The August Almanac
EnvironmentPeak hurricane season begins this month; areas in the paths of storms may be better prepared this year than in the past, owing to the introduction of a new jet aircraft to help forecast the track and landfall of hurricanes. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration--the government agency responsible for issuing public warnings about hurricanes--will be using a specially modified business jet, a high-tech supplement to the agency's other two hurricane-surveillance planes. Able to survey a wider area and gather information from the periphery of storms, the new jet will focus on the "steering currents" of hurricanes--the forces around them that determine how they will move. Officials predict that the accuracy of 24- to 48-hour hurricane-track predictions will improve by 20 percent. More-accurate forecasts should not only save lives and property but also reduce the tens of millions of dollars spent each year as a result of exaggerated hurricane warnings.
Arts & LettersAugust 10, the Smithsonian Institution celebrates its 150th anniversary today with a festival of fireworks, music, and crafts on the Washington Mall. The festival is the centerpiece of a yearlong commemoration that includes a traveling exhibit of more than 300 items from the Smithsonian's collection--ranging from a top hat worn by Abraham Lincoln to the ruby slippers worn by Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz. 21, London's new Globe Theatre--a replica of the 1599 structure where Shakespeare launched many of his plays opens its doors today for a three-week run of The Two Gentlemen of Verona, intended to test the stage design in preparation for the theater's first full season next year. The new Globe, which is 200 yards from the original site, is the result of efforts by the late American actor Sam Wanamaker. An international company dedicated to re-creating Shakespeare's plays as they were originally presented--in daylight and with sparse sets--will take up residence under the first thatched roof in central London since the Great Fire of 1666.
FoodThis month fishermen and divers off the coast of Maine will begin gathering the season's yield of sea urchins. They face fewer harvesting days than in previous years, owing to conservation measures enacted by the state last April. Urchiners will be limited to 150 or 170 gathering days a year, depending on their location. Urchin roe is a delicacy in Japan, where it sells for as much as $100 a pound; however, urchins were considered merely a nuisance by Maine fishermen until overfishing depleted stocks in Japan and California a decade ago. They are now the state's second most lucrative catch (after lobster), but overfishing is already taking a toll: the yield dropped from 41 million pounds in 1993 to 32 million last year. And as urchins become scarcer, divers are descending to more dangerous depths to retrieve them, increasing the potential for diving injuries and deaths.