Monday, November 22, 2010

How's the Weather Been Out Your Way?

It's everyone's favorite topic, though no one has figured out how to do anything about—besides, apparently, taking pictures. All of a sudden I'm seeing lot's of pictures of severe weather. Are we just preparing psychologically for the effects of climate change, which only a few short years ago was known as global warming? Or maybe we just love looking at big storms...that other people have to live through. (That particular emotional cocktail is one part schadenfreude, two parts whistling past the graveyard. Don't drink too much; it's strong.) How bad is the bad weather this year? I asked an old friend, photographer Jim Reed, who specializes in the severe stuff, how the weather's been out his way. I could have predicted the answer after looking at his photo (above) of  a low-precipitation thunderstorm over  Adams, Colorado last June, and his photo (below) of a landspout in eastern Colorado last May.

"It's been my busiest year yet," he said. From photographing a rare snowstorm in Myrtle Beach, South Caroline and getting legendary TV meteorologist Tom Skilling his first tornado, to shooting record-setting hailstones in Kansas, and supercell thunderstorms in South Dakota, and witnessing record heat in Montana." So there you go. Below are some other weather pictures in the news.

1. South Dakota

Yesterday's New York Times ran a big, big article on how bad the weather's been this year in South Dakota. This struck me at first as a dog-bites-man story, which is to say, isn't the weather always funky in South Dakota? Otherwise everyone would move there and it would be New York. But then I read that a recent storm had brought hail the size of cantaloup to the state. Cantaloup. Accompanying the piece was this remarkable image of a tornado (credited to Chris Collura) that struck near the town of Bowdle, which looks like this on Google maps.

Have you noticed that you never see tornado pictures that don't have a news van or two in them anymore. So many storm chasers, so few storms. Let's face it, we really do love crappy weather.

2. New York City

One of the pleasures of working very late in an office building in New York City is watching what happens with bad, bad weather rolls over the New Jersey and hits town with a fury. You raid someone's office for food, turn the lights out, sit back, and enjoy the show. This photo of lightning hitting the Statue of Liberty was made by Jay Fine, who entered into this year's National Geographic photo contest. Incongruously, Fine wrote in his caption that there was "little wind and no rain, which allowed me to stay safely inside and shoot from an open window." Usually, inside is the place to be when there is lots of wind and rain. But we New Yorkers take no chances when it comes to weather.

3. Montana

I was watching the History Channel the other night about how effed-up Montana is going to be when the super volcano bubbling under Yellowstone National Park finally blows. So perhaps supercell thunderstorms like this one don't count for much out there. (At first I thought this was another tornado, until I noticed there were no news vans in the picture.) This shot, by Sean Heavey, was another National Geographic photo contest entry, and it is indeed an impressive photo. My friend Rich Clarkson, who used to be the director of photography at Geographic and now runs some wonderful photo workshops in Jackson, Wyoming, always tells his students that "bad weather makes good pictures." So this picture must be great.

4. Space

I don't think there's much bad weather up there, unless you count sunspots and micro-meteor showers . But astronauts on the International Space Station get a good view of the ridiculous mayhem we put up with down here on Earth. It seems that one astronaut, Douglas Wheelock, has been Tweeting pictures from up there. This one is a spectacular shot of Hurricane Earl, which formed off the Cape Verde Islands and picked up energy over the Atlantic and went on to become the first Hurricane to threaten New England since Hurricane Bob in 1991. That probably doesn't mean a lot to people in Florida and other Gulf states, who face these things every damn summer. But for us up in the Northeast Corridor, it was attention-getting.

5. Earth

This photo (credited to Lou Dematteis/AP /Spectral Q), doesn't show bad weather, but it's climate-related, and it's pretty super, so I decided to include it here. I found it on The Big Picture, in a portfolio of images of protests around the world. The people on this tiny island in the barrier reef of Belize City, Belize, where the Belize Reef Summit was being held a week or so ago. The demonstrators were making a none-too-subtle point about the environmental health of the planet. Call it climate change, or global warming, or whatever, no one like bad weather. Except photographers.

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