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Words of Wisdom

Posted on: March 13th, 2012 by Jonathan Merage No Comments

With the arrival of an early Spring and unusual early season tornado outbreaks heralding a potentially VERY ACTIVE storm season again this year, we are left with memories of the deaths and devastation from last year and reminders of the need to stay vigilant and prepared! This is especially true of course for those living in the classic tornado-prone areas of the Great Plains and on east through the Ark-La-Tex and Ozark Regions all the way to the East Coast. Of course storms know no boundaries, and the best thing that any of us can–and MUST–do is have a solid, well-informed plan or two in place! For help with establishing a safety plan, please refer to this link:

Also, I re-post here some important words of wisdom from another friend & respected meteorologist,  Jon Davies:

“The reality is, even with radars that have faster scans and better technology, the National Weather Service (and Accuweather) cannot in real-time discriminate between tornadoes and other severe phenomena in many situations. Some tornadoes are just too brief. The public needs to understand this and not expect someone to come “knocking on their door” to personally warn them for every potentially severe event.” …  People should be prepared and responsible for their own safety by taking all warnings and watches seriously. They can then monitor cell phone alerts, radar, television, and/or weather radios for additional information to assess their risk rather than expecting sirens to warn them specifically for _everything_. If a strong supercell on radar with a severe thunderstorm warning is approaching and your town is directly in its path, you should be prepared to take cover _fast_, regardless of whether or not a tornado warning is in effect or the sirens are blaring.” (

I couldn’t agree more!! Far too often people are generally complacent (or even cavalier) about the dangers involved with severe storms. I firmly believe that those who live in the aforementioned areas should not only have weather radios with built in auto-alert signals (most modern ones do) and  tune in to local media and/or The Weather Channel (the latter especially for larger events/outbreaks) but also have a BASIC understanding of where they (and their loved ones) are relative to any incoming severe storms. This is referred to as “situational awareness” and, when combined with a solid safety plan, WILL save your life.

Don’t take a chance this season, please take it upon yourself to get things in order and set up to receive severe alerts through your cell phones (I strongly recommend The Weather Channel’s mobile alerts which you can sign up for here:


Bolt from the Blue

Posted on: August 14th, 2011 by Jonathan Merage 1 Comment

Cloud-to-Ground Superbolt

On the night of the 3rd, I had the rare luck of capturing a less frequently photographed form of lightning called a bolt from the blue.

Such super-bolts, while spectacular to witness and document, are absolutely lethal and destructive as they possess about 10X the charge of the more common negative bolt. Also referred to as dry lightning, they have caused many fatalities and millions of dollars in damage.

The visible lightning discharge (return stroke) originates within the storm’s upper glaciated anvil which holds solid hydrometeors (ice crystals & hail/graupel) that carry positive charge.

The initial stepped leader sets off as an intracloud bolt within the positively charged upper anvil/tower region before traveling outward up to several miles then down towards an unsuspecting target on the negatively charged ground. Positive bolts are the most highly charged and long-lasting form of lightning. While the average common negative bolt carries enough energy to light a 10-watt bulb for 2 months, a positive bolt can release enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for almost a century!


Lightning strikes of this kind are surpassed in rarity only by ball lightning, which I personally have yet to witness.

Captured with Canon 40D in northeast Colorado. Exposure time: 23 sec., ISO 100, Canon EF-S 10-22mm zoom.

Lucky Shots of Overshooting Towers!

Posted on: May 13th, 2011 by Jonathan Merage 2 Comments

So last week I felt SORELY disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to chase what the forecast models had predicted would be the second real tornado outbreak of the year. Both the long range (GFS) AND medium-short range (NAM) showed the classic signs of a negatively tilted trough & associated jet streak complete with subtropical jet to pull out onto the southern Plains right over deep moisture classic to a healthy May starting Wednesday and moving slowly eastwards into the end of the week.

Unfortunately a business trip to Chicago– starting ON Wednesday and going for a day & a half — was mandatory. I had a sneaking suspicion that Chicago & areas along our flight one way or the other would likely see at least some storms, and thankfully was not disappointed!
While there were no tornadoes or crazy lightning storms to be had (and this system failed to produce any outbreaks at all, thankfully), I did have the great pleasure of photographing a few healthy supercells on the way back home– from 40,000 feet up!! Somewhere over southeastern Nebraska between Lincoln & Hebron spiraling around the core of a large cold-core low a series of cells erupted…

Courtesy of my DROID X!

These failed to produce any tornadoes (at the time at least), but had plenty of awesome classic supercellular structures! Four twisters were reported earlier, but they were all further north along & just north of I-80 between 3-4pm.

