Storm Dunlop

Cumulonimbus over the Isle of Wight*

Worried by the term 'meteorology'? Then call it 'weather', which is a lot simpler. Many people seem to have difficulty in even pronouncing the word. I don't quite know why, but it is reminscent of the fact that Harlow Shapley could not spell 'archaeology' when entering for a college course, so chose 'astronomy' instead, and went on to become an extremely distinguished astronomer. Try 'meteor-ology' or (for fans of Winnie the Pooh) 'Meet-Eeyore-ology'. The names of clouds are discussed in one of the blog items I have written for Oxford University Press, and may be found here.

Although everyone seems to assume that my interest in the weather stems from my name, that is not the case, but goes back to my childhood, when it developed alongside my interest in the other physical sciences.

I had always been sufficiently interested to take some photographs of clouds and meteorological phenomena, but my writing involvement really began when one of my publishers, knowing my interest, asked me to help out with a book on the weather. (Some sales person had been to the United States and ‘sold’ a large number of a weather book. Unfortunately, the manuscript submitted by the expected author was unusable.) They then decided not to put my full name on the cover - 'because people will think it a pseudonym'. (I'd not let them get away with that nowadays.) Since then, of course, I have written a number of books on the weather, including the extremely well-received Dictionary of Weather for Oxford University Press, now in its second edition, and which is avaiable online in the Oxford Reference collection.

An article many years ago in the Brighton Evening Argus (May 30, 1996, p.12-13) - mainly inspired by the release in the UK of Steven Spielberg's film Twister - made great play of my name being particularly appropriate for someone interested in the weather. That is fine, but (as is not uncommon with newspaper interviews), several other points were wrong. Perhaps I may correct them here:

  • I do not lean out of fast-moving trains, but I have taken some of my best photographs from them. (Despite the gantries that support the overhead cables on electrified lines, you can snatch clear shots if you carefully choose your moment.)
  • I have not risked injury from golfball-sized hail, because the largest I have experienced was no more than about 25 mm across.
  • The Hollingbury tornado - probably a waterspout that had just come ashore - is not what would be termed a 'gustnado' in the United States.
  • The Tornado and Storm Research Organisation is ' TORRO', not 'TORO'.
  • The 'Great Storm' of October 1987 was not (of course) 'a severe depression of the weather front' [sic], but simply 'a deep (and rapidly deepening) secondary depression'.

As a film, Twister may be full of marvellous special effects - although even those appear suspect to a meteorological eye - and highly dramatic, but as usual scientific truth has been largely disregarded. Make no mistake about it: tornadoes should not be regarded as survivable! Stay well clear, and don't attempt to see what the centre of one looks like! No meteorologist would ever be tempted to venture into one. It is true that some adventurous scientists once considered using a tank - although getting it into the path of a tornado would have been extremely difficult - but those very tentative plans were soon dropped when a tornado passed through an army storage depot and tossed armoured vehicles around like toys. Waterspouts are generally accepted as being far less powerful than tornadoes, and a foolhardy yatchsman is said to have sailed into one deliberately and survived, but here again great caution is recommended. (My weather dictionary gives more precise descriptions of the differences between the various types of tornados.)

Photography and the Royal Meteorological Society

The difficulties in obtaining satisfactory cloud photographs for my books prompted an increased interest in obtaining my own, so that now forms my main photographic activity. That, in turn, rekindled my fascination with meteorology as a science, leading to my becoming a member of the Royal Meteorological Society - and in fact, the late Ken Pilsbury, a well-known cloud photographer, was one of my sponsors. (In those days you had to be formally proposed and seconded for full membership.) I have put some of my ideas on photographing weather phenomena into my book Photographing Weather, (Photographers’ Institute Press), and there is an introduction to cloud photograpy on the Cloud Appreciation Society’s website.

* The picture shown at the top of this page seems to be very popular. It was included on a CD-ROM of educational material produced by Charles Duncan of the Department of Meteorology, Edinburgh, and has apparently subsequently been used as desktop wallpaper by several people. I have also had requests for prints. It was chosen - to my great surprise - for inclusion in the 2001 European Meteorological Calendar, published jointly by the Deutsche Meteorologische Gesellschaft, Société Météorogique Française, and Royal Meteorological Society, under the auspices of the European Meteorological Society. It also appears (with nearly 200 of my other photographs) in the Collins Gem Weather Photoguide, which was originally published in 1997. A considerable number of my photographs were also used in my subsequent book, How to Identify: Weather and  Wild GuideWeather (both HarperCollins), the latter now issued as  Collins Nature Guide Weather, and (naturally) in Photographing Weather.

A gallery of weather images will be added to this website later.

Weather-satellite images

Being interested in the weather and astronomy more-or-less automatically means that I find satellite imagery fascinating. I am a member of the Group for Earth Observation (GEO), and (with a great deal of help from others more knowlegable about electronics) have my own simple equipment for receiving polar-orbiter images. Their basic RX2 receiver is excellent, and there are now some extremely advanced systems and software available through them.

Here is a small, un-retouched image from a NOAA polar-orbiter, taken long ago in 1999 (August 29, 14:28 UT). Just one of many obtained using the RX2. Many more may be found on GEO's WWW site, and through their links.

Anyone who is interested in this subject should consider joining GEO, which publishes an excellent journal, supplies kits of parts, has help-lines, and various other advantages.

Astronomy [page not yet in place]
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Photography [Page not yet in place]

Text and images copyright © Storm Dunlop, 2012

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Latest revision: 2012 Oct.20.06:46 UT