Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Spin Zone

Meteorologists work with models whereby they factor in variables to project consequent effects. But tornadoes, like earthquakes, defy prediction, so the models don't work, at least not well.

Scientists, unlike their critics, prefer not to say things they can't substantiate, and therefore they are reluctant to attribute this season's terrible spate of tornadoes to global climate change. As Andrew Revkin put it in his New York Times science blog: "...a combination of imprecise records and deep complexity in the mix of forces that generate killer tornadoes has clouded any link to global warming. Anyone implying such a connection is in the spin zone."

About the truest thing we can say of tornadoes is that they are mysterious. For those who haven't experienced one, they often happen on sultry days for which the initial winds come as a relief. The rain may not be heavy, but the clouds gather as if to make an assault, and then the sky turns green, an effect so eerie as to turn the earth itself into a stranger. As for the noise, I don't know whether Doppler effect is an accurate description of what happens next, but the crescendo and its approach are more prolonged than the diminuendo. And once it's gone, the day can seem incongruently mild and calm.

I have been spared a direct hit by a funnel cloud. This month, tens of thousands of people in the southern states were not so fortunate, and over three hundred lost their lives.

California artist John Brosio has made a specialty of painting tornadoes. They touch down outside of villages in which Edward Hopper might have felt at home. In Brosio's paintings, the incongruence that I spoke of is present, as people seem blithely unaware of what is happening a mile or two away, perhaps not even questioning why their lights shine so brightly in the daytime.

It's hard not to think of tornadoes metaphorically, remembering that God appears as a column of smoke leading the Hebrews through the desert and speaks to Job from the whirlwind. But why stop at metaphor? If global change is right, the earth is trapping too much energy, leaving us with a malevolent force that resides on our landscape whether we notice it or not.

Island 2 by John Brosio, 2002. Click on the picture for a closer look.


Ben Hardy said...

Just to let you know that I love your blog. I have only recently stumbled across it, but the combination of intelligent comment and art is irresistable. When I saw this painting I immediately thought 'Hopper' and then realised it could not be. I am pleased that you use 'crescendo' correctly (which is pretty rare - most people talk of building to a crescendo, which irritates me). And in discussing this painting, your comments remind me of Auden's Musee de Beaux Arts.

Ben Hardy said...

Sorry - typo. Irresistible.

DUTA said...

I've never experienced a tornado and hope I never will as I get terribly frightened even by a regular storm.

Nature is more powerful than any man-made tool. We humans are not kind to Nature and we get punished for that.

Since the Chernobil nuclear disaster in April 1986, the world climate has been going crazy, and now with the Fukushima addition, it will become crazier than ever, with an increase in the number and strength of earthquakes, volcano eruptions, tzunamis, and other "goodies".

There are certain things we could do to minimize losses , but it is mainly a matter of individual choice ( choice of :geographical location, house materials, means of self-preparedness, etc..)

"Prevention is the best cure" as they always say when discussing health issues, and that is true. Unfortunately, most people are spoilt, lazy, dependent. Just provide them with medical insurance and scientific assurance, and they're confident this will do the job for them. I doubt it.

DUTA said...

I wish to add that I include myself too in the category of the 'lazy'. In fact I always say that my middle name is Lazy.

I don't live in a house on an island, under a volcano, by a body of water or near a forest; nevertheless my present home won't withstand an earthquake or a rocket attack, and I'm doing nothing concrete about that (sigh).