But today, meteorologists (scientists who study weather) blame most of 1998's weather disasters on a giant blip in the weather system called El Niño. Many years ago, Spanish-speaking Peruvian fishermen noticed that the fish suddenly disappeared whenever warm waters flowed in from the west. They called the warming El Niño ( Spanish for "the child") because it usually happened around Christmas. El Niño is caused by a sudden shift in the winds and ocean currents in the Pacific Ocean that pushes a layer of warm water across the ocean, taking weather systems with it.
The water around Indonesia is the hottest in the world - usually warmer than 80° F, which is as warm as many swimming pools. As the wave moves toward the Americas, it spreads a layer of the warm Indonesian water across the
ocean. And because ocean currents and winds are connected, the Indonesian weather follows, too. This means that the heavy rains that normally hit Indonesia for most of the year get moved thousands of miles east, soaking the Pacific Islands and normally dry coastlands from Peru to California. Meanwhile, normally wet Indonesia and its surrounding areas suffer drought.
El Niño isn't just about some rainstorm in California in 1998; it's about wild weather around the world through recorded history.
El Niño typically lasts some 18 months, and usually returns every three to seven years, probably when enough warm water has built up again in the western Pacific. But when El Niño's warm water retreats, it's sometimes followed by a cool water wave. Scientists call this cooling of the Pacific La Niña. La Niña's effect on the weather is harder to predict than El Niño's. But during La Niña years, the normal weather in some regions becomes exaggerated: it gets extra wet in wet Indonesia, extra dry in dry Peru. That's also when we get big droughts in the American Midwest. The great Dust Bowl drought of 1930s America is thought to have been caused by a decade of La Niña-like conditions.
Student Writing Model
A Description A description is a picture in words that helps the reader share the writer's experience. Use this student's writing as a model when you write a description of your own.
By the Sea
My grandfather has an apartment that we visit every summer for a few days. My favorite place is a beach where my family goes to play and walk along the shore.
When the weather is nice, the sky is blue and the clouds are pure white. The ocean is greenish blue and when the waves crash, the foam is white. Along the water's edge, there are clam shells, crabs, baby shrimp, and once my brother found a starfish! The seagulls walk around like scavengers, looking for clams and crabs to eat. Sometimes I feel like a seagull, because we are both walking around trying to find something special. The seaweed washes up along the shore. It's green and long, and when it wraps around your leg it is ticklish. When we play in the water, we are always careful of the jellyfish. Some are red and some are clear, but they all sting.
The beginning tells what the description is about.
Imagery lets readers visualize how something looks, sounds, smells, tastes, and feels.
Similes give the reader a clear mental picture.
When the weather is cloudy and stormy, the skies are gray and the waves crash along the shore. It sounds like thunder or like a roaring
lion. We don't walk along the shore during a storm, but we can watch from the boardwalk. The prettiest part of the day is when the sun sets over the bay. It seems as if every time we look up, the colors in the sky change. At first, there is pink, blue, and some green. Then the colors darken to red, orange, blue-gray, and purple. Finally the sky goes dark blue and the sun sets.
I love my grandfather's beach house!
A good description puts details in time order, in spatial order, or in order of importance.
A good ending wraps up the description.
Meet the Author
Grade: five State: New York
Hobbies: ice skating, singing, and basketball
What she'd like to be when she grows up: a singer
Get Set to Read
Background and Vocabulary
Eye of the Storm: Chasing Stores with Warren Faidley
Read to find the meanings of these words.
Photographing Wild Weather
Eye of the Storm tells about Warren Faidley, professional weather photographer and storm chaser. Here's a look at where he goes and the dangers he faces on the job.
· Lightning heats the air around it to a sizzling 50,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
· Each bolt carries hundreds of millions of volts of electricity.
· Lightning kills an average of 100 people each year in the United States.
Every spring, Warren brings his cameras to "Tornado Alley" in the central United States, where warm and cool air collide to form funnel clouds that might become tornadoes . For the summer, Warren returns to his home state of Arizona to photograph lightning storms.
