Stormy Weather

An Internet guide to extreme weather

If, like me, you never get to see real thunderstorms, there is a gallery of stunning images at Wetter-Foto in Germany. The offerings are not captioned, but the titles even in German offer clues. The photos are grouped by phenomena, such as “gewitter” (thunderstorm). At the bottom, if you know storm features in German, you can select other categories. I liked the images of shelf clouds—ominous, sweeping curtains that appear to descend from the base of a thunderhead.

For readers living in the southwest, I recommend the Basics of the Arizona Monsoons & Desert Meteorology, a site at Arizona State University. (Who knew that Arizona has monsoons?) Learn about exotic-sounding storm sideshows like bursts, breaks, gustnadoes, and haboobs.

And then there are always the sites dedicated to those who enjoy chasing a good storm, despite the hazards. (I might miss good thunderstorms in Los Angeles, but I’m not ready to go tracking them across the country.) At sites like the National Weather Service’s map of the country, you can find where the action is (thunderstorms are color-coded orange, and you can click on the map to zoom in on your local weather. Or you can visit Stormtrack, one of several sites dedicated to storm chasing. Groups of enthusiasts can be found around the globe, recording the monster storms. For example, at the Brisbane Storm Chasers Homepage, in Australia, Ben Quinn, one of the groups members, posted his photographs of a “Gustnado and a Spectacular Shelf Cloud Chase.” Lots of unusual amateur storm and tornado videos are posted on YouTube, for example, one of a C-130 cargo plane flying through an intense Iraqi thunderstorm (things aren’t just rough on the ground).

Predicting the formation of thunderstorms even a few hours ahead of time is important to aviation, but it is only just becoming possible. At the Pittsburg Supercomputing Center there is an article, “Faster than a Speeding Storm,” about the work of Kelvin Droegemeier, the director of the Center for Analysis and Prediction of Storms at Oklahoma University, who used a supercomputer in 1995 to forecast an individual storm. “For the first time anywhere the location and structure of thunderstorms was successfully predicted six hours in advance.” By coincidence, that violent Texas storm hit Dallas only a week before I visited. During my stay, on May 5, 1995, softball-sized hail stones did a billion dollars in damage—reportedly the insurance industry’s tenth most costly disaster until that time. Needless to say, I did not venture out of the airport hotel.

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