Mesocyclone or Mothership?

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

Don’t Worry, Obama Isn’t Sending U.S. Troops to Fight ISIS

But the next president might. 

The Extraordinary Amicus Brief That Attempts to Explain the Wu-Tang Clan to the Supreme Court Justices

Amazon Is Officially a Gadget Company. Here Are Its Six New Devices.

The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.

How Much Should You Loathe NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Altered State

The Plight of the Pre-Legalization Marijuana Offender

What should happen to weed users and dealers busted before the stuff was legal?

Surprise! The Women Hired to Fix the NFL Think the NFL Is Just Great.

You Shouldn’t Spank Anyone but Your Consensual Sex Partner

Moneybox
Sept. 17 2014 5:10 PM The Most Awkward Scenario in Which a Man Can Hold a Door for a Woman
  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 17 2014 7:03 PM Once Again, a Climate Policy Hearing Descends Into Absurdity
  Business
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
  Life
Outward
Sept. 17 2014 6:53 PM LGBTQ Luminaries Honored With MacArthur “Genius” Fellowships
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 17 2014 6:14 PM Today in Gender Gaps: Biking
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 8:25 PM A New Song and Music Video From Angel Olsen, Indie’s Next Big Thing
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 7:23 PM MIT Researchers Are Using Smartphones to Interact With Other Screens
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.