It’s October, so you know what that means: SciShow Tangents is about to get a little spooky! This year, we’re celebrating the Halloween season by talking about traditionally eerie subjects and writing bad collaborative poems! Welcome to “It Was A Dark & Stormy Month"! And to kick it off, we’re talking about the number one most scary of all types of weather: storms!
It’s October, so you know what that means: SciShow Tangents is about to get a little spooky! This year, we’re celebrating the Halloween season by talking about traditionally eerie subjects and writing bad collaborative poems! Welcome to “It Was A Dark & Stormy Tangents” month!
And to kick it off, we’re talking about the number one most scary of all types of weather: storms!
Head to https://www.patreon.com/SciShowTangents to find out how you can help support SciShow Tangents, and see all the cool perks you’ll get in return, like bonus episodes and a monthly newsletter!
A big thank you to Patreon subscribers Eclectic Bunny and Garth Riley for helping to make the show possible!
Follow us on Twitter @SciShowTangents, where we’ll tweet out topics for upcoming episodes and you can ask the science couch questions!
While you're at it, check out the Tangents crew on Twitter: Ceri: @ceriley Sam: @slamschultz Hank: @hankgreen
Project Ice Storm - possible effects of stress on pregnancy
Blood/red rain mystery in Spain
[Ask the Science Couch]
Aches before storms
[Butt One More Thing]
Lightning in plumbing
http://lightningsafety.com/nlsi_lls/lightning-caused-deaths.pdf (table 3)
♩: [Halloween SciShow Tangents Intro theme music plays: kicked off by some rattling chains and bubbling beakers, it's a familiar jaunty melody backed by surf drums and some distorted bass synths and harp. This eerie tune features a creepy choir and funeral organs, and is accentuated by the haunting wobbly notes of a theremin. It ends with a lone, satisfying electronic note.]
Hank: [In an exaggerated scary voice] Hello and welcome to SciShow Tangents, the frightly competitive knowledge screamcase! I’m your ghost, Hank Gangreene—Green, and joining me this week, as always, is mad scientist, Scary Riley!
Hank: [In the same exaggerated scary voice] And our resident everyghoul, Sam Skullz!
Sam: [Doing a halfhearted vampire impression] Bleh. Is that a scary word?
♩: [Ceri and Hank laugh]
Hank: [In his normal voice] Uh, October is here. And, if you don't know, the person who produces this podcast, Sam Schultz, Is a Halloween fiend. And so he makes me do this nonsense every year!
Sam: Nooo. You like it a little bit, right? [Laughs].
Hank: I do. I do. I do, actually. And Sam?
Hank: How have you—how are you preparing for the season?
Sam: Well, I think we're gonna decorate our house a lot this year. We usually have a big Halloween party, but I'm—I'm just not sure it's going to happen again. So I don't even know—like, we don't even have our costumes picked out or anything like that, but we did buy... My goal this year: every time I see a themed Halloween piece of candy with, like, a gimmick, like blood inside and anything like that, we buy it. We have so much freaking candy now.
Hank: I'll be right over!
Sam: [Laughs] Yeah.
Hank: Do you have Halloween plans, Ceri?
Ceri: No, I don't think so. Just when I go grocery shopping, it's more orange than usual.
♩: [Sam laughs]
Hank: Right. Yeah, I don't know. I have no plans, Katherine and I are always, like, "Ooh, that would be a great Halloween costume." And then we forget about it.
Sam: It's hard to make a Halloween costume! Especially, like, one you're proud of.
Hank: I find it quite easy to make Halloween costumes that I am proud of or Halloween costumes that people recognize, but not both at the same time.
Sam: Ohh, yeah.
Hank: Uh, so I can—I'm quite proud when it is extraordinarily obscure, but it's not fun if nobody knows who you are.
Hank: Anyhow. Uh, we are so excited to be entering Halloween. We have a lot of different Halloween weirdnesses, uh, planned for you. But, just so that you know what's going on: every week here on Tangents, we get together to try to unnerve and disgust and horrify each other with science facts, while trying to stay on topic. Our panelists are playing for gory and for Hank Bucks—god dammit, Sam!
Sam: You're really good at catchin' all of them now!
