Friday, June 24, 2011

Meeting an astronaut

When any high-ranking official comes to the Weather Center, we all get to jump. I won't bore you with the topics of weather conversation. Meetings are called, visits are made, speeches are provided during meetings. This week it was Dr. Kathryn Sullivan from NOAA. First US woman to walk in Space. Was on the mission to put the  Hubble Space telescope in orbit. Flew on the shuttle 3 times. Also served as NOAA chief Scientist in the 90's.

When I read her bio, I was excited to even be offered a chance to hear an astronaut speak. Yeah, I know I sound like a kid. But I really enjoyed her stories. Being stuck in the airlock when the hubble's solar cells did not deploy, then having a tech "fix" it, thus stopping a perfectly good EVA. Especially when she casually mentioned that training for fixing anything on Hubble took 5 years! Not to mention stating that she got the same look at Hubble as we did here on Earth, being stuck in the airlock after all just in case the solar cells did not open through commands. It was also interesting to hear about the risk of that mission, running models to make sure the density calculations were correct for Hubbles' drag, since the thrusters to maintain its orbit were weak, so initial placement was critical. And, as she said, "the astronauts wanted to make sure we had enough fuel to get back", since they were headed to an orbit twice as far as the space station.

She flew in April 1992, 3 missions before I saw my first Space Shuttle launch in August 1992. Back when the shuttle flew often. A silly personal stat, but one of significance for me. It was cool to meet her and hear her down-to-earth stories. I should have asked for an autograph.

Hazardous Weather Testbed

I spent some time blogging about the activities of the HWT, specifically the Convection Initiation component. Here is the link:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A good chase Part 2

It is always very instructive to go back and learn something about the storms you chase. This is really the only way to chase for me, and now that I have access to vast amounts of data with actual data visualization capabilities, like zoom, without writing massive amounts of code (downloading, storing, processing, picture making, looping, then zooming) I looked at our storm from Saturday.

Turns out there wasn't just one merger but at least 3, in different parts of the storm right about when we stopped just before Follet, TX to the west of Shattuck, OK. I had assumed that the one storm merger I saw coming was the culprit for the crazy behavior we thought was happening. The data present a different picture of what I might call a weak storm.

The storm really was weak in terms of rotation from the lowest elevation angle as seen from Amarillo. Visually we recognized this fact, but the slow moving storm, was really trying to generate rotation that may just have been small enough to avoid radar detection at relatively long distances from the radar.

So around 7:25pm a new storm went up to the west southwest of our storm (achieving 40 dBz) and merges to the north by 7:43pm. A new storm forms on the southern side of our storm at this time (hitting 35 dBz) and merges to the southeast by 8:01pm. Another storm initiates by 8:10pm and merges 9 minutes later.

All of these mergers had a constructive effect on the storm, helping it achieve a substantial size (even squareness) that made it resemble an HP supercell. The result was a decent vortex at 8:15pm (after we had already seen a few attempts at tornado-genesis) and while we were in the second RFD surge. As we continued after this surge, basically following close behind the demarcation between rain driven RFD and decent conditions, we re-entered the RFD and then after a brief "lull" another RFD hit us. This is, I think, the effect of the older circulation RFD hit us, the mesocyclone moved east and then southeast, and a new meso formed back to the north moving southeast. So our two RFD surges on 15 east of Follet were from different circulations, and it was the second circulation which jumped further southeast that produced a tornado which hit 6 miles north of Shattuck.

Just as a reference for the environment I saved the Amarillo and Norman soundings:

The bulk shear in the 0-6km layer is at or above 40 knots, the instability is marginal at AMA but if we account for a solid 10F increase in dew point where our storm was, then the instability was probably in the 3200 ballpark. Arnett, OK dew points just to the south of Shattuck maintained a 60 dew point well into 7pm. The other difference at Amarillo is the wind direction in the lowest layers, which was southerly in the sounding, and southeast at 15 knots, probably lengthening the hodograph.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A good chase

Saturday, 11 June 2011 looked like a decent day to chase storms over in the panhandles. After spending 5 weeks in the Hazardous Weather Testbed we were eager to once again let mother nature show us how much we didn't know. En route we targeted Woodward but continued on west and wanted to be in Lipscomb county Texas where we intercepted our first storm of the day. It took a while to get going and looked a bit ragged at times, but slowly it matured into a rotating supercell. And man was it slow moving. We watched it for nearly an hour, and in the latter half of that time it kept on trying to spit hail and rain on us, with each pulse a little stronger, and then finally rear flank downdraft cuts emerged and multiple spin ups at cloud base resulted. It was wild to see the mesocyclone occlude and wander back to the NW, while the next spin up emerged a little further east and south. There was a small funnel we observed at this location, and also a possible brief tornado, though it was pretty far away to know for sure. I think it was reprted as a brief rain wrapped tornado, though. At one point it appeared to jump to the east, right over the road we were, but another of rotation developed over the car. The cloud motions were awesome, and the bases of the clouds that were higher were slowly, but step function wise, lowering.

I was also struck by the interesting fact that the storm was half heartedly splitting, with the left mover barely making it out before essentially evaporating at the base. There must have been at least 3-4 splits, marked only by the ragged low-mid level cloud (remnant updraft).

