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Wednesday, 23 June 2010


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Glad to hear you're okay, though. Scary!

So no lightning or tornado photos, then?

I was hoping for more storm here last night, although I don't have a very good vantage for lightning photos from home.

Glad no one was seriously hurt... Can't be too careful with mother nature.

Glad you and your family are okay, Mike.
Losing you would be...well, it would be bad. Glad things worked out.


Scary, scary night.
May your luck hold. We've had a severe storm warning every day for the last 3 weeks. No hurricanes yet. No basements in this area, even the graves are above ground.
The only thing for you to do is get out the wet vacuum and keep on building, maybe put in some extra selves for survival gear.
Sounds like Eagle's sirens came from the same place our levees did (the gumm'it).

bd in NOLA

PS got Carl's wonderful print a couple of days ago and am blown over with the beautiful tone and texture. Needed 5 egg timer cycles for the first viewing.

I live in a region in the south of Australia where weather never gets that extreme, and I'm baffled why you would want to live somewhere that has weather like that every year. Weather that you know can destroy your home and everything in it. The disruption to life upon losing all of one's possessions would be far too costly.

I know you have the warning systems, which seem to prevent people from being killed, but what if they fail and a twister touches down on your house in the middle of the night while you and your children are sleeping. The though of that terrifies me.

I only know what I've read above about those sirens not working, but it's very frustrating when you report something again and again as faulty and nothing gets done (writes your not so local ex electrical maintenance man)

Planned maintenance, scheduled checks, save money. They don't waste it. A certain vehicle lighting factory I worked in had a conveyor belt oven out of order for eight working days in one year for the sake of only about half a day's maintenance a year. One of the two faults was found because when the worker's pies were put through they were getting burnt.

On an injection moulding machine a man got a shock when the machine developed a fault. Only then did we discover that a badly made joint meant the earth connection was lost. He was okay, but safety critical stuff can be even more costly if it's not fixed until someone gets hurt.

The machine had been installed by an outside contractor and I insisted on halting every machine they'd handled until I could be sure that they were earthed. I was not popular, but I did it. After a year I walked away. I'd had enough.

I'm assuming somebody's head's going to roll over that siren problem. The news reported something like six failed tests. But of course nobody died, so maybe nobody will care.

What you recount sounds very much like an interview I saw with a survivor of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster. Apparently they had to go repeatedly through several levels of ignoring warning signs and overriding safety measures, with the people responsible saying, in effect, "f*ck it, go ahead" time and time again. We were talking about the Simpsons TV show yesterday--BP sounds a lot like Homer in the nuclear plant to me. In that interview at least.

I also recall an interview with a trucker in Maryland years ago whose employers were illegally backhauling *formaldehyde* in a *milk* truck. He was hosing out the inside of the tanker with a garden hose and a spray nozzle in between the loads. He made as much noise as he could about it, but was told to shut up and do his job. He quit rather than continue to be a party to contaminating milk. Had trouble finding a new job, as I recall. I think of guys like that as heroes.


I'm not sure there's a suitably placid area in the U.S. anywhere...heat in the south, hurricanes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, fires throughout the west, earthquakes and mudslides in California, snow and harsh winters in the Rockies and parts of the East and upper Midwest, floods more or less everywhere....

I think of Wisconsin as being pretty safe and sheltered, but of course we've just had this tornado in the next town over, we had a flood a couple of years ago that literally bisected the town along the riverbed, and I have actually felt an earthquake (albeit a small one) sitting in this very chair! Hmm, maybe I should reassess....


P.S. Oh, and when I lived in Portland, there was a volcano (Mt. St. Helens) that showered ash down on everything for a week or two.

Hurry up and get your bsement darkroom finished, so you can print during the next tornado storm.

Ken, That's and outstanding photograph. I'm envious. Do you sell prints?

No kidding!

Like Ken said, glad everyone is fine. We left Chicago Friday at noon and raced that very storm up to Beloit and over to New Glarus. Missed the brunt of it by about 10 minutes and ten miles...

And it just came through again! Holy rainy rain rain. Got off my bicycle at 5:30 tonight and the sky went all green and Wicked Witch like.