♩: [Ceri and Sam laugh]
Hank: —I will be awarding as we play. And at the end of the episode, one of them will be crowned the winner. And for this most horrible, awful, bone-chilling month, we will be focusing on some traditionally eerie topics. But also, each week we will be collaborating on an exquisite corpse science poem. Exquisite corpse poems, if you don't know, are collaborative poems where the participants take turns writing the next word of a poem without being able to see the words that everyone else has written. And now we will introduce this week's topic of terror with the first exquisite corpse science poem.
♩: [Science Incantation theme music plays behind Hank saying "exquisite corpse science poem": a melodic hum of a funeral organ, almost as if a haunted wedding is about to start.]
Hank: Are you ready?
♩: [A gentle pitter-patter of a rainstorm with blustery wind plays behind Hank's reading of the poem]
Hank: A harsh flood of hail under cover of darkness. Amongst the mudslide, like so many beans, the gale rumbled. The looming downpour, as if some tremendous creature, ghostly echoes screaming within a spectral ball lightning. The Headless Horseman crashed chillingly amongst the crypts, lightning wailed betwixt the gloom, ushering the thunder. The deluge soaked Dracula, surrounded by thundersnow. The anticyclone crashed like a bolt... beyond darkness.
Hank: So the topic for this week is storms. That was quite an exquisite corpse poem.
Ceri: Yeah. It got the ambience of a storm and it got the lack of specificity of a storm too, I feel... [laughs].
Sam: Yeah, sure.
Hank: It did not get the really—sort of, uh, rhyme of a poem.
Sam: Well, that's the hard part, okay?! So traditionally they don't rhyme, but we can figure out a way to make them rhyme. Perhaps.
Hank: Maybe we could, yeah.
Sam: Okay. That's our new challenge. We're gonna perfect exquisite corpses by the end of this month.
♩: [Ceri laughs].
Hank: Ceri—Ceri, what is a storm?
Ceri: Um, so a storm—you know it when you see it. You look outside and you're like, "Wow, that's a storm." And so if I were—I think the most technical you can get is if you're using the Beaufort Wind Scale, developed in 1805 by Sir Francis Beaufort of the U.K. Royal Navy, then a storm is anything a 10 or higher, which is when there's wind that is above 55 miles per hour or 89 kilometers per hour, which is quite a lot.
Hank: Yeah, that's a high threshold, I'd say. These mariners have—are stronger stuff than I.
♩: [Sam laughs]
Hank: I think it's a storm as long as there's anything happening at all.
Sam: Yeah, it rained a little bit today. And I was like, "Ah, it's storming today! Perfect!"
Ceri: So, like, a one, which is smoke drift indicates wind direction, still wind vanes… is that a storm?
Sam: No, no. A little bit more than that.
Hank: [Overlapping] No. If there's still wind vanes then it's not a storm.
Ceri: Okay. Two: wind felt on face, leaves rustle, vanes begin to move.
Sam: No, that's just a nice blustery day.
Hank: Yeah, that's a breeze! Is this all wind-based?
Ceri: This is all wind based, yeah. Number three is: leaves and small twigs constantly moving, light flags extended.
Sam: That still sounds nice. [Laughs].
Hank: Yeah it does.
Ceri: We're at “gentle breeze” on Beaufort's scale. Okay... what about—six is strong breeze, larger tree branches moving, whistling in wires.
Sam: Oh, that could be.
Hank: Yeah I could definitely hear—if there's whistling in wires, I think it's a storm. Though I do—I do kinda feel like—and I know that, like, Martian dust storms are gonna come and ruin my day here—but I kinda feel like... I need some rain if I'm gonna call it a storm.
Sam: I think a windy enough wind storm is a storm.
Hank: They do call them wind storms.
Ceri: Yeah. Um, all these technicalities is to say that Beaufort just kind of said the word "storm," and then everyone else pointed at things and was like, "Is this a storm?" Storms are a confluence of weather events that don't really have a precise definition.
