It looked like a tornado from some angles, felt a little like one, but it was not. It was a downburst preceded by a gust front. It was also not to be confused with a derecho or microburst but one thing nobody would deny: it was one violent, roof-removing, tree-toppling wind storm.
A staple for many small and regional press outlets has always been columns by nearby hobbyists or academics. An account in the July 20 edition of North Country Now, a small pub in upstate New York, is a sparkling example of how, every once in awhile, bringing on a public-spirited professor to write a column on nature or whatever can pay off big. Aileen O'Donoghue - astrophysicists, radio astronomer, and associate professor of physics at St. Lawrence University - explains in polished and confident, plain-English prose what darned near blew parts of her town apart last week. This is not some spritely but obscure lesson in science by a professor frustrated that the locals didn't study things properly the first time, back when when they sat at their school desks. It is a solid first-person news story with history of the meteorology involved, references to the people she talked with (much better than merely reading some of the formal literature), and plenty of reference to locale and examples of color.
She also, one learns swiftly by nosing around in the miraculous labyrinths of the web, sits in an endowed chair at St. Lawrence U and is a somewhat unusual but not quite rare sort of astronomer. She's a dedicated member of the Catholic faith, as you'll see at her personal website, which surely has something to do with her working for a place named for a saint, and is an experienced writer for the public. The readers of her North Country Now got one of the clearer and more dramatic explanations of local weather that one can ever expect to find. However, one is pained to point out, she misspelled astronomical on her university website. EVERYBODY needs an editor. Almost every post I write, nearly all without a net unless Mrs. Tracker happens to be checking it out as it appears, bears witness to that maxim.
- Charlie Petit