· The winds inside a killer tornado may rotate at jet speed - spinning up to 300 miles per hour.
· Tornadoes kill an average of 80 people per year in the United States.
Meet the Author
Stephen Kramer teaches at an elementary school near Vancouver, Washington. He has written several other books on nature topics, such as Avalanche, Caves, Tornado, and Lightning. Lightning features the photographs of Warren Faidley.
Meet the Photographer
Warren Faidley's dramatic weather photographs appear not only in books, but in movies, videos, calendars, magazines, and museums. Faidley also served as a consultant and cinematographer for the movie Twister. He and his cat, Megamouth, live in Tucson, Arizona.
For more information about Stephen Kramer and Warren Faidley, visit Education Place. www.eduplace.com/kids
Eye of the Storm
Chasing Storms with Warren Faidley
STEPHEN KRAMER PHOTOGRAPHS
BY WARREN FAIDLEY
Warren Faidley's job takes him all over the country, getting close-up shots of dangerous storms. As you read the selection, think of questions about his job to discuss with your classmates.
In the evening shadows, a dusty black truck rolls along a dirt road. A rattlesnake feels the vibrations, lifts its head, and crawls off into the rocks. Giant saguaros sprout from the hillsides, arms held high. Somewhere in the distance, a cactus wren calls. But Warren Faidley isn't looking for rattlesnakes, saguaros, or cactus wrens.
He stares through the windshield, eyes glued to a cauliflower-shaped cloud. Behind the cloud, the setting sun turns the sky the color of a ripe peach. Warren has been watching this cloud, and hoping, for almost thirty minutes. The truck heads toward a hill with a clear view of the sky.
Suddenly, a jagged bolt of lightning shoots from the cloud.
"That's it," says Warren.
The truck speeds to the top of the hill and Warren jumps out, arms full of photographic equipment. His fingers fly as he unfolds tripods, mounts his cameras, and points them toward the cloud. Before the road dust has settled, the cameras are clicking.
For twenty minutes, lightning erupts from the cloud. Warren moves back and forth between the cameras - peering through viewfinders, changing film, switching lenses. Tomorrow, when the film is developed, Warren will know whether he had a successful night. In the meantime, he stands and watches, hoping his cameras are capturing the spectacular lights and colors of the evening thunderstorm.
Watching the Sky
From earliest times, people have watched the sky. Astrologers used the positions of the stars to predict the future. Storytellers used rainbows, winds, the sun and moon to weave tales about the past. Farmers, shepherds, and sailors have all watched the clouds, wondering what tomorrow's weather will be like.
The spectacular storms that sometimes appear in the sky have helped to make weather one of the most mysterious of all natural forces. Myths and legends from around the world describe the fear and awe people felt as they watched lightning explode from a cloud or a tornado appear on the horizon, or listened to the howling winds of a hurricane.
For some people, storms have an irresistible call. These storm chasers head for the mountains, prairies, or seacoasts whenever weather conditions are right.
People chase storms for many reasons. Some storm chasers are scientists, who use video cameras, Doppler radar, and other instruments to learn about
what happens in a tornado or a thunderstorm. Photographers follow storms to try to capture the beauty of wind and sky on film. Still other people chase storms in order to catch a brief glimpse of the awesome power of nature.
Warren Faidley: Storm Chaser
Warren Faidley lives in Tucson, Arizona, with a one-toothed cat named Megamouth. He has been interested in storms for almost as long as he can remember.
Warren still remembers the tremendous thunderstorms he saw as a boy in Tucson. Tucked safely in bed, he watched the lightning and listened to the thunder. After the storms had passed, he fell asleep to the smell of wet creosote bushes outside his window.
