Spoiler Alert: It didn’t win. I had entered the American Meteorological Society’s annual “T-Shirt Design Contest” last summer. The winner was to be awarded free registration to the Annual Meeting of the AMS that is being held this month. They will also be selling the shirts — of the winner — at the conference. Here is my design, although I never made it into a real fabric shirt.
I would like to tell you a little bit about how I came to make this design. The t-shirt I designed is just a plain white shirt with black text. I suppose it could be made in color, but for the purposes of the contest, I just wanted the image to be as clear as possible for the judges.
How did I come up with the idea? I came up with the design from two different ideas. 1) I thought of the National Weather Service map symbols used on the station model on a synoptic weather chart. 2) I also have an interest in Japanese culture and art. (See my current work on “Meteorology and Myth”.) The shirt depicts the Japanese kanji for “thunderstorm”.* The Japanese word is raiu.
Background: Kanji symbols are one of the three (maybe four?) methods of writing the Japanese language. There are thousands of kanji symbols. This system differs from our letters in that kanji is a symbolic — or logographic — system. The symbols (or “words” if you will) look like the real things the words represent.
The symbol on the left combines characters for “lightning” on top, with the symbol for “rice field” on the bottom. When the symbol is placed in this context, the symbol no longer means rice field — instead it means “drumming”. This is very appropriate! Thunder can sound like the pounding of drums as a thunderstorm approaches the observer. The symbol on the right is the kanji character for “rain”. Note the symbol includes those four dashes which look rather like rain falling from the flat base of a cloud. Maybe on to a rice field?
When you put them together, it “spells” (cough) the Japanese word Raiu – or Thunderstorm. Link: Here is how to pronounce the word “Raiu”.
The other inspiration for my T-shirt design was based on the US National Weather Service symbols used on their synoptic weather charts. Meteorologists place these symbols on a map around a particular station, to represent conditions at a point in time.
Notice that the NWS symbols for thunderstorm, and the various conditions associated with types of thunderstorms storms look like logographic writing. The basic thunderstorm shorthand symbol is a horizontal line with a perpendicular straight line down on the left side, and a zig-zag line with arrow on the right. The zig-zag obviously represents a downward lightning path. Perhaps the left line represents the downward rush of rain and cold air, typical of a mature thunderstorm.
Actually, I had thought at first of just using the NWS thunderstorm symbol as the T-shirt design, but then thought the kanji script might be a good conversation starter. I hope you like my design. Maybe someday I could have the shirt printed out. Do you have any suggestions as to how I might improve the design? Please comment if you want us to order some!
It took the sap about 2:05 to flow through this one.
*References: I found a WordPress blogger who has posted articles about Japanese kanji script. He also posts interesting articles about Japanese culture. I defer to his expertise here.
Weather map symbols: