August 07, 2007

Fog gets in your eyes

Yesterday's Google weather report said:

Fog, 83 degrees, winds west at 13 mph, humidity 16%.

Fog? When I looked outside, for the life of me I couldn't see any fog. That black stuff in the air is smoke from the huge forest fires about 30 miles from here, dangerously close to Language Logger Sally Thomason's summer cabin home.

The reporter's choice of "fog" to report "smoke" made me wonder about the inventory of weather reporting terms. There are some standard ones, like "snow," "sleet," "rain," and "fog." But "fog" doesn't come close to describing the smoke that we have. It's so thick I can't see the nearby mountains from my windows (which I have to keep shut to make breathing easier). It's not "smog" either, because that would require some mixture of fog, but there isn't any sign of that.  And "haze" won't quite do either, because  this word is far too tame to describe the black stuff overhead around here. A quick check of the The Sunday New York Times weather section told me this about "hazy": "Hazy skies are typical of hot, humid weather." Not much humidity here. Never is. Just smoke.

Okay, I think I know what you're going to say. The American Heritage Dictionary's second sense of "fog" reads: "A mass of floating material, such as dust or smoke, that forms an obscuring haze." Merriam Webster's Collegiate doesn't mention smoke in its definition of fog. Perhaps the Random House College Dictionary  comes a tad closer, defining "fog," as "a darkened state of the atmosphere," but it doesn't say anything about what darkens it, including smoke from forest fires.

It occurs to me that maybe weather reports don't  mention smoke because smoke really isn't weather. But it still seems odd to call this stuff "fog." I'm going to have to check this out with Foggy the Bear.

Posted by Roger Shuy at August 7, 2007 09:41 AM