Ceri: We know when something has shifted from being cloudy to being a storm and, like, atmospherically that is when convection cells form, where warm air—warm, moist air rises up and then the water inside condenses, um, and usually there are, like, some condensation nuclei around which those can form. And if there's enough moisture in the air, then it'll form a cloud. And if there's still even more moisture, then raindrops or other sort of precipitation will start falling out of the sky. And that is when storms can happen, but it's also when wind happens. And it's also when other types of precipitation happens. And so storms can be any number of weather events. And this is one of the—the least precise... You—you'd think that storms would be one of the more precise scientific definitions that we have, but this is really where I think SciShow Tangents shines. We just—we just observe things happening and we decided to use words to describe them, when it's really just, like, relationships between air particles and water molecules. And we've decided that this confluence of relationships during a given time is a storm.
Hank: Yeah, it—it feels like storm!
Sam: So where does the word storm come from?
Ceri: So it actually comes from a root "(s)twer-", which means "to turn or whirl... or [pronouncing it with a fancy whoosh sound] whirl." Uh, so it—it comes from, like, the idea of wind. So that was the Proto-Indo-European root and then it just got passed along. Uh, our word comes from Germanic languages. And I was curious about "tempest" because I feel like I had to learn that later as—as something that means storm. But it seems to come from the same root as time, so like "temporal." So while storm refers to, like, the swirling nature of it, or the stirring nature of the atmosphere—the direction the wind is moving... tempest refers to the disturbance being a period of time. Like, it is a storm, or it is a tempest for a period of time where it's bad and you don't want to go outside and then it's over and you can go outside and be a human again. And so I thought that was interesting. Like, there's one based on movement and there's one based on the seasonality of the weather commotion.
Hank: And that means that it is time to move onto the quiz portion of our show. This week, I've got a game for you to play. It's a game called This or That. So storms on our planet can be scary to get through, but storms on other planets can be much stranger and definitely scarier than those on our planets because of the different geological and atmospheric processes that drive those storms. They're the kind of storms that would definitely instantly kill you. And even though we can't visit all of these planets, scientists are able to use different methods to describe what those storms are like, including storms happening on exoplanets—so planets outside of our solar system. That's right! We've seen weather on other planets in other solar systems, or other planetary systems. So today we're going to play This or That: Solar System Edition. I'm gonna be describing some sort of storm that you might encounter on another planet or moon. And it's up to you to determine whether that planet or moon is part of our solar system, or if it is an exoplanet. Would you like to hear the three different things that you're going to have to place properly in the universe?
Sam: Well, you have to think of a spooky way to say This or That.
Hank: [In an exaggerated vampire voice] This or THAT?!
♩: [Ceri laughs uproariously]
Hank: So you probably would not want to travel to this planet on a normal day, when temperatures are at around 980 degrees Fahrenheit. But if you make it there on a particular day during its orbit, those temperatures can go up more than a thousand degrees in the course of six hours. This very fast heating of the atmosphere sets off shock waves and creates wind that can travel at around three miles per second. So Beaufort would probably put that at about a 8 million on his scale if he could, but he couldn't, 'cause his skin wouldn't exist anymore.
Sam: I feel like he's a sailor man. He'd be like, "This isn't so bad. Come on."
♩: [Ceri, Hank, and Sam all laugh]
Hank: So is that our solar system or is that not our solar system?
Sam: I mean... is it Venus?
Ceri: That's what I—I mean it—it's probably Mercury or Venus. Those are the hot ones.
Sam: I've never heard of the shock wave thing, though. That's—that seems like something I would've heard about, I feel like—if Mercury or Venus sent out shock wave winds at three miles a second!
Ceri: I certainly would not have heard of it. I don't pay close enough attention to Mercury or Venus.
Hank: Ceri's like, "I don't care about planets!"
♩: [Sam laughs]
Ceri: Of the news that I regularly ingest, it is not, uh, related to shock waves on planets in or outside of our solar system. So...
Sam: I'm going to guess exoplanet.
Hank: Sam's in for [the same exaggerated vampire voice] exoplanet.
Ceri: Just to spice it up, I'll guess in our solar system.
Hank: This planet is called HD 80606b!
Sam: Ah! That doesn't sound like it's from around here, does it?
Hank: It's not from 'round here. [Laughs].
Ceri: It's Mercury's nickname, what are you talkin' about?!
