winds.”
The ninth century Arab philosophers Al-Battânî and Al-Kindî compiled new astronomical data and refined Ptolemy’s method of weather forecasting. Their valuable data was assimilated in European universities from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries for teaching and research purposes.
Subsequently, Tycho Brahe and Johannes-Kepler, between 1593 and 1624, further refined the Arab model for better prediction. In doing so, they were able to describe the day’s weather broadly as “wind, rain and stormy weather,” “variable winds,” and conditions described as “fresh and fair”—the phraseologies still used in modern forecasts.
Modern Sophisticated Tools of Prediction
The challenges in proper assessment of weather “beyond variables” is highlighted by the failure of predicting accuracy even with the use of the most sophisticated technological tools, as used by the United States National Weather Service and other agencies.
In the twenty-first century meteorologists study earth’s atmosphere from different angles and use computer models to generate data for forecasts. The National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)’s National Weather Service uses Doppler Radar Satellite data, Radiosondes, the Automated Surface-Observing System (ASOS), Super Computers, and the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System to predict weather.
On a typical day, weather forecasts include “chances” of rain, showers, snow, and thunderstorms, and even these “chances” show variations. Thus, the numbers of prediction still remain clouded by chances and their variations. These uncertainties in predictions point to a process beyond human intelligence and technological grasp, and leave the philosophical minds wondering about the ultimate control of weather.
Allah’s Ayat: The Purpose and Proportioning of Natural Phenomena
The Holy Qur’an was revealed in the seventh century. It provided a wealth of information on the water cycle, clouds, wind, the earth’s atmosphere, rain, storms and hailstorms, thus laying the foundation of modern meteorology. However, this information was largely ignored by the then prevailing astronomical schools, continuing up until modern technological gazettes started to unveil the complexities that shrouded astronomical numbers and to uncover the hidden treasures of meteorology to the plain view of knowledge seekers.
From a philosophical point of view, one must realize that all creations are made for a purpose. Additionally, they are fashioned in due proportion to themselves and to everything around them so as to complement the purpose of their creation. The natural phenomena —the so-called “acts of nature”— are also created in due proportion to serve certain purposes:
“He has created everything, and has measured it exactly according to its due measures.” [Sûrah Al-Furqân, 25:2]
The solar system is a perfect example of that concept of proportion and purpose.
The sun, its planets and their satellites are created in proportion so as to work as a stable system: the sun to hold the planets in their orbits and to shine upon them; the earth to spin on its axis so as to create the alteration of night and day, providing time to rest and time to work; and the ocean to balance the solid mass of the earth and provide water to sustain life.
This principle of proportionality is observed in all objects on earth. Examples of this proportionality are: (1) Our musculoskeletal system, our weight and locomotion; a joint is created in proportion to its range of motion and in proportion to its weight-bearing capacity, (2) Earth’s gravity keeps us close to the crust of the earth; we are neither swallowed by the earth nor blown away from it.
The Universal Plan of Creation and its Management include the creation of the heavens and the earth, the sequence of night and day, the creation of the ocean and the buoyancy of water [allowing ships to float], the creation of the clouds, and that of the air that envelops the earth:
Verily! In the creation of the heavens and the earth; and in the alternation of the night and the day; and in the sailing of the ships through the ocean for the profit of mankind; in the water (rain) which Allah sends down from the skies, and the life which He gives therewith to an earth that is dead; in the beasts of all kinds that He scatters through the earth; in the veering of the winds, and in the clouds which are held between the sky and the earth, …” [Sûrah Al-Baqarah, 2:164]
The Ocean, the Sky and Clouds
The effect of natural phenomena on weather is observed both locally and globally. The source of a cloud is water vapor from the ocean and the surface of the earth; and, the driving force of clouds is the veering force of air masses. One of many functions of the air masses is to carry the mass of cloud to its destination:
“It is Allah Who sends forth the winds, so that they raise up the clouds, and We drive them to a land that is dead and revive the earth therewith…” [Sûrah al-Fâṭir, 35:9]
Proportions in Atmospheric Science
The earth is protected by its atmosphere, which has many layers.
