Mesocyclone or Mothership?

Bad Astronomy
The entire universe in blog form
Aug. 1 2014 12:54 PM

Mesocyclone or Mothership?

National Geographic Traveler just announced its winners for its 2014 photo contest. The shots are all very cool, but I can’t argue with the No. 1 pick: a mesocyclone over Colorado, taken by photographer Marko Korosec:

mesocyclone
I expect to see Thor riding down the middle of that thing. Click to supercellenate.

Photo by Marko Korosec, used by permission

Holy wow! I love this shot. Korosec was storm-chasing on May 28, 2013, when this vortex appeared near Julesburg, Colorado, in the extreme northeastern corner of the state, near Nebraska. Despite what you might think, eastern Colorado is extremely flat, and prone to, um, interesting summer storms.

Advertisement

I’ve written about mesocyclones before (see Related Posts below for more jaw-dropping pictures and time-lapse animations). I can’t describe them much better than I did before:

A supercell is a rotating thundercloud; the spinning vortex in the middle is called a mesocyclone. Conditions need to be just so to create one. First you need a wind shear, where wind blows faster in one spot than another, so a blanket of air is flowing over another one. This sets up a rolling vortex, a horizontally rotating mass of air like the way a wave breaks when it gets to a beach. An updraft then lifts that vortex, which then spins vertically.
The warmer air in the vortex rises; this is called convection. If there’s a boundary layer of air above it, called a capping layer, it acts like a lid, preventing the vortex air from rising. It builds up power and can suddenly and explosively grow to a huge size. Wikipedia has a good description and diagrams of how this works.

Impressive. And what amazes me is that the photo above isn’t even what I think is the best one Korosec took of a mesocyclone. This one is:

mesocyclone

Photo by Marko Korosec, used by permission

WOW. It looks like a spaceship touching down, its thrusters disturbing the ground underneath it.

And just because I want to make sure you see it, here is a time-lapse of a supercell growing in Kansas, taken by Stephen Locke, because holy yikes it’s magnificent.

The next time someone tells me they’re feeling “under the weather,” they can be sure to get a lot of sympathy from me.

You can find more of Korosec’s photography—and it's all amazing, he’s really seriously gifted—at 500px, and on his website Weather-Photos.net.

Related Posts

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don’t Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.

Republicans Want the Government to Listen to the American Public on Ebola. That’s a Horrible Idea.

The Most Ingenious Teaching Device Ever Invented

Tom Hanks Has a Short Story in the New Yorker. It’s Not Good.

Brow Beat

Marvel’s Civil War Is a Far-Right Paranoid Fantasy

It’s also a mess. Can the movies do better?

Watching Netflix in Bed. Hanging Bananas. Is There Anything These Hooks Can’t Solve?

The Procedural Rule That Could Prevent Gay Marriage From Reaching SCOTUS Again

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
  Life
Outward
Oct. 20 2014 3:16 PM The Catholic Church Is Changing, and Celibate Gays Are Leading the Way
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 20 2014 9:13 PM The Smart, Talented, and Utterly Hilarious Leslie Jones Is SNL’s Newest Cast Member
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 20 2014 4:59 PM Canadian Town Cancels Outdoor Halloween Because Polar Bears
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Oct. 20 2014 11:46 AM Is Anybody Watching My Do-Gooding? The difference between being a hero and being an altruist.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.