Knox County, Mo, 2003. Photo provided by St. Louis National Weather Service.

Knox County, Mo, 2003. Photo provided by St. Louis National Weather Service.

Tornadoes get people’s attention in a way that a discussion of global warming just cannot do. However, what if a hotter climate means more energy in the atmosphere and more violent weather as a result? Like tornadic storms? This is one of the topics I was able to discuss with scientists at the National Weather Service in October. The visit was part of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) Conference and inspired this column in the Webster-Kirkwood Times and South County Times.

By Don Corrigan
With this week’s beautiful fall weather, it’s hard to imagine flash floods, a hard rain of hail stones or funnel clouds roiling above, while the warning sirens scare the bejesus out of us below. Nevertheless, this is Missouri – and we get it – all of it.
On Manchester Road, folks can recall flash flooding from the remains of Hurricane Ike in 2008. Who can forget the Sunset Hills tornado of New Year’s Eve 2010? Cars in South County still bear welts from the hail stones that fell just this past April.
Fortunately, there are people who remember our bad weather, both in St. Louis and beyond. And they are doing something about it – with apologies to Mark Twain who lamented that: “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
Earlier this month, I spent some time with scientists at the National Weather Center (NWC) in Norman, Oklahoma, a forecasting and research powerhouse. In addition to “Dorothy” storm chasing technology and a Flying Cow Café that harks back to the movie, “Twister,” the NWC has the latest in weather radar and tracking.
As part of an entourage with the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), I also was able to hear about experiments at the NWC that will “do something about the weather.” Among their many research projects:
North of Hannibal, Mo, 2003. Photo provided by St. Louis National Weather Service.

North of Hannibal, Mo, 2003. Photo provided by St. Louis National Weather Service.

•Eye-tracking experiments to monitor how well analysts can view and interpret weather radar images.

•Studying tweet aggregations in storm situations to analyze “trending” reactions of people in flash floods.
•Designing new methods to pinpoint tornadic activity in order to reduce the size of those “watch boxes” on TV to more accurate proportions.
On our visit to the weather center, we journalists were met by Westboro Baptist Church protesters. They held their usual anti-gay signs. They told us that bad weather is caused because God hates gays – not because of any global warming or climate change.
Interesting that now the protesters of Westboro Baptist Church  can be counted among the climate science deniers. This noisy group aside, NWC scientists said they feel the public is starting to understand that global warming is happening and that it can result in severe weather problems.
“We get 25,000 tour visitors a year and there are skeptics when we talk about climate change,” said Patrick Hyland of the Weather Center. “But more people are listening and coming away with a better understanding.”
My SEJ reporter colleague, Peter Dykstra of Environmental Health News, contends the Pope is changing attitudes as much as any persuasive scientists armed with data. He’s become a game-changer for the future of the planet, according to Dykstra.
Says Dykstra: “The environmental movement has never had a charismatic central leader – a Ghandi. With all due respect to Al Gore, it will never be him. It’s a central person with a global perspective. The Pope is on it. He’s all over it.”


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