Be safe.

Oh, by the way that is a nifty photo Ken.

Tornado weather is scary. It's hard for me to conceive of living with them as a fact of seasonal weather (and then I remember that there are a lot of things we live with that are pretty scary when you try to conceive of living with them). I'm glad you all came out of this OK. But brace yourselves--it's supposed to be an especially hot and stormy summer in the Gulf (good for tornado-making up north).

Having lived near Kansas City (orange zone) my entire life I must admit to taking tornadoes for granted. I've found that tornado safety awareness is inversely proportional to frequency experienced - we almost never see anyone killed in a tornado in this area.

What's more, the advancements in Doppler weather radar and the use of traffic helicopters for news broadcasts have resulted in our no longer hunkering in our basements during warnings like when we were children but rather watching live TV broadcasts of tornadoes, from the air, and calling our friends and familes to say "Hey, it's now at 99th street and Oak."

I'm always amazed by one of our local traffic copter pilot's command of weather forecaster jargon such as down drafts, out flows, gust fronts and wall clouds. A few years ago we did see him get a little too close and in a down draft but he "caught it" beautifully.

Dear Ben,

The chances of being killed by a tornado in Wisconsin are about 0.25 per million people per year.

The chances of dying in a traffic accident there are about 300 times greater (no, they are not especially unsafe drivers-- that's a normal number).

You'd have to go way, way down the list of possible causes of death before you'd get to tornadoes, even in "Tornado Alley." It ain't common.

pax / Ctein

Taking up a collection for the Chief and his family?

That man deserves a break.

Glad everyone is ok. That is a terrific photograph Ken, do you live in the flight path to O'Hare?


That really is an eyeball-grabbing photo. Congrats on that one.
Very painterly ... William Turner couldn't have done better :-)


Glad you're OK. Where I live it's mostly typhoons, earthquakes and tidal waves, and I do appreciate just how scary Mommy Nature can be when she's having a bad day. Better hurry up and get that darkroom finished (and weatherized), so that next time there's a storm you can spend the time printing in safety.

It's a strange thing, but people like Mike and me who live in the midwest learn to read clouds at an early age, l suppose like eskimos learn to read the subtleties of snow. The storm clouds that spawn tornados have a very peculiar and distinctive green cast to them that causes the hair on the back of my neck to stand up, and I know I need to seek shelter.

In terms of destructive force on a massive scale, tornados are quite puny compared to other natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes. But, their unpredictability and the sheer randomness of their violence is what makes them so scary. One minute everything seems fine and the next minute you are cowering in your basement while the rest of the upper floors explode above you. They touch down and retract and skip across a community wiping out a house in the middle of the block of one side of the street and not harming those on the other side of the street at all. Survivors of these storms are left to ponder how in the world they were so lucky while their next door neighbor was not. It's a special kind of terror painted with an arbitrary brush.

I second Karl Knize. Ken's photo should be the next TOP print special. Maybe we can even compare Ken's interpretation with Ctein's.

You know what you should never say to the person sitting next to you on the plane as it plummets into the sea with its engines ablaze: "you know, planes are statistically much safer than automobiles."

I think what Steve R. said gets the gestalt. The problem is that many severe thunderstorms COULD spawn tornados, and a tornado COULD hit you (or someone you know, which is what I worry about more). It's not that so many people are killed by them--obviously, they're not--it's the randomness and unpredictability that's scary. In fact, just yesterday the local newsman was analyzing the tornado's path, and noted that it grazed an entire line of houses right next to an open field. He said that if the path had been just twenty feet to the right, all those homes would have escaped unscathed. That's the strange thing about tornadoes. It's an very odd sort of meteorological Russian roulette. You just never know whether the next one will plow through a cornfield or a car lot or your grandma's house.


Wasn't there something about some sort of blowout preventer widget that BP deferred replacing the dead battery on?

Ken Tanaka's photo is awesome, in both the popular sense of the word and the dictionary sense. Apocalyptic even.

I live toward the southern end of tornado ally. No other place on earth comes remotely close in regard to the amount of twisters spawned in the central regions of the USA.