Warren also had his first encounter with windstorms when he was a boy. Dust whirlwinds - spinning columns of wind that look like small tornadoes - often formed in the dusty vacant lots of his neighborhood. One day Warren decided to put on safety goggles and a heavy jacket, and ride his bike into the center of a dust whirlwind. He'll never forget the excitement he felt when he rode through the wall of swirling winds:
"The inside was still and almost dust free. The light was orange, filtered, I guess, by the wall of dirt that was spinning around me. This rotating wall was filled with all kinds of debris, including tumbleweeds and newspaper pages. Looking up, I could see the very blue sky."
Becoming a Storm Chaser
Warren hadn't always planned to be a storm chaser. He enjoyed studying science in school, and he loved being outside. But he didn't really become interested in taking pictures of the sky until he was working as a photographer for a newspaper.
Warren began by trying to take pictures of lightning from the balcony of his apartment. Although the pictures didn't turn out very well, he soon found himself spending more and more time taking pictures of lightning on summer evenings. Warren read everything he could about weather, and he began to dream about making a living as a weather photographer.
The storm that started Warren's career arrived in Tucson long after the end
of the summer thunderstorm season. On that October afternoon, Warren glanced out the back window of his apartment and saw the sharp edges of the storm cloud. He grabbed his equipment, loaded his car, and drove toward a highway underpass on the east side of town.
When Warren reached the underpass, lightning was flashing just a few miles from it. Snatching up his equipment, he scrambled up the steep bank toward a dry ledge where he could set up his cameras. As he set up his tripods, a huge lightning bolt leaped from a cloud about a mile away, striking the ground next to an air traffic control tower.
But the storm was moving quickly. Suddenly, the air was filled with wind and rain, cutting off the view of any lightning to the east. Warren looked overhead and saw small lightning bolts leaping between the clouds. He knew there was about to be another large bolt - and he was pretty sure that the next big flash would be to the west, on the other side of the underpass.
Warren knew he had to get to the other side of the underpass right away. There wasn't enough room between the ledge and the top of the underpass to walk upright, so he scooted along on his knees. He grabbed hold of overhead rain gutters to keep his balance in the darkness.
Suddenly, Warren stuck his hand into a tangle of thick cobwebs. He quickly pulled his hand back. Then he pointed
his penlight toward the ledge and gutters. The whole walkway was lined with webs, and rainwater washing through cracks in the concrete overhead was driving out hundreds of angry black widow spiders!
Ka-boom! A huge bolt of lightning flashed overhead. Warren knew the next bolt would strike somewhere on the west side of the underpass, and he knew he had one chance to capture it. Pushing ahead in the darkness, he used the legs of his tripod as a broom, sweeping aside the cobwebs and trying to brush off any spiders that landed on his clothes.
Near the end of the underpass, and clear of the spider webs, he decided to set up his cameras. The air was sizzling, and Warren could feel that something was about to happen. He slid a few feet down the rough concrete embankment, , using his hands and the soles of his shoes ` as brakes. When the cameras were set up, Warren quickly wiped the raindrops off the lenses. Then he moved back up the slope to a safer place to wait.
Seconds later, he heard a loud crackling, and at the same time he saw a blinding flash of pure, white light. It sounded as if the sky were being torn apart. Next came the boom of a thunderclap roaring through the underpass. It had the energy of a bomb blast, and it lifted Warren's body right off the ground.
Warren lost his hold on the slope and began sliding downhill toward his cameras. He knew that he had to close the shutters on them without bumping the tripods - or the film with the lightning would blur and be ruined. Using his hands and feet and the seat of his pants as brakes on the concrete, Warren slid to a stop just above his tripods. Carefully, he reached up and closed the shutters on the cameras. Then he looked down at his palms and saw that they were covered with blood.
Warren stayed under the underpass long after the storm had passed, thinking about what had just happened. He knew the lightning strike had been close, because when he closed his eyes he could still see its jagged outline.
The next morning, when Warren had his film developed, he was astonished by what he saw. In the center of one of the rolls was an incredible image of a lightning bolt hitting a light pole in front of some metal storage tanks. The picture had been taken from less than four hundred feet. Warren knew that he was holding the closest good picture ever taken of a lightning bolt hitting an object.