♩: [Sam laughs]
Hank: So this is a gaseous planet. It's located around 200 light years away, so that's pretty distant. Uh, it has a very elongated orbit and during its closest approach—uh, it gets there every 111 days—and when it is in that close range, the energy it receives goes up 830 times. In 2007, researchers using the Spitzer Space Telescope observed the planet passing right before, during, and after its brush with its star. And they were able to track how the temperature of the planet changed during that period. And it went up from 980 to 2,240 degrees Fahrenheit over six hours, which was the first observation where scientists were able to track weather changes in real time on an exoplanet. So that's pretty cool. So that's one point for Sam and none so far for Ceri. Now, question number two: if you hike across this moon, you will probably make a few pit stops at its lakes, which might be, uh, very picturesque. These lakes are the, uh, byproduct of a hydrologic cycle, just like we have here on our planet, except instead of water, uh, this moon cycles hydrocarbons like methane and ethane. So very cold, cold, big pools of hydrocarbons. These lakes might be the product of rain that gets its start with ice volcano eruptions, which release hydrocarbons into the atmosphere where they can then condense and fall slowly to the ground as rain. Methane and ethane lakes, is it our solar system or some other solar system?
Ceri: This I have read about, because we just did an episode on volcanoes and I was reading about cryovolcanoes, but I think they are both within our solar system and outside of...
Sam: Yeah. This feels more like something that I've heard about here. In all of the news that I intake about exoplanets, which is probably more than the normal person 'cause of my job. I'm gonna say it's an endoplanet. Is that how you'd say it?
♩: [Hank laughs]
Hank: Okay. Yes.
Ceri: I agree. I think it's, like, Saturn or—or Jupiter or Neptune or something.
Hank: You are both correct. It is in our solar system. It's Titan! The largest moon on Saturn. It has a number of liquid hydrocarbon lakes distributed around the planet. And according to the Cassini spacecraft and its radar data, some of them are more than 300 feet deep, which makes Titan the only other body in the solar system with stable liquid on the surface. These lakes are full of methane and ethane, which are gases here on Earth, but they condense into lakes on Titan thanks to cold temperatures. The existence of these lakes, however, is still an ongoing mystery, as something has to be replacing the methane that would otherwise be broken down by sunlight. This has led scientists to hypothesize that Titan might have cryovolcanoes or ice volcanoes that erupt these hydrocarbons into the atmosphere. Bonus fun fact, the mountains on Titan are named after the mountains of Middle Earth.
Ceri: That's fun.
Hank: Why not? All right, so now it's two-to-one, with Sam still in the lead with our final This or That—[remembers to do the exaggerated vampire voice] This or That!
♩: [Ceri and Sam laugh]
Hank: It's, uh, about a planet that is very close to its star, so surface temperatures can reach around 480 degrees Celsius. But if you visit this planet, you might be surprised to see snow up on the mountain tops. Not just any snow, though... This is metal snow. It's made up of pyrite minerals that vaporize at the surface and then condense in the atmosphere into metallic frost.
Sam: What the hell? There is a whole bunch of crazy shit happening out there, huh?
Hank: That's true. It's true. It's absolutely true.
Ceri: This is so wild, I'd be shocked if it was in our solar system, which is maybe what you want us to think.
Hank: Mmm. Ah, playing the metagame.
Ceri: [Grumbles] I should never play the metagame because that—that's how I mess up the worst.
Sam: I—I don't think that's too meta to say. I agree. I think that it's exoplanet 'cause it's too wild for us not to—it'd be more commonly known.
Sam: All our planets are boring.
Ceri: [Laughs] We know things about them already.
Hank: So Sam, you—you are exoplanet?
Ceri: I'm exoplanet as well.
Hank: Well, let me introduce you to the wildness of our own solar system!
Ceri: [Overlapping] Nooooo!
Sam: [Overlapping] Whaaa?
Hank: This metal snow has been observed via radar observations of Venus, where the surface of high altitude rocks can be coated in lead sulfide. The metallic snow was first discovered in 1995 using data from NASA's Magellan mission, which used synthetic aperture radar to image Venus's mountain regions. The radar images showed bright regions that researchers realized was likely due to millimeter-thick, metallic frost. And further work, uh, revealed that the snow was likely made of lead sulfide and bismuthinite.
Sam: Well, well, well. Not so boring after all, I guess.
Hank: Yeah, Venus is a great place because of how it will kill you in every possible way.
