Why Does Humid Weather Make Hair Frizzy?

iStock
iStock

People with long hair know that even the most meticulously primped 'do is at the mercy of the weather. When the air is humid, hair can start to crimp, curl, or frizz the moment you step outside. Don't just curse the weather every time your hair takes on a mind of its own: the chemical makeup of your locks is also to blame.

A strand of hair is composed of bundles of a fibrous protein called keratin, and the shape and structure of your hair is determined by how these proteins bind together. Keratin molecules contain high amounts of the amino acid cysteine, which in turn contains sulfur atoms. When two keratin chains are nearby, the sulfur atoms from the neighboring molecules can react to form a strong disulfide bond. These bonds lock keratin molecules together and maintain their composition whether your hair is wet or dry. You have them to thank for much of your hair's durability and strength.

Hydrogen bonds are much more numerous in hair, and a lot more fickle. They form when a positively charged hydrogen molecule gets caught between two electronegative atoms in a strand of hair. Unlike disulfide bonds, the hydrogen bonds that form between these atoms are easily dissolved when wet. They break down and form anew each time you take a shower and dry your hair. They're also affected by the humidity in the air.

Instead of breaking down the hydrogen bonds in hair, the right level of humidity produces these bonds in greater numbers. More hydrogen molecules provide more opportunities for hydrogen bonds to form with keratin proteins. As more bonds form, proteins start to double back on themselves, resulting in curly or frizzy hair.

These effects are amplified in hair that's especially dry. Dry hair tends to soak up moisture in the air like a sponge, breaking the strand's outer shaft and making hair look frizzy. This is why hair that's been damaged by heat, chemical coloring, or an overuse of products is often more vulnerable to humid weather.

One way to fight the frizz is by moisturizing your hair before leaving the house. Conditioners, natural serums, and all-around gentler treatment can help cut down on dryness. If that doesn't work, we suggest avoiding tropical climates whenever you can.

Storm Leaves Homes Along Lake Erie Covered in Up To Three Feet of Ice

Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
Houses along Lake Erie's shoreline were pummeled with sheets of icy water during a storm last week.
John Normile/Getty Images

This past weekend, lakeside residents of Hamburg, New York, awoke to find their neighborhood transformed into a full-scale replica of Frozen’s ice-covered kingdom, Arendelle.

According to CNN, gale force winds produced giant waves that sprayed the houses along Lake Erie with sheets of water for two days straight, covering them in layers of ice up to three feet thick.

“It looks fake, it looks surreal,” Hamburg resident Ed Mis told CNN. “It’s dark on the inside of my house. It can be a little eerie, a little frightening.”

While the homeowners are anxious for the ice to melt, they’re also concerned about what could happen when it does.

“We’re worried about the integrity, of structure failure when it starts to melt, because of the weight on the roof,” Mis said.

He added that this is the worst ice coating he’s seen since he moved to the area eight years ago—but it’s not because they’ve had a particularly harsh winter. In fact, just the opposite is true. According to The Detroit News, warm winter temperatures have caused ice cover on the Great Lakes to drop from 67 percent in 2019 to less than 20 percent this year.

“Lake Erie typically has significant ice cover by this time of the year, and that protects the shoreline from these battering storms,” The Weather Channel’s winter weather expert Tom Niziol explained in a video.

The phenomenon has created another unforeseen issue for Hamburg’s coast, too: Tourism. The local police department posted a message on Facebook on Sunday, March 1, asking people to keep off both the “extremely unsafe and unstable” ice and people's private property.

[h/t CNN]

What is Lake-Effect Snow?

Tainar/iStock via Getty Images
Tainar/iStock via Getty Images

As you probably guessed, you need a lake to experience lake-effect snow. The primary factor in creating lake-effect snow is a temperature difference between the lake and the air above it. Because water has a high specific heat, it warms and cools much more slowly than the air around it. All summer, the sun heats the lake, which stays warm deep into autumn. When air temperatures dip, we get the necessary temperature difference for lake-effect snow.

As the cool air passes over the lake, moisture from the water evaporates and the air directly above the surface heats up. This warm, wet air rises and condenses, quickly forming heavy clouds. The rate of change in temperature as you move up through the air is known as the "lapse rate"; the greater the lapse rate, the more unstable a system is—and the more prone it is to create weather events.

Encountering the shore only exacerbates the situation. Increased friction causes the wind to slow down and clouds to "pile up" while hills and variable topography push air up even more dramatically, causing more cooling and more condensation.

The other major factors that determine the particulars of a lake-effect snowstorm are the orientation of the wind and the specific lake. Winds blowing along the length of a lake create greater "fetch," the area of water over which the wind blows, and thus more extreme storms like the one currently pummeling the Buffalo area. The constraints of the lake itself create stark boundaries between heavy snow and just a few flurries and literal walls of snow that advance onto the shore. The southern and eastern shores of the Great Lakes are considered "snow belts" because, with winds prevailing from the northwest, these areas tend to get hit the hardest.

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