In 1997 A rare F5 developed in dry, unexpected conditions just 20 miles up the road in Jarrel, Texas. The thing was a monster leaving 37 dead in a rural farming community. Skinned carcasses of cattle lay about and houses were turned to sawdust by this massive twister acting like a sanding drum with all the grit it had accumulated. I talked to a gentleman who was around for that storm and he teared up when describing what he saw.

The chilling part is a storm like could hit hit Austin, Dallas, Oklahoma City or Kansas City and the devastation will be beyond comprehension.

Very strong photo, Ken!


Ken, that is a fantastic image.

Dear Mike,

Can't explain it; I guess I'm just comfortable living in a nondeterministic universe. Random occurrences don't faze me, nor cause me to much wonder over who gets clobbered and who doesn't.

In 2000 there was a tornado on my street! Water spout formed over the ocean, came inland at the north end of the street (where it dead-ends), took the roof off the house that's there, went dancing up the street past my house, swung out to sea again about half a block south of us.

Other damage was limited to minor trim damage on a few houses. Our house was one of the ones completely untouched.

I never lose a moment's sleep over it, never think "what if?" My whole life's a "what if."

What bothers me about the tornado is that Paula and I were off seeing "Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon" and I missed it!

And, oh yeah, Ken's photo is FABULOUS!

pax / Ctein

Powerful photo, Ken.

Man, if I was a man of faith I'd say god was trying to tell you something, Mike. It's just an act of bad luck (or good luck compared those folks from Eagle). You'll bounce back

My city of Manchester (UK) is known as the rainy city. I'm not talking biblical rain, just the kind of rain that gets you wet. That's as much as we have to deal with, the fear of getting our hair wet.

I worry about my wife coming home with her hair wet, I'd have to cook my own dinner. Could move further up north but it gets windier and that to can play havoc with your crowning glory, I've seen hair decimated up there. No worries about split wood but split ends are a real nightmare.

So glad you're okay, Mike.

Well, you just wouldn't listen, would you? When those absolutely topping officers of good King George III tried to keep you lot east of the Appalachians, they were called servants of tyranny, when all the time they knew perfectly well that the big empty bit west of the Allegheny wasn't fit for anything less bendy than a wigwam. But oh no, you knew best ....

I moved to the midwest about 2 years ago (southern Illinois). My wife, who is from here, told me all about the tornados, and basements. The place we rented doesn't have a basement. So I've been waiting, but since coming here I haven't seen a tornado, though we've been hit by two hurricanes--that is, if you think of the derechio that slammed us a year ago May as an inland hurricane. (The derechio did have tornados embedded in the eye-wall, one of which swung by my house, turning our fifty-foot, steel tv-antenna tower into a curly-cue, but I was closed away in an inner bathroom with our toy poodle and 2 cats that don't like each other much and didn't see it.) My wife, a professional researcher, has looked into this a bit and has found a couple of things.

First, there are, on average, about 20-30 tornados a day. That may be world-wide, not just here in the midwest, but could bump your numbers up to thousands every year. Most are smaller and do little damage.

Second, that basement thing. Apparently they've rethought this one and, unless the basement is reinforced, it is not necessarily the place to be in a tornado. If you are in a basement, the tornado is as likely to drop a refrigerator, or a heavy portion of the structure, on top of you as anything else. If the basement is built to withstand this, or is positioned under a room with nothing very heavy in it, your good. An interior room with no outside windows or doors is a good place. Especially a bathroom because of how they frame-in tubs and showers. As far as safety is concerned, the best thing you can do is not be in a car or mobile home. Some ridiculously high number of injuries and deaths (I want to say 95%, but that may be wrong) are to people in cars and mobile homes. Of course, if an F5 comes a'knocking, you want to be in Hawaii.

Yes, Ken, let us know if you sell prints.*

*caveat: I might not be able to afford one if you do sell them...

You're just trying to make me homesick for the Mid-West, aren't you. Well, it won't work, but I do miss the storms.