Sam: [Laughs] You'd turn into a skeleton there too, right?
Hank: Oh yeah. Yeah.
Ceri: And then you'd be coated with shiny lead sulfide. So you'd be a fashionable skeleton.
Hank: Yeah, shiny skeleton at the top of a mountain. Except that probably your bones would also dissolve faster than the—the lead would be deposited on them.
Hank: Sorry about your bones!!
♩: [Ceri and Sam laugh]
Hank: So, uh, the scores as they stand right now: Ceri with one point and Sam with two. Next up, we're gonna be taking a short break. Then, it will be time for the Fact Off.
♩: [A snippet of the Halloween SciShow Tangents transition theme music plays: the same tune, but emphasizing the creepy chorus and backed by a church organ, accentuated by a distorted bass synth. It ends with an echo.]
Hank: Hello and welcome back, everybody! Ceri and Sam are both here to present to me the best facts that they can think of, so that I can decide whether or not one of them would make a good TikTok and award points to that one. But first, to decide who goes first, we have a trivia question: Hurricanes are very powerful, so it's not surprising that their winds generate energy. According to NOAA, the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, the energy from winds of a single hurricane can get up to half the world's electrical-energy-generating capacity. But forming clouds and rain in the same storm generates even more energy. How many times more energy can be generated by cloud and rain formation than winds?
Ceri: Is this just a number, like two times or, like, four times?
Hank: Exactly. Yeah, that's what you're lookin' for.
Sam: Hmm. Three times.
Ceri: [Laughs] Three was my go-to. So I just gotta pick... 2.5 times.
Hank: 2.5 times.
Sam: Pffft, you barely picked.
♩: [Ceri and Sam laugh]
Hank: The answer is 400 times!
Sam: [Overlapping] What?
Ceri: [Overlapping] Seems fake.
Sam: Hooow...? I still don't understand this.
Hank: I don't know. We need to make a whole SciShow about that 'cause I am also having a hard time wrapping my head around it.
Sam: That's bonkers.
Hank: So that means that Sam, with three-x rather than 2.5, gets to go—gets to choose who goes first.
Sam: [Laughs] Uh, I have bad self esteem, so I want Ceri to go first.
Ceri: Okay. So huge storms become immortalized in our memories, and folklore, and in literature, and cautionary tales for the future... and even in scientific literature. For example, I don't know if either of you remember this because I was three and a half and do not—in January 1998, a chunk of Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick experienced one of the most intense natural disasters in Canadian history: a massive six-day ice storm. In this storm, freezing rain coated trees and power lines and everything really in three-to-four inches or seven-to-11 centimeters of ice, causing massive damage and power outages. Some people were injured or died and millions of people were left without power for up to 40 whole days. So it was, undoubtedly, a very stressful experience. Now, and this could be spooky too, pregnant people have been lectured for centuries about their own bodies—sometimes based on real medicine, but sometimes just because of social biases about what certain people should or should not be allowed to do, like go to school or have careers. And the question underlying all that has been: Does a pregnant parent's stress have any effects on a growing baby? Our mental health and physical health are undeniably intertwined, and so many biochemical things are going on in pregnancy, from hormones to immune system development. So researchers at McGill university reached out to hospitals, following ethical procedures, and found 178 volunteers to participate in Project Ice Storm, a bunch of studies and data analysis that are still ongoing today to see whether or how stress during pregnancy affects children. In papers, this is often called prenatal maternal stress or PNMS because only pregnant cis women are usually studied. And the researchers measure factors like so-called objective stressors, like days the parents experienced without power, or subjective stressors like surveys and memories of their stress during and after the ice storm due to all kinds of life things, like having to find groceries or digging out stuff from ice, and physiological markers of stress like cortisol. And there are two things that I find fascinating about Project Ice Storm. One is the fact that this dataset exists, because a lot of pregnancy and a lot of mental health is not super well understood and you don't want to make people's lives intentionally horrible, which makes things like PNMS extremely difficult to study in humans. So it's kind of incredible that scientists not only reached out, but were able to follow up with these kids from six months old to 19 years old, to look at things like play, behavior, language and cognitive development and all kinds of factors. Even though it's a relatively small sample because that 178 people dwindled, uh, it's a long-term study because of an ice storm. And the second thing is that when these researchers propose conclusions about how PNMS seems to affect child development, they are really thoughtful about presenting non-sensationalized results. Like how two-year-olds in the high objective PNMS category, especially in the first and second trimesters, didn't play as much or in as many ways. They also take care to contextualize their research in the grand scheme of things, like this Canadian ice storm was pretty bad in 1998, but plenty of people experience worse, objective and subjective PNMS than "losing electricity for an extended period of time, even during a Canadian winter." So this is worth studying further in many other contexts with many other natural disasters. And to wrap it all up... I didn't know how to do that, exactly. In typical Tangents fashion, the world is complicated. Project Ice Storm didn't necessarily revolutionize how we think about stress during pregnancy, but it's a really interesting example of taking something so impactful, like a giant winter storm, and applying science to it instead of just passing it down as a story.