Gearing Up for Storm Season 2011

Posted on: May 7th, 2011 by Jonathan Merage No Comments

Greetings! It’s been some time since my last update, and as we have seen this season has already taken off with a truly historic and unprecedented April of consecutive outbreaks with not just record numbers of tornadoes, but of VIOLENT killer tornadoes, as anyone tuned into the news has seen. The latest estimates and figures from NOAA & the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) are stunning: (source link here)

305 separate tornado touchdowns in two waves of outbreaks over a 3-day period.

Two E-F5s, 12 E-F4s, and TWENTY-ONE E-F3 tornadoes!!

Damage paths across long swaths of land from east Texas to Virginia, covering most of the southeast U.S. region known as “Dixie Alley”, an area outside the proverbial & traditional “Tornado Alley” which has seen more deaths per capita than anywhere in the nation.

One particularly violent storm spawned from this monstrous “super-outbreak”, infamously known as the Tuscaloosa-Birmingham tornado, was tracked and covered live by numerous media outlets including The Weather Channel, had a maximum width of 1.5 miles and an astounding 80 MILE path of destruction, very sadly inflicting a confirmed 65 fatalities, a new record from a single tornado since March 1925.

The endless streams of images, videos & dramatic survivor accounts have once again left the nation with a sad, sobering image of what a “Super-Outbreak” looks like, and the ongoing NEED to continue to develop advanced warning systems with which to not just continually warn, but EDUCATE the public. On the positive side, the Storm Prediction Center had issued categorical risks days before the outbreak, clearly highlighting the general areas most at risk, and then worked diligently with the local NWS offices in issuing warnings on some 90% of storms that produced tornadoes with an average lead time of twenty-five minutes.

A few incredible videos that put things in perspective for me on that night:
Tuscaloosa tornado


Posted on: May 24th, 2010 by Jonathan Merage 4 Comments

As expected, NWS Aberdeen has officially rated the Bowdle tornado an EF4 with wind speeds between 170-200 mph!! That makes our second certifiable EF4 (Quinter, KS of May ’08 the first) and my personal third! The first EF4 I experienced (not so much “witnessed” due to after-dark) being the famous Hoisington, Kansas tornado of April 21, 2001.

NWS described damages some which we personally witnessed (from up-close) such as “major damage to walls with roof removed” to one residence just north of town and “widespread tree damage with many of the trees completely debarked” which is impressive considering trees have a generally slim profile, and MOST IMPORTANTLY, “2 garages completely destroyed with the concrete slab wiped clean” and “ground scouring visible along the path of the electrical towers” which we witnessed and recorded. Those descriptions are hallmarks of strong-violent tornadoes. Lastly the path length, duration, and width of the vortex (estimated at one-half mile wide) defined the strength of it all!

While we didn’t have a chance to revisit the damaged areas we knew such things had occurred having witnessed the furious and violent storm motions at all levels. All features of the supercell from the moment of mesocyclogenesis through its apocalyptic maturity with a massive striated buzzsaw appearance and screaming inflow jets feeding the storm throughout the mid-levels of the atmosphere screamed violent. It was as if this storm just situated itself over one spot and had nothing to do but spin out of control. I will post many more pictures soon.

VORTEX 2: The Calm Before the Storm

Posted on: May 9th, 2010 by Jonathan Merage 6 Comments

It’s been some time since I’ve posted here…the storm season has so far been unusually benign and with final VORTEX2 preparations underway the forecast once again calls for a long week of chasing, documenting and studying whichever monster supercells we’ll be able to keep up with.

While our excitement levels are surging to an electrifying peak this week’s forecast models depict an alarming situation for damaging storms with potentially numerous powerful tornadoes poised to leave lengthy paths of destruction across the heart of tornado alley– uncomfortably close to populated & congested metropolitan areas.

The usual speculations exist of strong tornadoes and/or large hail hitting town centers like Oklahoma City or surrounding suburbs and further north/northeast into southern Kansas & eventually beyond. One of the higher concerns for our research armada and the nearby communities will be fast storm motions with forecasts now showing storm speeds of around 40 kts (nearly 50 mph!). Needless to say, such speeds on likely destructive tornadic storms going into the night is unnerving.

This year, our role as vehicle Probe 8 will be sampling the small & short-lived Descending Reflectivity Core, inflow and surging mini gust front as it travels cyclonically around the tornado and moves toward and eventually into the storm’s dark core. Our Professors at the OU School of Meteorology have a renewed focus in this area which they believe to hold key information as to the strong thermodynamics & locations of specific air masses circulating around the tornado. More info on this soon.

