24 April 2011

Where The Wind Comes Right behind The Rain (but, not without warning!)

Posted by Dan Satterfield

Mammatus clouds over North Campus Oklahoma Univ. Friday 22 April. Dan's pic

I am back home in Oklahoma this weekend for a climate change seminar at my alma mater, the University of Oklahoma. I graduated from OU in 1981 and it has changed dramatically. OU is now the world’s premiere school for studying the atmospheric sciences and the seminar was in the new National Weather Center that houses the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, (They are responsible for issuing tornado watches nationwide) along with the National Severe Storms Lab (NSSL) and the National Weather Service. It’s an incredible place for a weather geek and a superb training ground for students of atmospheric physics.

Bud Ward, of the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, was kind enough to ask me to talk about climate change communication with an invited group of weathercasters. It’s a mix of meteorologists and climate scientists and I always learn a lot of interesting science. This event was no different.

A "science on a sphere" display in the lobby of the Nat. Weather Center.

During a pre-seminar dinner Friday night, tornadic storms developed just to the south of Norman, and we were treated to a beautiful display of mammatus clouds. The exact process that drives their formation is still not well understood. If you re thinking that the name is more than a coincidence to what they look like, you are right, it is! Mammatus is latin for “having breasts”.

The lobby of the National Weather Center is home to a large floating Earth. A series of 5 projectors display real-time weather and satellite on the sphere. Imagine a school kid walking up to this and seeing what his home in the cosmos really looks like! Thousands of students tour the facility each year and hundreds of researchers and students are engaged in making new discoveries about the atmosphere around us.
If you ever noticed that a lot of meteorologists come from Oklahoma, you are absolutely right. When you can walk outside and see a ski full of mammatus like those above, is there any wonder!