Hank: Well, can we just do that on the last two years of everyone?
Sam: Yeah. That's what I was wondering too.
Hank: There's—I—I remember, you know, hearing, like, wow, this is, like, bad, but maybe it's gonna give some opportunities for us to do interesting research around, uh, people's responses to pandemics, or just like the—the times when people were really locked in and so not doing anything. And what does that—impact does that have on the environment or on the atmosphere or whatever. But at this point, I think that the study has—has run its course and that we should find a way to stop needing to alter our behavior or have increased stress response to this reality that we are currently inhabiting. But yeah, I am interested 10 years from now to see a little bit of a look back on how this has affected all of us. 'Cause I feel affected! So... have there been any follow-ups to this? Can you, like, continue to follow, um, the parents and—and the children through time?
Ceri: Yeah, they publish most of their research with, like, Project Ice Storm, somewhere in the title. So you can see and be like, "How did these babies and then kids and then young adults develop?"
Hank: Cool, Ceri. Sam, what do you have for me?
Sam: Okay. First of all, Ceri, I used one of the ideas you gave me last minute. So don't be shocked when I start to talk about it, okay?
Hank: Wow! If Sam wins with Ceri's idea...
♩: [Ceri laughs]
Sam: So rain is already pretty spooky in my opinion, but what if it rained... blooOooOod. Sort of. In 2014, it rained in the Spanish village of Zamora, which is not that interesting on its own. But not too long after the rainfall, fountains, puddles, and various other places where water collects had all turned an alarming bloody red color. So, as weird as this sounds, red rain has been known to fall. Like in England, France and Spain, it's not really uncommon for rain filled with red sand from the Sahara to fall. And in 2018, in a city in Siberia, really goopy-lookin', tomato-saucy, blood-like rain fell. And that turned out to be, uh, rust from a nearby, recently cleaned factory. They just swept it into the wind and then it rained on a town nearby, from what I understood. But in those cases, the rain was red when it fell, and in this case, the water turned red later. So we got a mystery on our hands! So theories from residents and observers included toxic waste contamination, sabotage, and the supernatural, but one resident collected the water, eh, observing it until he noticed that there was some sort of grime coating the containers he was keeping the samples in. And that grime seemed to be the thing that was actually causing the red color. It was, like, reflecting the red color into the water. So he sent the samples off to the University of Salamanca, where the water was studied more closely and found to be filled with Haematococcus pluvialis, which I think "hemo" means blood, correct? So there you go. And that is a species of green algae, and then when this algae is in an environment that's too bright, too salty, or just not up to the algae standards, it fills itself up with a red compound, which is like a defense mechanism against UV radiation, I think. Mainly? Uh, a similar species is responsible for red tides, which is like a big red ocean-based algal bloom that's usually caused by gross stuff, like too much sewage in the water, and they can be toxic to marine life. But red tides are pretty common 'cause we do lots of nasty stuff to the ocean, but these red rains are extremely rare. There's, like, two other recorded ones I could find. I think they were both in India too. Uh, so that's what's causing the red water, but it didn't really solve the mystery all that much because these algae live mostly in North America and Northern Europe and nowhere anywhere near the town of Zamora. And it's still unknown how the algae ended up there. So the algae is used in commercial fish farms to make salmon more red, and it turns up in stuff like vitamins and makeup, but no one ever fessed up that they, like, lost a bunch of this to the wind or anything like that. So they never pinpointed why this happened and where it came from.