Ken, that's one of the best cityscapes I've seen in a long time. The road looks like a river of lava coming down from a volcano. Eerie! I might also want a print, for my Mid-Westerner wife who misses the storms even more than I do.

"The chilling part is a storm like could hit hit Austin, Dallas, Oklahoma City or Kansas City and the devastation will be beyond comprehension."

I've lived in the Midwest all my life, and it has occurred to me what a catastrophe it would be if a big tornado went through a major city. Interestingly, though, it has never happened, as far as I know. Don't know whether it's just statistics, because cities comprise such a tiny percentage of tornado-land, or whether cities repel tornadoes because of their heat signature or something.

Anyway, Mike, sounds like you need a Leitz darkroom sump pump. Part code SLURP, $14,995US.

"The chilling part is a storm like could hit hit Austin, Dallas, Oklahoma City or Kansas City and the devastation will be beyond comprehension."

according to the first random website i looked for tornados have hit major city centers: Miami, FL, Nashville, TN, Wichita, KS, Fort Worth, TX and Oklahoma City have all been hit by F3 or stronger tornados.


if only there were more photographers on the scene.

Dear Paris & Thomas,

Turns out the whole 'cities' heat wells repel tornadoes' notion was wrong. A few years back, some weather scientists calculated the percentage of land the comprises city centers, and it's very small, so small that you'd only expect a few handfuls of tornadoes to hit downtowns. Which is what the record shows.

pax / Ctein

Let me add my vote for this one being a TOP print offer in the future. I'd buy one!

Someone was curious about how I'd print it, apropos my recent columns. Well... understand I'm looking at an embedded JPEG with no idea what the original file looks like, let alone how it will print. But, based on what I see, here's how I'd proceed.

There are a few distractions, but the composition's so perfect (Ken, how did you do that?!) that I'd not want to eliminate a single element, so it's all got to be done with local control.

1) I'd burn in the window reflections on the left to eliminate them (I can do that in the darkroom with about a day's work-- LOTS easier in Photoshop).

2) I'd burn down the light grey buildings on the right below the freeway a bit. They shouldn't be the brightest points in that area.

3) I'd burn the left 7% or so by maybe a tenth of a stop. Not so much that you'd consciously notice, just enough to bring your eye back into the picture.

4) I have a feeling the reds and greens aren't going to print as well as they look in the JPEG-- possible desaturation and hue shifts, so I'd go to a hue/saturation layer with some adjustments to those two colors.

4) Now it gets trickier. I'd like better tonal separation in the highlights, the clouds and the lower right quadrant. Bunch of tools I'd check out. First, shadow/highlight adjustement and/or unsharp masking at 25% with a 60 px radius. Both in separate image layers so I could mask their effects.

If that wasn't good enough, I'd turn to ContrastMaster, a Photoshop plug-in with waaaay too much horsepower and non-intuitive controls. Can do amazing things, but it's unruly and time-consuming to use.

As I said, all of this is hypothetical, based on looking at a twice-removed image.

pax / Ctein

Add me to the list of those who'd like a print of Ken's photo, with the same caveat as Will that it would depend on the price.

I moved out of one of the yellow areas on the map a few years ago. Just last night I made a comment to my girlfriend how I strangely miss, yet don't miss having terrifying storms roll through where we needed to be ready to run to the basement at a moments notice.

Coincidentally, the tornado air-raid sirens sounded the very same night. Nothing terrible hit though.

Which is the green dot? Some of us shoot mostly B&W for a reason . . .

Great photo Ken. And I'd imagined a little point-and-shoot was what you meant by "had a camera handy" ...rather than a Phase One P65+

Here in the UK, things are pleasantly quiet, warm, and sunny. Here's wishing you all well, to those in stormier climes.

Having finally experienced above 70 degree's for the first time in almost 6 months, I read the problems with tornado's with a bit of envy... sometimes Seattle's weather is just so bloody boring. I do miss the violence of the weather I experienced in Tennessee and Ohio. A good T Storm with thunder cracking down the valley while hanging out on the porch was the expected afternoon experience.

Here, well, sometimes the rain slants left, sometimes right.

So glad we don't get extreme weather like that here in the UK

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