The lightning picture changed Warren's life. It was analyzed and written about by Dr. E. Philip Krider, a lightning scientist at the University of
Arizona. Life magazine printed the picture, calling Warren a storm chaser. National Geographic called, wanting to film a special program about his work. The National Enquirer ran an article about Warren, calling him a "fearless spider-fighting photog." He even got a call from a Japanese game show that wanted to feature him on a TV program in which contestants try to guess a mystery guest's occupation. Warren began making enough money from selling his pictures that he could think about being a full-time storm chaser.
What Happens to Warren's Photos After He Takes Them?
You've probably seen some of Warren's photographs. His pictures of lightning, tornadoes, and hurricanes have appeared in books, magazines, newspapers, advertisements, and scientific films. One of his lightning pictures was even used on stage passes for rock concerts by singer Paul McCartney.
Warren's business is called a stock photo agency. It's like a library of sky and storm photographs. People pay him for the use of his photos.
Suppose, for example, that you are a magazine editor. If you need a lightning
photo for an article, you could go out and try to take a picture of lightning yourself. But you might have to wait a very long time for the right kind of storm, and unless you have lots of practice your lightning photograph probably won't be very good.
An easier way of getting a good lightning photo is to write to Warren. He'll send you samples, and you can select the one you like. Then, after sending Warren a fee, you can use the photo in your magazine.
When Warren began selling his lightning photos, he found that people were also asking for pictures of tornadoes and hurricanes. He didn't have photographs of these kinds of storms, so he read everything he could find about tornadoes and hurricanes - and he made plans to photograph them as well.
Storm Seasons and Chasing
Storms are caused by certain kinds of weather patterns. The same patterns are found in the same areas year after year. For example, every spring, large areas of cool, dry air and warm, moist air collide over the central United States. If the winds are right, tornado-producing thunderstorms appear. That's why tornadoes in the south central United States are most likely to happen in spring. During July and August, shifting winds push moisture from the south up into the Arizona desert. When the cool, moist air is heated by the hot desert, storm clouds form. That's why Tucson has summer thunderstorms. In the late
summer and early fall, when oceans in the northern Atlantic are warmest, tropical storms form off the west coast of Africa. A few of these turn into the hurricanes that sometimes batter the east and gulf coasts of North America.
Because Warren is a storm chaser, his life also follows these weather patterns. Each spring, Warren goes on the road, traveling through parts of the United States likely to be hit by tornadoes. During the summer, he stays near Tucson so he can photograph the thunderstorms that develop over the desert. In the late summer and fall, he keeps an eye on weather activity in the Atlantic Ocean, ready to fly to the east coast if a hurricane appears.
One of Warren's favorite tornado photos is a picture he took near Miami, Texas. Most of the sky is filled by the lower end of a huge storm cloud. A tornado hangs from the cloud, kicking up dust from the empty prairie, while the blue and yellow sky seems to go on forever.
In some ways, this wasn't a difficult picture for Warren to take. He's an experienced photographer. But before he could shoot this picture, he had to be in the right place at the right time - and that's what makes photographing tornadoes such hard work.
On a spring day, dozens of thunderstorms may develop over thousands of square miles in Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, but usually only a few will produce tornadoes. Since many tornadoes are on the ground only a few minutes, they will disappear before Warren can photograph them unless he is nearby. Other times, he will follow a promising storm, only to have it head off into an area where there are no roads. Tornadoes may be hidden by falling rain, making it impossible to take a picture of them. Still other storms may produce tornadoes at night, when it's too dark for Warren to take pictures and too dangerous for him to be out chasing because he can't see what's happening.
A successful tornado photographer needs patience, a good understanding of
insert page 68
Tornado Chase Diary: May 5, 1993
Warren keeps a diary, in which he writes about his storm chases. Here are some of the things that happened on May 5, ' 1993, a remarkable day.
Amarillo, Texas - Morning
I awaken in a motel in Tornado Alley. As I walk to the window to peek out the drapes, I remember that last night's weather forecast showed that this might be a good chase day. Tom climbs out of bed and turns on The Weather Channel.