Hank: So, like, the rain fell, it got red, it turns out it was a bunch of red algae, but nobody knows where the red algae came from—it's never happened before, and never happened since.
Sam: Yeah. And not in the same town—uh, yeah. It's never happened since, I don't think. And it definitely never happened in the same town. So, who knows? Some people think it came from all the way from North America and blew over.
Hank: So it was in the rain when it fell and then it was like, "Whee!" when it landed?
Hank: Just good situation for it?
Sam: No, no bad situation! It was like, "Ah, I don't want to be in Spain! RED." That's what it said.
♩: [Ceri, Hank, and Sam all laugh]
Hank: I don't know, man. Microbes. They do go a long way. They travel around a lot. It's just one little planet to them. They—they can go everywhere. All right. Now I have to choose which one of you is the most successful fact-giver of the day. So is it Ceri's Project Ice Storm, studying the effects of stress during pregnancy by following families involved and affected by a 1998 natural disaster, or Sam's mysterious blood red rain that fell clear but turned red because there was an angry algae that was like, "I don't like it here." I like Project Ice Storm better, but is it—is it better enough to overcome the gap?
Sam: Uh, I don't know.
Hank: I'm givin' it to Ceri!
Sam: That's fine. They're both her facts anyway, so she would've felt like she won. [Laughs]
Hank: [Laughing] It's true. That leaves us with, uh, the final Hank Buck scores, Ceri with five and Sam with four. And that means it's time to Ask the Science Couch, where we've got some listener questions for our couch of finely honed scientific minds.
♩: [Ask the Spider Couch theme music plays: a discordant melody featuring a funeral organ, harp, violin, double bass, and a little bit of clarinet swells in the background, painting a scholarly haunted mansion setting.]
Hank: This one is from @athornedrose03: "Why do, before and during a storm, some people get headaches?" I have no idea. I didn't know this was a thing. Barometric pressure is all I'm gonna—all I'm gonna say.
Ceri: [In a "go on" sort of intonation] Mhmm...
Hank: Is that right?
Ceri: Oh, that was it. That was truly all you were gonna say. Uh... yeah!
♩: [Hank and Sam laugh]
Ceri: Yes. That, and—but that mostly. Uh, it's achy throughout the body. So, like, headaches as part of it, but also this ties into joints aching too.
Sam: Yeah. You hear about, like, there's, like—old cowboy gets, uh, his knee hurts. And he's like, [in a gruff Southern drawl] "There's a storm comin.'"
Ceri: Yeah. So—so the reason there's the achy knees, the achy heads is because of barometric pressure or air pressure changing. It—it's not something that the average person really thinks about, or at least I don't think about it—is, like, the fact that the air is pushing in on me and pushing down on me constantly. And the only times that I've really noticed it are when you change in elevation very quickly, so if you're, like, at a lower elevation and then you hike up a tall hill over a day, or, like, drive somewhere different, then you can sense that it's, like, harder to breathe or it might be different to cook at a different elevation. But the thing about storms is that they blow in so quickly, like, the atmosphere is so turbulent that it can cause a local shift in barometric pressure that is big enough for our bodies to notice, even if we don't physically move anywhere. And so there's this folklore—or, like, there's this idea that this is worse in, like, cold, dry places, but really it's been found anywhere people can live, from, like, across cities in the United States, across cities in the world, studies have shown that this achy effect happens wherever you live. Because there's going to be a normal for where you live, and then there's going to be an abnormal, which is when a storm rolls in—uh, there's gonna be a change in pressure. And so when that pressure changes—specifically, it lowers. A storm is a low pressure system because the warm air is rising, leaving fewer air particles around where—where people are. Like, at the elevation of the surface. So it's low pressure. And specifically that affects areas in our body that have cavities involved. So like your nasal cavities, your sinus cavities, your ear cavities all have channels in which there's air and, like, fluid pockets and that—that all needs to be balanced. And so when that pressure gets altered, for whatever reason, um, like in the way that you might have to, like, pop your ears in an airplane, then it can cause, like, a sinus pressure and then headache. Um, migraines are a whole separate beast of...we don't understand exactly why, but it's been shown that pressure changes or humidity changes can affect those as well. Like, perhaps affecting the amount of mucus produced by certain cells, which adjusts the amount of pressure on various parts of your skull tissue and whatnot. And it might also be because blood pressure in your brain is really sensitively monitored. So, like, blood vessel width matters a lot. And so when the weather affects blood vessel width, because it's pushing on them less, there's less pressure, then that could then be related to a pain response because your body's like, "What's going on, something's wrong." And trying to alert you that something's wrong. That's pretty much it. It's just, like, anything— things swell and get uncomfortable, or fluids are imbalanced, or air pockets are imbalanced, and that can happen with tissues all over your body, from your—your noggin to your knees. And you just feel bad.