So we headed south to Darrouzette to reposition further east, essentially trying to get northeast of Follet. But, another storm blew up right in our storms flank. So we stopped on 15 just before Follet and got to watch a few tornado genesis attempts, which were pretty cool. As we were watching, the RFD came surging out, maybe 40 mph winds from the west.  The circulation had jumped further south and was heading east. So after watching this for about 25 minutes we pushed on east and within 5-10 minutes we got slammed in some RFD rain. This was about 8:11pm and the hail started to get bigger (maybe at most a few golf balls) and the winds were around 50-55mph, and it was pretty amazing. After a 5-10 minute stoppage, we carried on and re-entered the RFD but this one was a little different. It pulsed in severity, maybe getting up to 70 mph, with a few larger hail stones. We got hit with at least two rfd surges at this location maybe 4 miles east of Follet, perhaps a few miles from the border of OK. That was as intense as I have seen an RFD surge with nothing but north winds. We turned the car out of the wind, and eventually turned around to head further south since we couldn't very well keep putting ourselves into the RFD.

We made it south, finally got cell coverage and realized that our storm was a giant high precipitation supercell. We couldn't make around Higgins and get back on the storm so we stayed back and watched the next supercell to the west which was attempting to form a wall cloud, so we watched that storm for a while. The group collected lightning still shots from this storm. We attempted to follow it as night set in. As we drove North to the nearest east option we took out a ginormous raccoon, injuring my chase partners vehicle. We fishtailed, but through some superior driving, we recovered. The raccoon lost the battle but won the war (aka. a bit of car damage to the front fender (fender is a poor word for shitty fiberglass front panel attached by plastic that breaks easily). But then again it was probably a serious 30lb raccoon.

There were quite a few animals roaming around last night, including coyotes. Glad none of them decided to run across the road.

We also drove through quite a few towns without power. Shattuck being one of them. This was because our original storm produced a tornado around 830pm, while we were back in the western RFD surges. I will have to look over the storm merger process to see what exactly happened (lost iPhone coverage for about 30 minutes). I doubt we could have seen the tornado unless we were really up in the rain which would not have been a safe position. Either we waited too long after the failed tornadogenesis attempts, or we were already too late as the storm merger took over the evolution.

First  shitty cell phone picture is of the remnant left splits and the second, from the 2nd location (on 15 west of Follet but within ear shot of the sirens) is te first tornado genesis attempt. 

An arrival home at 130am made for a fantastic, classic storm chase. It was easy going with all the long stoppages. But rather complete with all types of lurking danger. I had a ton of fun reconnecting with mom nature, something every storm observer likes doing I think. It was quite a show and we were lucky enough to have good seats to this one. I don't think anyone was hurt in this storm so that is also good news considering this years events.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Caring about teachers

I was pointed to this opinion piece:

I was appalled by the first quote. Clearly that person was more than angry. She stopped caring. Whatever her reasons, she should cease being a teacher. Because after that quote she wasn't going to be saving anyone in the classroom either. The rest of the quotes from teachers were just free speech. Hardly can anyone say that privacy was violated by exposing names. I guess an argument can be made that if you know the teacher then you can figure out the students. But the statements are too general. And general statements like those were not made in haste. They were made after comparison to other classes. And if they weren't, then they were quick generalizations stated such that a teacher can realize the challenges that lay ahead for this class.*

The conclusion of the opinion piece was spot on. Watch what you say and to whom. Complain to the people who care about you the most, because those are the people who should know your specific frustration. But let the rest of us hear your general plight, the general concerns you have about the state of education, the state of our students, and what you think we need to hear to address your grievances. My hope is that the dialogue does not get lost internally and that the teachers are supported by their colleagues and principals and school boards. But the reality is that speaking your mind just gets you in trouble. And social media lets everyone know what you said, when you said it, and it never gets deleted. Once its out there ... its out there. Then you have to go on a PR tour to defend your comments.

The problem isn't people speaking their minds (most of the time). The problem is that a lot of people can not put themselves in your shoes (e.g. lack of empathy). Nor can they take criticism without getting offended. There is also an issue of "it's someone else's problem".  Like Teachers. I give you my kid and you teach them. Its your job. The tendency to segregate the roles can lead to failure. Teachers assist learning. They expect active participation. It is not passive. It is not passive for parents either. 

Forcing teachers to be passive and under strict control doesn't lead to successful outcomes. Teaching requires taking risks. It also means letting teachers have control so they can take those risks. Like telling parents they need to step up and stop making excuses, just as much as they need to tell their students the same. I just hope they allow themselves to hear that message.

I doubt I am being eloquent here. But we should always be on the side of our caring teachers while supporting the students. And we should be really concerned if our teachers stop caring.

*Yeah I know. Sounds like I am making excuses. Perhaps. But I know that frustration. I have complained too. But it needed to be said for my benefit and for my students. Not as an insult for those lazy, whiny students ... it was the truth. Some of them admitted as much. Some of them gave up, stopped doing required work and hoped that by persevering they would pass. They became passive. Some of them passed or excelled when I cited their passivity to their faces. They knew that passivity wouldn't work. They appreciated the honesty and that I cared.