Editor’s Note
September 2012
The Coming Storms

The sky felt bigger and more dramatic when I lived in Kansas. I appreciated how it dominated the landscape, especially when supercell thunderstorms arrived in May and the afternoon horizon turned black or an eerie dark green. The atmosphere would explode in deafening thunder, blasts of lightning, and frightening winds. Tornado warning sirens shrieked, but I paid no attention as I watched the spectacle unfold. I was seldom alone. Others were drawn to witness the drama, despite the risk of being drowned by rain, pelted by hail, struck by lightning, blown into another county, or sucked up by a tornado.

A tornado descends from a Kansas supercell.
Photo: Mike Hollingshead, Science Faction/Getty Images

Last year in the United States there were a record-breaking 14 extreme weather events—from floods to drought—that caused at least a billion dollars in damages each. There was loss of life as well. Clearly it is perilous to ignore the sky, as this month’s cover story on extreme weather explains.

Author Peter Miller knows this subject well. In the spring of 1986 he and I spent nearly three months chasing thunderstorms with a team from the National Severe Storms Laboratory for a story on tornadoes that ran in the June 1987 issue. Much has changed since then. Our planet has warmed up, there is more moisture in the atmosphere, heavy rains are more frequent, and droughts are more pronounced. Peter examines the causes and considers the future, which some say looks as ominous as a Kansas supercell in May.

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