Later in the morning, Tom and I get the Shadow Chaser ready for the day. I test the radios, check under the hood, make sure the tires are inflated and the lights and wipers are working. We clean, pack, and return each piece of equipment to its usual place. During a chase, there isn't time to look around for a roll of film or lens for a camera.
Finally, we check out of the motel and head for a nearby restaurant for breakfast. Then we drive into town to fill the gas tank and get a few supplies.
National Weather Service Office - Early Afternoon
We arrive at the Amarillo office of the National Weather Service. Here I get an update on local weather conditions, as well as a chance to see a satellite picture of the area. I use current weather information to draw a map of where today's thunderstorms are likely to form. The reports are saying that there is a moderate chance of severe weather in our area, and some of the thunderstorms will probably produce tornadoes. Since the storms aren't expected to develop until later in the afternoon, we take some time off and drive to a nearby garage to have the oil changed in Shadow Chaser.
A couple hours later, we're back at the National Weather Service office to make our final chase decisions. It's beginning to look like the area north of town is our best bet. We pull out the highway maps and start looking at possible routes.
As we leave town, I call a friend and fellow chaser who gives weather reports for a local TV station. He confirms that severe storm clouds are building right where we're headed. He also says that a
news team from his station is already headed there.
Near Panhandle, Texas - Late Afternoon
The sky is hazy, but in the distance we can see the tops of anvil-shaped storm clouds. We stop the truck to pick up the TV report. My forecaster friend is on. He's pointing to an area on his map about fifty miles north of our location. "It looks like we're going to have some severe storms in this area!" he says. We get back into the truck and drive north.
Near Gruver, Texas - Early Evening
The overcast skies clear enough to show a giant thunderstorm just ahead. Then our radio scanner locks onto a message from the TV crew's chase unit. "There's a large funnel cloud coming from this storm," says the message. While the crew describes its location, I look at the map. "They're only eight miles from here," I tell Tom. "Let's go and find it!"
As we approach Gruver, we see the red TV van parked on the side of the road. A cameraman is pointing his camera at a huge, gray-white funnel cloud hanging from the base of a dark cloud. As Tom parks the truck, I use the radio to call in a weather report to the National Weather Service station in Amarillo. The funnel cloud pulls back up into the storm.
We head north, following the storm. As we drive, watching the back of the storm, we can see the clouds darkening and beginning to rotate. The white clouds at the top of the storm take on the shape of a giant mushroom. I'm excited, but I'm worried too. I know that anyone in the path of this storm is in terrible danger.
We follow the storm down the highway. Gradually, it turns and heads back toward the road. We pull over and wait for the storm to cross. While we're waiting, a large semi truck pulls up beside us. The driver opens his window and leans out.
"Hey, are you guys tornado chasers? Is that a tornado forming? Is it safe for me to drive under it?"
"We're not sure if it's going to turn into a tornado, but I'd wait here and let it pass," I answer.
We all watch as the swirling mass crosses the highway. A small funnel cloud reaches down from the storm cloud - and then quickly disappears. I reach for the microphone and call Amarillo: "This is Warren. I'm about eight miles north of Gruver, just west of Highway 207. Tom and I are looking at a large cloud mass that is organizing and rotating."
"Roger, Warren," replies the spotter coordinator. "We're watching the same area on radar. Thanks."
Now we begin to worry about losing the storm. There aren't very many roads in this area, and most of them run north-south or east-west. Since most storms don't continue for long in these directions, following a storm is a little like playing a huge game of chess. Tom loads his cameras back into the truck while I check the road map.
We make our way along a tangle of unmarked farm roads a few miles from the Oklahoma border. Since the storm is on our west side, and it's moving northeast, we can safely stay quite close
to the updraft without getting in the direct path of a tornado.
Near the Oklahoma/Texas Border - Evening
We keep an eye on the swirling clouds as we drive along. Suddenly, from the center of the clouds, a large white funnel appears.