Air Masses and Fronts
Uneven warming and cooling of the earth’s surface by the sun affects this “air-jacket” and gives rise to differential air masses with warm or cold temperatures causing mass movements: a warmer and lighter air mass with a lower density moves upwards and expands, while colder air with a higher density, moves sideways and downwards subducting under the warmer air mass. This “veering” or change in the flow direction of air masses is responsible for regional changes in weather.
In addition to the effect of local temperature and humidity, the earth’s rotation on its axis plays a significant role with regard to the movement of air masses.
Winds and Currents: Direction of Turn, Clockwise or Counterclockwise
These produce a sheering or swerving effect, particularly on polar and maritime air masses. Due to the earth’s approximately spherical shape, this force is greatest at the poles and weakest at the equator. The force, called the “Coriolis Effect,” causes the direction of winds and ocean currents to be deflected. In the Northern Hemisphere, wind and currents are deflected toward the right; and in the Southern Hemisphere, they are deflected to the left.
The source, size and weight of air masses vary. The “source regions” are tracts of ocean, desert or snow-covered plains. Accordingly, the formation of differential air masses is most common in the tropics, subtropics, and high latitudes. A warm air mass, like one over the equator or desert —where solar radiation is at a maximum— can rise and spread over 16,000 km (10,000 miles) and achieve a height of 16 km (10 miles), while a cold air mass near the poles —where solar radiation is at a minimum— can form a large mass over a length of time and remain close to the earth. The weight of an air column at sea level is 1 kg per sq. centimeter or 760 mm Hg per sq. inch of earth surface.
Clouds are a mix of water droplets, minute ice crystals, dust particles and pollen. Blowing wind collects the evaporated drops of water from the surfaces of the earth and ocean, along with dust particles, pollen and other pollutants.
As the water vapor rises, it comes to an area of lower temperature and shrinks in volume, but at the same time it increases in density. As it rises further to an area of even lower temperature, it condenses (precipitates) on surfaces of dust and pollen to form water droplets and minute ice crystals.
Patches of cloud are formed by the gradual accretion of water droplets. Once the water droplets in the cloud become heavy, exceeding the weight-bearing capacity of air, raindrops ensue.
“It is Allah Who sends the winds, and they raise the clouds: then He spreads them in the sky as He wills, and breaks them into fragments, until you see rain-drops issue from the midst thereof!…” [Sûrah Al-Rûm, 30:4]
Most clouds form in the tropospheric layer of the earth’s atmosphere at varying distances from the earth’s surface: Low-level clouds appear at 6,500 ft., mid-level at 20,000 ft., and high-level at more than 20,000 ft. All levels are between the earth’s surface and the visible blue sky, whose blueness is produced by the scattering of the blue component of the sun’s white light spectrum by the earth’s atmosphere.
The Makeup of Clouds and Their Resulting Weather Events
The weight and height of the cloud are amazing discoveries! The weight of the cloud is measured by its density based on its number of water droplets per cm3. The cumulus cloud has a density of about 0.5 gram of water droplet per cubic meter. Therefore, 1 km3 (one cubic kilometer) will contain 500,000,000 grams of water droplets, or 1.1 million pounds, or 551 tons, of water droplets (1km3 = 1 billion cubic meters).
The height of the cloud varies depending on location and type of cloud. Generally the height is between 10,000 feet for cumulus cloud, to 60,000 feet for cirrocumulus (more than twice the height of Mount Everest at 29,035 feet).
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Thus the mountainous cloud can extend from lower level tropospher (at 6,500 ft) up to the lower part of the stratosphere, which begins at nine miles (or 47,520 feet) above the earth’s surface, and has a temperature of -30 C or 26.60 F. Hail starts to form at the highest points of these mountainous clouds:
“See you not that Allah moves the clouds gently, then joins them together, then makes them into a heap of layers? – Then you see rain issue forth from their midst. And He sends down from the sky mountain masses (of clouds) wherein is hail…the vivid flash of His lightning well-nigh blinds the sight.”[Sûrah Al-Nûr, 24:43]
The crystals of ice and the water that constitute clouds are water molecules.
