Friday, May 15, 2009

Amateur video: close encounter with a tornado on May 13, 2009

"At first I got within a hundred yards and that was enough, but it was hard to judge its movement and later it caught up to me and passed over the car! This was in Novinger Missouri around 5:50pm 13 MAY 2009. I shouldn't have followed that cop to pull over...I didn't see behind me how close it was and it was too late." Click here for the most amazing video you'll see in a long time!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Scientists chasing killer tornadoes across Midwest

(I accompanied the original "Vortex" tornado chasers - most of them professional Phd scientists based mostly in Oklahoma - on two separate expeditions, in 1985 and again in 1995, while working at WBBM-TV in Chicago. In '85, after 2 long, boring weeks of hail and rainbows, we finally encountered a tornado near Ardmore, Oklahoma. I videotaped a special series for KARE-TV, and in a stroke of pure luck, was on the only chase where the portable weather instrument [nicknamed "Toto"] was brushed by an F-2 twister, knocking it into a nearby ditch, winds clocked at 80-90 mph along with a sharp pressure spike as the tornado passed overhead. The footage of that particular chase was sent to Kathleen Kennedy, a producer for the movie "Twister" as part of her research. To this day I have no idea if the video inspired some of the story line of the movie, but there are some amazing parallels and coincidences. In 1995 I went chasing again, tagging along with the professionals in storm vans. In northern Texas a small, fast-moving tornado passed between the lead chase van and our rental vehicle, almost hitting the scientists in front of us. The twister had to be moving at close to 50 mph, pointing out the inherent dangers of chasing in a fast-moving storm pattern. In these conditions it's almost impossible to surround a tornadic storm, launch weather balloons and successfully intercept a "supercell" thunderstorm capable of spawning a tornado).

(CNN) -- It sounds like something from the movie "Twister" -- teams of scientists in vans, armed with high-tech measuring equipment, barreling across the Oklahoma plains in search of tornadoes. But these scientists are colleagues, not rivals, and these storms aren't Hollywood digital wizardry but the real thing.

Welcome to VORTEX2, or V2 for short, the largest and most ambitious field experiment ever devoted to studying tornadoes. Now under way through June 13 in Oklahoma and surrounding states, the project brings together almost 100 scientists and students from 16 universities and research institutes.

VORTEX2 kicked off Sunday, and its teams didn't have to wait long to find the targets of their research. Violent storms tore through four Midwestern states Wednesday, killing three people in northern Missouri, according to Kansas City affiliate KMBC. The storms damaged dozens of homes and left thousands without power.

(To learn more about VORTEX2 and the current round of chasing going on over the Plains click here. BTW, they are trying to keep their exact location a secret, to avoid weather paparazzi and and traffic jams, literally in the middle of nowhere. On a big chase day hundreds, perhaps THOUSANDS of amatuer chasers converge on the Plains, hoping to see a tornado, trying desparately to get the "money shot" of a tornado touching down. I'm convinced that the biggest sport in Oklahoma, second only to Sooner college football, is tornado chasing!)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

America's most polluted cities

This time of year, many Americans are concerned with sunburns. In some areas, they should pay more attention to smog.

The reason? Though it's often invisible, air pollution is a threat to 186 million Americans, according to a new report released by the American Lung Association.

The annual report--State of the Air 2009--found that six in 10 Americans live in counties where ozone or particle pollution has reached dangerous levels. Both types of pollution can be deadly and have been linked to worsening respiratory conditions like asthma, emphysema and bronchitis, and there is evidence that particle pollution increases risk of heart attacks and strokes.

How does your city rank, for particulant pollution and ozone? All the details in Forbe's in-depth article can be found here.

Global warming called the greatest health threat of the 21st century, experts say

Public health officials call on their own to tackle issue

WEDNESDAY, May 13 (HealthDay News) -- The warming of planet Earth is "the biggest global health threat of the 21st century," a varied group of experts warned Wednesday.

Their report is one of the latest to expound on the deepening environmental crisis, and one of the first to focus on the potential role of health-care professionals in ameliorating the problem.

"This is a bad diagnosis not just for children in different lands. It's for our children and grandchildren," Anthony Costello, a professor of international child health and director of the Institute for Global Health at University College London, said during a Wednesday teleconference. "Even the most conservative estimates are profoundly disturbing and demand action. Climate change raises an important issue of intergenerational justice, that we are setting up a world for our children and grandchildren that may be extremely frightening and turbulent."

The complete article at is here.

Storms turn severe over southeastern MN





Climate change cutting Washington Cascade snowpack

Associated Press Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. —

Climate change appears to be cutting the winter snowpack in Washington's Cascade Range by at least 20 percent, according to a researcher at the University of Washington. Rising temperatures mean more of the snow falls with a high water content, and melts and washes away long before it is needed by users in spring and summer months, the research found.

"All things being equal, if you make it one degree Celsius warmer, then 20 percent of the snowpack goes away for the central Puget Sound basin, the area we looked at," said Joseph Casola, a UW doctoral student in atmospheric sciences.

His research looked at records from the annual April 1 measurement of the winter snowpack, and then used different methods to try and estimate how water content might have changed as a result of climate change. Average temperatures in Washington rose about 1.5 degrees during the past century, according to the UW's Climate Impacts Group. That meant more winter precipitation fell as rain or melted more quickly. Ideally, snow that falls in the winter melts slowly in the spring and summer months, filling reservoirs in the Cascades. The water is released gradually to supply drinking water, water for fisheries and hydropower and irrigation water for farms.

The complete AP report is here.

Climate change driving Michigan mammals north

(There is growing evidence that climate patterns have shifted at least 100-150 miles north in the last 30 years. The Twin Cities are now in climate zone #5, things are growing locally that weren't growing here a generation ago. I can tell you from first-hand observation that black maple trees are growing like weeds up in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area - in the past it's been consistently too cold for this species of maple trees to grow in the BWCA. It will be interesting to see if there is evidence of Minnesota mammals migrating north, but the fact that this is happening 2 states to our east is interesting and potentially relevant. I keep telling people not to look out their window at their thermometer for signs of climate change, but to look out the window and make a note of new species of plants, flowers, birds and other animal life in your yard that weren't there 30-40 years ago).

ScienceDaily (May 13, 2009) — Some Michigan mammal species are rapidly expanding their ranges northward, apparently in response to climate change, a new study shows. In the process, these historically southern species are replacing their northern counterparts.

The finding, by researchers at the University of Michigan, Michigan State University and Ohio's Miami University, appears in the June issue of the journal Global Change Biology.

"When you read about changes in flora and fauna related to climatic warming, most of what you read is either predictive—they're talking about things that are going to happen in the future—or it's restricted to single species living in extreme or remote environments, like polar bears in the Arctic," said lead author Philip Myers, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at U-M. "But this study documents things that are happening right now, here at home."

The complete article in ScienceDaily is here.