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Monday, July 31, 2006

What is Storm Chasing?

I was asked to write this up by Emily Benedict with in London. Here is what I see as a description of storm chasing for the novice.

Each spring from April to June in the central plains of the United States a great battle goes on between the cold Canadian air and the warm humid gulf air advancing to the north. It is here in the normally flat and tranquill farm land that structures of cloud as high as mount Everest form and march to the east transforming the landscape and providing colors and features not seen anywhere on earth. Storm Chasing is a very exciting adventure where if you arm yourself with enough meteorological information and have the latest in computer and cell phone data at your disposal you can place yourself in proximity to these events but keep yourself at a safe distance. By learning how storms form and what conditions create the best dynamics, storm chasers get themselves by mid-afternoon to within 50 miles of the 'target zone'. Here clues in the sky in the form of developing towers tell where boundaries lie and where storms will form and where to adjust your position for the show to come. By late afternoon a couple of isolated supercells will have formed and begun to be caught by the upper winds and have started to move to the northeast. By 'playing' along infront of the storm and staying to the east and south the storm chaser puts themselves in the best position to see the most intense part of the storm - the updraft. It is here in the updraft that the rapidly rising air causes the cloud base to seath and writhe and take on greens and blacks as little fingers of cloud known as scud reach to the ground. If the storm is strong enough and the conditions are right, this updraft area will begin to rotate and a tornado will form. A tornado is culmination of all the ingredients in the storm structure coming together and focussing all of it's energy into one perfect vortex of energy. Many people come away from seeing a tornado as somehow changed, as feeling like thier problems are small in scale compared to the power of nature. Like an apparition in the dark, you cannot belive what you are seeing. You look around at the others with you to make sure they are seeing what you see. Seeing a tornado is like seeing a visitor from another planet, it seems like something that should not exist in the natural world but yet it does.

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The Carlsons', Verne, Michael and Eric

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