"Look, Tom! Another tornado!" I exclaim. "That thing is less than a mile away! "
I reach for the microphone and call in another report. The funnel cloud begins to stretch. Soon it looks like the trunk of a huge elephant, wiggling over the green fields below. Then it touches down, officially becoming a tornado. When the funnel touches the ground, wispy little vortices appear around the main cloud of wind. As these minitornadoes spin, they kick up dust of their own. I grab the microphone and send another message to the spotter coordinator:
"We're about three or four miles south of the Texas/Oklahoma state line," I explain. "And we're looking at a large, multivortex tornado on the ground."
Just inside the Oklahoma state line, the road turns slightly toward the northwest. The tornado begins to cross the road a little ahead of us. We stop to try and get some pictures, but the light isn't good. It's hard to see the tornado clearly against the background of the cloud. The air is hazy, and another storm to the west is blocking the sunlight.
"We've got a great tornado here," I say to Tom, "but the light is terrible." We load our gear back into the truck and roll down a bumpy dirt road, looking for better light, while the tornado swirls along beside us.
As Tom drives, he keeps glancing at the tornado. Suddenly he yells, "Warren! There's another tornado forming!" I peer through the window and see a debris cloud forming, sucking up soil from a field.
"Wow," Tom says. "Look what it's doing to that fence!" We watch as it rips a section of barbed-wire fence out of the ground and scatters it across the field. The small area of spinning wind, with no
visible funnel cloud above, tears across the fields.
"Slow down, Tom," I say. "I can't see the funnel cloud connected to that thing - and we sure don't want to get hit by it." A few seconds later, the debris cloud disappears.
We follow a maze of unmarked dirt roads until we reach a dead end. As we turn around and drive back toward the highway, we watch as the edges of the storm cloud wrap around the tornado, hiding it from sight. Many sightings of "our" tornado, as well as others in the area, are being reported over the radio. I'm happy to hear that so far the tornadoes haven't hit any populated areas.
East of Guymon, Oklahoma –
Evening It's about 7:30 p.m. when we pull back onto the highway. As we head east, we see a long, thin tornado crossing the road a few miles ahead.
"I bet that's our tornado," I tell Tom. "It looks like it's weakening. We've got to shoot it now!" When Tom stops, I jump out the door, set my camera on the hood to steady it, and go through another roll of film. As we watch, the funnel pulls back up into the dark clouds.
West of Hooker, Oklahoma - Evening
Traveling along the highway, we're joined again by the crew from the TV
station. Down the road, I see a huge wedge-shaped tornado on the ground. "Stop!" I yell to Tom. Tom hits the brakes and we stare through the windshield. The tornado looks like it's about seven or eight miles from us, moving away, although the fading light makes it hard to be sure. As we watch, the funnel slows down, and then it disappears. We continue on and I spot another tornado. This one looks like a long stovepipe. "This is incredible," I say to Tom. "We've got two large thunderstorms here, and they're dropping tornadoes everywhere! "
The stovepipe tornado swirls into the clouds before we can get close enough for pictures. As we watch it disappear, I realize that it's getting too dark for any more photos. I know the storms are still active, and I'm worried that the fading light could hide any newly forming tornadoes. Chasing any more tornadoes today would be too dangerous.
Near the Oklahoma/Kansas Border - Evening
As the last of the light disappears, we see two more tornadoes in the distance. One is headed north, rolling into Kansas. As we drive back to Amarillo, we listen to news reports on the radio. "With as many tornadoes as we have had on the ground tonight," says a reporter, "it's a miracle that none of them have hit a town. We do have at least one report of a farm being destroyed, with no injuries so far. But beyond that, we have been extremely fortunate."
Amarillo, Texas - Night
It's 11:00 p.m. by the time we finally pull back into the motel parking lot. As Tom and I unload Shadow Chaser, we're still shaking our heads about what we've seen. The tornadoes we saw caused some damage, but there have been no reports of any deaths or injuries. That makes it easier to celebrate our seven-tornado day.