During a storm the current of air moves these particles around. The upward and sideward moving molecules collide, and that creates static electricity: the negatively charged electrons from the upward-moving molecules of water are transferred to downward moving heavier molecules. The result is that the top of the storm cloud is positively charged and the bottom of the storm cloud is more negatively charged. Thus, a mass of cloud is bipolar.
Lightning results from the meeting of the negatively charged electrons at the bottom of the cloud with the positively charged electrons on the surface of the earth or on anything projecting upwards, a tree, telephone pole or a house:
“It is He Who shows you the lightning, by way both of fear (of electrocution) and of hope (of rain). And it is He Who brings up the clouds, heavy with (fertilizing) rain! It is thunder that glorifies and praises Him, and so do the angels, with awe. He sends the thunder-bolts…” [Sûrah Al-RaCd, 13:12,13]
Thunder is the loud sound that follows lightning. Lightning heats the air around it to incredible temperatures—as hot as 54,000 °F (30,000 °C), in a fraction of a second. That’s five times hotter than the surface of the Sun! The heated air expands explosively, creating a shockwave in the surrounding atmosphere as the air is rapidly compressed. The air then contracts rapidly as it cools. This creates an initial CRACK sound, followed by rumbles as the column of air continues to vibrate. Lightning precedes thunder. We hear thunder after we see the lightning, because the speed of light is much faster than the speed of sound.
A Storm results from the massive clash of two large air masses with different densities, pressures and expanding forces. The warm air mass tends to expand and rise, while a cold air mass tends to have low expanding pressure and settles lower. Air flows from a high-pressure zone to a low-pressure zone, and in doing so, at some critical level they will clash and result in a storm.
Hail is formed from ice crystals. Ice crystals are caught in the updraft of air and moved to the upper part of the cloud, where it grows in size through wet and supercooled water droplets. It starts to fall when it is too heavy to stay in the updraft, continuing to grow in size as it falls miles before it hits the ground. The size of the hail varies from ¼ inch to 4.5 inch.
Will Man Return to His Role as Allah’s Caretaker?
On a regular day, a weather forecast prepares us for safety and warns us against heavy rain, lightning, a storm or hailstorm, but it cannot prevent the consequences of material loss and that of life. Weather is a force, and once a turbulent system has been set into motion, it cannot be prevented even with a nuclear intervention!
Today’s dramatic weather is an outcome of mankind’s careless deeds, quite apart from the normal balanced operation of any natural phenomenon. Modern patterns of turbulent weather are the result of what we do to the earth’s atmosphere— both over land and sea.
Our scientists have long been warning us of the cause-effect relationship resulting from mankind’s retreat from his caretaker responsibility for the earth.
The cause of these modern, unnatural disasters is global warming , which in turn is the result of industrial assaults leading to the excessive emission of water vapor, C02 , methane, nitrous oxide and sulfur oxide, causing damage to the earth’s ozone layer, thus exposing the earth’s surface to unnatural amounts of solar radiation.
Global warming also causes the melting of ice caps, leading to the rising of sea levels, threatens the earth with storms and cyclones, coastal erosion and damage to coral reefs. This is compounded by excessive deforestation, leading to the accummulation of CO2, and the green house effect, causing global warming, in turn leading to drought and wildfires in some places or excessive rain, flooding and mudslides in other places.
It is predicted that by the end of the twenty-first century—at the present rate of emission of CO2 and other gases— the global temperature could rise by 3 to 4 0C (= 5 to 6.7 0F) and change the earth’s climate to a new pattern of extreme drought and rainfall, which in turn may severely affect food production, among other unexpected consequences.
The presently existing climate change and unprecedented disasters are only a warning sign of things to come. Unless global agreements address these issues, we are subjecting ourselves and future generations to the risk of ever-increasing drastic weather change and its consequences:
“Evil has appeared on land and sea because of what the hands of men have earned, that He (Allah) may make them taste a part of that which they have done, in order that they may return (to the obedience of Allah).” [Sûrah Al-Rûm, 30:41]
The world body should have this goal:
“Protect the Environment and Prevent Disasters.”
And we Muslims must be in the forefront of returning mankind to its rightful responsibility as caretaker of the earth.