STORM TRACK: November 30, 1985 (Volume 9 Issue 1)

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Turkey time has past and so has the hump for May storm chasers. It's downhill now with LESS than six months to the start of next spring's chase. Some of us got a taste of things to come at the 14th Conference on Severe Local Storms in Indianapolis, October 29 to November 1, which your Editor attended (arrived Wednesday evening). The highlight was Thursday night's movie/slide show, at which 4 1/2 hours of wind, hail and lightning pummelled the silver screen, to a standing room only audience in the downstairs conference room at the Hilton. However, if you weren't there, don't be too discouraged. While it was excellent and occasionally breathtaking, there were few scenes to compare with the televised tornadoes that you may have seen on the 15 minute National Geographic special on the cable TV program Nickelodeon last August, or the hour long NOVA documentary "Tornado" in November. Incidentally, both camera crews were out at the same time this past May, and neither saw a tornado -despite going with two different chase teams (NOVA accompanied the National Severe Storms Lab (NSSL) and University of Oklahoma chase teams' while Geographic stayed with the Editor and his daughter). Qur paths crossed on the 25th in central Oklahoma and were close on other days (Some towers filmed by NOVA looked like what we were seeing from a different perspective). Like Geographic, NOVA wound up using old file footage from NSSL. One sequence from the back seat of Lou Wickets van, in the last 15 minutes of the show, does show an apparent narrow tornado at a 45 angle, rising up to the left. It turned out to be more "apparent," tornado ... it wasn't. More on this later.

Some of the more spectacular Conference film footage included over a dozen slides of a large tornado from (I believe) hurricane Elena, shown by O.U.'s Bill McCaul. It is shown passing an Air Force base near Huntsville, Alabama. It appeared ragged but occasionally laminar, with a thick vortex column from a very soft edged, dark base. However, ironically, there was very little heavy rain either ahead of or behind it. It was the best hurricane tornado I have seen, although I cannot verify whether actual hurricane winds were still being recorded at this time. The other highlight was a privately taken video by a local in eastern Ohio of one of the May 31 tornadoes that raked that area. Vince Miller of the Cable Weather Channel showed it. The sequence begins looking over a backyard at sometimes visible, low level cloud fragments -swirling up from lower left to upper right, as small clusters of debris occasionally boil up. "Look at, that paper going up." says the naive camera man, as he watches dry wall sections, shingles and aluminum siding whip through the air. Calmly ..."It looks like a tornado." ...(more debris)... "(Salty expletive!) It is a tornado!" This sequence was only two to three minutes long, but it was very funny as an average guy, confronting a close call with disaster, reacts, well, honestly. One beautiful set of slides was shown by Arjen Verkaik and his wife, Jerrine, two professional and very friendly Canadian photographers. They also displayed dozens of beautiful prints with many perfectly polarized pictures of cirrus streaks, towers, Cbs, hail storms, tornado, end-of-the-world storm bases and the finest lightning I have seen anywhere. Many were taken in Canada, Colorado and the northern plains -as well as the traditional storm states of the central plains. Consequently, their pictures show crisp, clear shots with maximum visibility of storm structure and a minimum of low clouds obscuring the view. Consequently, from the perspective of beauty, color and definition -they're the best single collection I have seen! All are for sale; please write! Arjen Verkaik, RR 1, Box 21, Beamsville, Ontario, Canada L0R 1B0 His company is "Skyart Productions." --- The Editor also met many old friends, again, including Tim Marshall from Texas, who got together with him and a half dozen others in an adjoining conference room after Wednesday evening's banquet for an informal slide-duel show (with blazing lenses!) ... "I can top this!" "No! I can top that!!" (just kidding, Tim) Actually, the Verkaiks probably topped us all, with their total perspective on the sky. In that vein, Robert Welch from Virginia winds up this Commentary with his own view on that totality.