Last Friday, a tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma killed scientist Tim Samaras, as well as his son and a colleague. The three were tracking the storm in a vehicle — storm chasing, if you will — as part of their ongoing efforts to deploy probes that could capture high-resolution video from inside a tornado. (Samaras' team was one of many practicing a type of science that can basically be described as Twister in real life.) Chasing storms was an important part of what Samaras did. National Geographic reports that tornadoes only developed in roughly two of every 10 storms Samaras tracked, and the probes were only useful in a fraction of the tornadoes they were deployed in.
Samaras' death is tragic, but he wasn't some untrained yahoo out running around on county roads in a tornado for fun. He was there to do a job; a job that would, eventually, help other people survive. That said, if a situation kills experts, you probably don't want to be that untrained person trying to navigate it on your own.
Which brings us to a key point. After a handful of people who survived the Moore tornado credited their survival to driving away from it, people in Oklahoma City apparently responded to Friday's storms by trying to do the same thing. For some, it worked. But others were killed or injured when traffic on highways in the tornado's path ground to a complete halt, clogged with cars full of people who were (either accidentally or intentionally) trying to flee the storm instead of hide from it.
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During the upcoming 2012-13 winter season The Weather Channel will name noteworthy winter storms. Our goal is to better communicate the threat and the timing of the significant impacts that accompany these events. The fact is, a storm with a name is easier to follow, which will mean fewer surprises and more preparation…"Why The Weather Channel is Naming Winter Storms" (Thanks, Gil Kaufman!)
This is an ambitious project. However, the benefits will be significant. Naming winter storms will raise the awareness of the public, which will lead to more pro-active efforts to plan ahead, resulting in less impact and inconvenience overall…
Finally, it might even be fun and entertaining and that in itself should breed interest from our viewing public and our digital users.
Winds from approaching Hurricane Sandy turned 1 WTC (previously known as the Freedom Tower) into an æolian harp. (via Doubtful News)
It can be a nice breeze, or a destructive storm, but either way wind is just moving air. And moving air is just moving molecules.
In an explainer for kids that's actually pretty helpful for grown-ups, too, Matt Shipman reminds us that the air around us isn't totally weightless. It weighs something, because molecules all weigh something:
They don't weigh very much (you couldn't put one on your bathroom scale), but their weight adds up, because there are a LOT of molecules in the air that makes up our atmosphere. All of that air is actually pretty heavy, so the air at the bottom of the atmosphere (like the air just above the ground) is getting pressed on by all of the air above it. That pressure pushes the air molecules at the bottom of the atmosphere a lot closer together than the air molecules at the top of the atmosphere.
And, because the air at the top of the atmosphere is pushing down on the air at the bottom of the atmosphere, the air molecules at the bottom REALLY want to spread out. So if there is an area where the air molecules are under high pressure (with a lot of weight pushing down), the air will spread out into areas that are under lower pressure (with less weight pushing down).
Our readers along the East Coast of the US are in the path of Sandy, a storm expected to cause considerable rainfall, flooding, and high winds, with correspondingly high risk for property, structures, and life in more vulnerable areas. Sandy is now the largest tropical cyclone on record, with a radius of 520 nautical miles. The biggest threat? Too much water.
Turn off the breathless cable news coverage and instead read the reports from Dr. Jeff Masters, co-founder of Weather Underground. Snip:
It takes a while watching TWC before you realize that they are such weather nerds that they sometimes tend to see things from the storm's point of view. They talk about the shape of the storm as beautiful, or "great," or "improving," and what they mean is that the storm is thriving. It's along the lines of, "This storm is looking great. Your lawn furniture? Not so much." At first, when they say the storm is getting better, you the viewer assume it means "less fierce." But they actually mean "more efficient, in terms of destruction." This is how you know that they are true nerds, and not just poseurs. CNN anchors would never accidentally say a storm is great because it's so beautifully shaped that it will look great on the radar as it tears a few shingles off the Hot Dog Hut in Atlantic City.
(Via Jennifer Ouellette)
Tornado-loving BB pal Jody Radzik just turned me on to Extreme Instability, a collection of one intrepid storm chaser's breathtaking weather photography. The above photo that I've taken it upon myself to title "Act of God" is from a bow echo in Watertown, South Dakota on August 3. The photographer: "I'm driving along, having gained at least a small bit of ground again, when I see this white cross and a roadside chapel next to the road. No way. Slam on the brakes, pull over and jump out of the car and shoot fast fast." Extreme Instability