These stills and video were taken near Booker, Texas, on June 3 by Mike Olbinski of the formation of a super cell, a type of “rotating thunderstorm” noted for the presence of a mesocyclone: a deep, persistently rotating updraft that has a characteristic rotation.  These are the big bad suckers that spawn tornadoes, although luckily this one didn’t.

Photo © 2013 Mike Olbinski

Photo © 3 June 2013 Mike Olbinski


Photo © 3 June 2013 Mike Olbinski


Photo © 3 June 2013 Mike Olbinski

Booker, Texas, is in the Panhandle, right on the border with the Oklahoma “skillet handle” about 260 miles (419 km) due north of us (about a 4-hour drive). The pictures were taken right at sunset so the land is in deep shadow and, yes, the land is actually that flat — for 360 degrees, as far as you can see.

You can read more about these images here.  Olbinski makes the comment that the rainfall (the light brown area at the right, under the cloud) was actually being sucked back up into that “persistently rotating updraft” which is the hallmark of this type of thunderstorm.

Below is the video. It’s amazing footage, but the one thing you don’t get from it is a sense of scale.  You’re out in the middle of bald prairie with this hulking great monster overhead, you can’t run, and there is literally no place to hide.

The area where I live in Texas is on the southwest end of what they call “Tornado alley.”  This map shows the frequency of F3, F4, and F5 tornadoes per 3700 square miles (an area of land slightly larger than the island of Cyprus).  Although the part of Texas where I live (the rectangular bit at the top), averages 6-15 tornadoes per 3700 square miles, I’ve lived here a long time, and I’ve only been in one tornado — although that’s one too many, if you ask me.


© 2011 South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Foto Ochsenreiter

I also note that they’ve reconstructed a new face for Ötzi, the iceman, which is considered a much more accurate reconstruction of this man who, when he died at approximately 46 years of age, was considered an old man 5300 years ago.  He was only 5 feet 3 inches (1.6 meters) tall and weighed around 110 pounds (50 kilograms).  I’m an inch taller than he was, and considerably more well nourished (!).


© 2011 South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Foto Ochsenreiter

I’m absolutely fascinated by this kind of thing.  Now that he has been given a face, he’s no longer a grotesque mummified corpse.   We can relate to him as another human being.  Who was he? (He must have been somebody important to have such a valuable “high-status” object as a copper-headed ax.)  Why was he killed?  (The motive wasn’t robbery, apparently, because they didn’t take the ax.)  Judging from the site of the murder, high up on a lonely alpine peak, someone wanted him “disappeared ” without a trace, consigned to oblivion.  How ironic that he is now anything but. The thing I wonder most is, did somebody miss him? Did he have friends, loved ones, children? Did they wonder what happened to him?

In other news, Monday, I started hearing the intermittent chirping noise that means the battery need to be changed in the smoke detector.  The trick was to figure out which one.   I have three:  One on the door of the kitchen that leads to the back door, one in my office above the door, and one in the hallway above my bedroom door.  I had to trace the chirping one down by ear to finally determine it was the one in my office that needed the new battery.

I thought today, I’d leave you laughing.

Some people might consider it cruel to do this to a cat, but this cat apparently only finds it annoying.  What would have been cruel is if they’d popped the balloon.