Looking for a convective literary morsel to test out that new e-reader you got for Christma-solsti-festi-kwanz-ukah? Here’s a suggestion: Supercell by H. W. “Buzz” Bernard.
You need only read the capsule summary to know that it ain’t great literature. It’s a thriller, and it doesn’t purport to be anything more.
What impressed me about this book was how much it got right about chasing. The torment of being torn between two equally favorable (and mutually exclusive) chase targets. Second-guessing yourself when you see other chasers streaming toward the target you rejected. The wisecracking, know-it-all ride-along who regards meteorology as little more than charlatanism, and who relishes rubbing it in your face when you get it wrong. The slow-rolling Christmas tree of modern chaser convergence. The frustrating ennui of the down days. The best setup tantalizing you from the progs, one day after the end of chase-cation. The descriptions of the interplay between different entities pertinent to storm chasing (NWS, SPC, the media, and various different flavors of storm chasers) is more or less correct. The author clearly did his homework, and he acknowledges contributions from some well-known chasers and meteorologists at the end of the book.
I can’t say I was very impressed with the characters, who are mostly cut whole from cultural stereotypes. But, I still enjoyed this read. If you’re suffering from SDS, Supercell might just be the shot in the arm you need to get you to next chase season.
In early November, I flew back to Madison, Wisconsin for the 27th AMS Conference on Severe Local Storms (or “SLS”, as we call it). For those who don’t know, I got my B.S. in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science from UW-Madison. It’s been more than a decade since I packed up my research intern cubicle at SSEC, and I was excited to get back. Experiencing Madison from a high-star hotel within a block of the Wisconsin state capitol dome and State Street was quite a different experience from being stacked, cordwood-style, with other undergraduate students in Chadbourne Hall.
I was much more involved in this conference than I have been in previous ones. This was the first SLS conference on whose program committee I served. That meant I got to review nearly 50 abstracts, helping stratify them into oral and poster slots, and had input on the daily schedule. In addition to our professional contributions, my husband and I also coordinated the informal (and infamous) Video Night for the third time. The conference co-chairs elected to forgo a formal banquet in favor of a come-and-go icebreaker with heavy appetizers, a practice that I favor continuing, because it allows attendees to interact with more than seven people at a round table over the course of the evening.
Contentwise, this SLS conference program was as good as ever. A couple of the highlights:
- Leigh Orf’s jaw-dropping 24 May 2011 tornado simulation, showcasing the power of supercomputing for visualization
- Morris Weisman and Lou Wicker’s tag team talk about the history and future of NWP
- Jim Kurzo’s award-winning talk about the PX-1000 data collected in the 20 May 2013 tornado.
- The 31 May 2013-themed session memorializing Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young. In spite of the tragic underpinnings of the subject, Tim Marshall managed to get in a few laughs.
- A touching tribute session, chaired by Dan Miller, in remembrance of a number of influential scientists who passed away since the last SLS. This session was originally supposed to be part of video night, but it quickly grew to include a long list of names (including a very last-minute addition: Jim Leonard, who passed away while the conference was in progress). Given that it had a very different tone than video night, we decided to split the tributes off into their own session, which Dan Miller graciously agreed to chair.
A note to nonmeteorologists who are interested in severe weather research, particularly students considering a career in that area: Browse the conference program. Watch some of the talks.* Read the extended abstracts and examine the posters. A little more than a decade ago, it wasn’t possible for people outside the conference to access the research presented there (unless you could somehow get your hands on a limited-edition preprint volume). Now, almost the entire content of the conference is available online for public perusal. So, take advantage of it! Get a taste of what scientific research really looks like.
* Keep in mind that the talks are often a 12-minute summary of two or more years of research, coding, and mental exertion. Not all details, caveats, and nuances can be included. (That’s what seminars and peer-reviewed manuscripts are for!)