I went out to the National Storm Chaser Convention in Denver this past weekend, had a great time and learned a lot. I've always loved severe weather (as evidenced by some of my entries here); I've been at the ocean at the landfall of a hurricane, but I've yet to see a tornado. I was Googling around, and found that there was a convention for storm chasers, and so on a whim I signed up (and then talked a friend into coming along; combining it with a ski trip to Snowmass made the pitch easier). Obviously, to see a tornado safely, you have to know what you're doing, but somewhat surprisingly (only because I hadn't thought it through) there was some pretty serious science in the conference presentations, because in order to find a storm to chase, you have to be able to make an educated guess about where severe storms will be that day and position yourself accordingly. So my head was hurting a lot after the first day, with discussions of CAPE and CIN, and other very technical meteorological terms, but most of the presentations were really good and informative. We had excellent speakers from the National Weather Service's National Hurricane Center and Storm Prediction Center, and two severe weather experts from the Weather Channel. I have to say that I have a lot more respect for the Weather Channel guys after hearing them talk--far from being talking heads, they clearly are experts on this stuff and gave quite impressive talks. Dr. Josh Wurman (who was on the Storm Chasers show, Reed Timmer and the other guys from tornadovideos.net were there too, but not speaking) also gave an excellent talk on the really interesting upcoming VORTEX-2 project, which will attempt to really get a huge amount of coordinated, close range data on tornadoes. I learned that while scientists can now do a pretty good job of predicting when conditions are right for a tornado, they know surprising little about the internal workings of the storms themselves.
Close range data (which can't be gathered by typical NEXRAD radars unless the tornado hits the radar itself--I learned a lot about radar this weekend) is needed by scientists to really get an idea what's giong on in the storm, and everyone hopes that a better understanding of the storms themselves can lead to better, more accurate predicdtions. The first day started with "video night", with lots of totally insane videos from chasers.
On the second day of the conference, we attended the National Weather Service Basic and Advanced Spotter training classes, and I learned a lot (I only wish I had had these classes before the first day of talks). I'm not sure if I'll get to see a tornado this spring or summer, but I certainly will be looking at the the sky with a much more informed eye.
More on-topic things I found in Denver coming soon...
Video highlights from the conference here.