Hank: It's wild. Like, just to keep reminding myself that I am just, you know, a bunch of, uh, chemicals and cavities all, y'know, workin' together to make podcasts. [Laughs].
♩: [Ceri laughs]
Sam: Bunch of wet tubes!
Hank: Just a bunch of wet tubes, makin' podcasts. If you want to Ask the Science Couch your question, you can follow us on Twitter @SciShowTangents, where we'll tweet out the topics for upcoming episodes every week. Thank you to @orionamidala, @MysticalElven, and everybody else who tweeted us your questions for this episode.
♩: [Halloween version of the SciShow Tangents Outro theme music plays under Hank speaking: a muted version of the intro tune featuring distorted bass synths and a creepy choir, backed by surf drums, a distorted harp, and a little bit of a funeral organ. A high-pitched, warbling theremin sneaks in every so often.]
Hank: If you like SciShow Tangents and you want to help us out, you could do that in a couple of ways. You can go to patreon.com/scishowtangents to become a patron and get access to things like our newsletter and our bonus episodes. Today we had a bonus episode that we recorded. It was a Stump Hank episode where I was quizzed and I, very narrowly by the skin of my teeth, didn't get an F.
Sam: And Ceri did the beagle impression that we teased, so...
Hank: Oh, yes. We started out with a beagle impression. You can check that out if you become a patron on Patreon, uh, trust me, it's worth it. Um, you can also leave us a review wherever you listen. That's really wonderful. I love to read them and it helps us know what you like about the show. And also I've heard it's good for some algorithms somewhere. Finally, if you want to show your love for SciShow Tangents just...
Ceri, Hank, & Sam: Tell people about us!
Hank: Thanks for joining us. I've been Hank Green...
Ceri: I've been Ceri Riley...
Sam: And I've been Sam Schultz.
Hank: SciShow Tangents is created by all of us and produced by Caitlin Hofmeister and Sam Schultz, who edits a lot of these episodes along with Hiroka Matsushima. Our social media organizer is Paola Garcia-Prieto. Our editorial assistant is Deboki Chakravarti. Our sound design is by Joseph "Tuna" Metesh. And we couldn't make any of this without our patrons on Patreon. Thank you, and remember: "the mind is not a coffin to be filled, but a jack-o-lantern to be lighted."
♩: [Halloween SciShow Tangents Outro theme music plays louder to end the show. It ends with an otherworldly, echoing theremin warble.]
Hank: But! One more thing.
♩: [Halloween Butt “Vun” More Thing theme music plays: a witch cackle (which is Caitlin's voice pitch-shifted) followed by a flash powder "poof" that approximates a fart noise.]
Hank: Lightning can travel through plumbing. In the event of a storm, the CDC says that it is not safe to wash dishes, take a shower, or wash your hands. All right... those are three things. What about the other one that we're all thinking of? A meta study on the last 20 years of media-reported injuries includes six people being injured, uh, from using the toilet during a lightning storm.
Hank: Yes, Sam. Yes. That's more injuries than produced by any other bathroom appliance. Luckily, no reported lightning toilet deaths have been reported so far.
Sam: Does it go up the stream, Hank?
Hank: I don't know if it goes up the stream! There's only one way to find out, Sam.
Ceri: Oh, no.
Sam: Does your poop touch the water and your butt at the same time... boom. Right up into ya.
Hank: I don't know. I do know that I don't want to get lightning on the inside of my body anywhere. No,
Sam: No I don't—I think that's bad. Yeah.
♩: [Ceri laughs]