Today’s AM Briefing in Amarillo, TX

Heene Family Balloon Fiasco

Posted on: October 19th, 2009 by Jonathan Merage 1 Comment

Since this bonafide publicity stunt/attention seeking fiasco first started (and escalated out of control faster than a speeding rocket), I have been questioned about this little story by more than a few people, friends and family alike. Most of them simply asked what validity if any there was to their story, and whether I knew of this so-called family.

SO, while I am posting this a bit after the fact since it is widely known that their little stunt and ensuing wild goose chase was in fact a hoax/publicity stunt, etc., this will serve as more of a review of why I’ve become extremely disenchanted with how the media…ahem, CNN!!!…handled this ridiculous situation. Certainly not the first time…

First off: I can understand when a couple of REAL storm chasers land a same-day interview on Larry King Live to tout their ‘phenomenal’ accomplishment of getting video from inside a tornado (vis-a-vis last year). I can also understand and even appreciate when major news networks tune in to one or two storm chasers tracking the eye of a devastating hurricane making landfall on a Gulf coast.

What I cannot understand, appreciate, or have much respect for is when a major, “reputable”, 24/7 network–like CNN–chooses to devour a senseless story like the Heene fabrication and over-sensationalize the hell out of it while falsely reporting the “family” as so-called storm chasers (or “weather chasers”, as the local Denver stations called them, LOL!!).
Now, while the infamous Larry King interview (conducted by Wolf Blitzer??…hmmm) was ultimately the first unraveling of their pathetic scheme, the manner in which CNN stumbled all over itself to give the Heene’s their exclusive worldwide broadcast–EXACTLY as they had planned earlier this year–is just another sorry example of the broadcast media’s ineptitude (both local & national) in choosing QUALITY pieces to report on & disseminate, brashly clamoring for the first ‘interesting’ or noteworthy story.

Secondly: How can I put this one more simply…WHY WOULD SO MANY NETWORKS AND STATIONS PLASTER THIS ALL OVER THEIR CHANNELS WITHOUT CROSS-CHECKING THEIR SOURCES & REFERENCES?? Sure it made for a dramatic and tantalizing piece as it was claimed, but to be blunt this one just made everyone look damn stupid!

So, unfortunate as Falcon & his brothers are to get caught up in their parent’s harebrained scheme, to the parents I say this:

“You reap what you sow!!”

Good riddance.

Storm Chasers Discovery Channel ’09!

Posted on: September 3rd, 2009 by Jonathan Merage 1 Comment

Going into its 3rd season, the Storm Chasers Series on the Discovery Channel premieres Oct. 18 at 8/10pm MT/ET…

The chasers & their intrepid crews work to get INSIDE several twisters, with a few successful intercepts- including one noted tornado which our team was VERY near- LaGrange, Wyoming!!
From what I’ve heard, they might even have the elusive & dangerous “straight-up view” into a tornado! We know they made a DIRECT intercept with the June 5th Wyoming tornado, with the hefty TIV crossing into the debris field during the tornado’s stronger stage and Reed Timmer’s Dominator getting passed directly OVER by the twister at a different point. Either way, the super-successful teamwork of VORTEX2 during the June 5th Wyoming intercept & study should make this a very interesting series.

Here’s a fun clip from the Season 2 finale:

Lightning Storms on Aug. 17

Posted on: August 24th, 2009 by Jonathan Merage No Comments

This afternoon a flurry of slow-moving storms went up between 4-5 pm. I managed to capture a few of the closer strikes on video. Average distances were no more than two miles away!

First “strike” was very impressive. Actually consisted of four separate bolts hitting in rapid sequence, with the last bolt generating about 4 flashes before discharging (furthest left in the center picture). Of course, that all happened in 1.1 seconds (:-)
Later that night, areas from Denver south got hit with hail & more lightning. The foothills & adjacent mountains were also pummeled by an elongated thunderstorm that generated prolific lightning up until late night. I was unfortunately stuck in a meeting at that time.

Just for kicks, here’s the video clip of that powerful strike:

Posted on: August 13th, 2009 by Jonathan Merage No Comments

Just got back from a nice trip to Southern Cali for a visit with family & friends. We basically split our time between Newport Beach & LA. Been a while, but I did manage to snap a few sweet cloudscapes from the air. Gotta make the most of every moment…. (;-)

Just below cruising altitude on the way there

Here’s a low-res shot of the Grand Canyon from 30,000 ft.