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Storm chasing all part of the passion for BOM's extreme weather enthusiast Dean Narramore

Cherie von Hörchner, Wednesday January 3, 2018 - 10:57 EDT
Audience submitted image
Extreme weather fan Dean Narramore travels to the US to chase tornados, like this one in Colorado. - Audience submitted

On Collins Street in Melbourne's CBD stands an austere building of concrete and glass, its rigid lines and powerful columns seemingly designed to withstand the very worst of nature's elements.

So, it comes as no surprise to find the building houses the Bureau of Meteorology (BOM), the agency keeping a round-the-clock vigil on one of the planet's most destructive natural forces: weather.

And it's on the 11th floor that the 'extremists' are found — wild weather fanatics like extreme weather forecaster, Dean Narramore.

"Everyone loves something, whether you are a motorbike enthusiast or a bird watcher or a mathematician," he said.

"For some reason, I was born with this obsession and love of severe weather."

Modelling technology helps hunt for 'really big, bad storms'

For Mr Narramore, storms and heatwaves are events of awesome beauty and power and , is a labour of love.

"Basically, we are looking for those really big bad storms," he said.

"When we start seeing widespread areas of temperatures of 45 degrees [Celsius] in highly populated areas, tropical cyclones, flash flooding from very heavy rainfall ... all those fall under the banner of extreme weather.

"Bushfires as well fall under that banner — any major weather event that can cause major disruptions or issues for industry, agriculture, and the general public."

Mr Narramore said the Bureau's ability to predict had improved exponentially since the days when weather forecasting could only be accurate for a day or two in advance.

"We are doing really well with technology in our models now. We're kind of [accurate] up to around a week now," he said.

"The heat that we are seeing through south-eastern Australia, we saw that coming a week out.

"I mean, last week was really cold, and to tell people we are going to see temperatures close to 40 this week they were like, 'No it's not going to happen'.

"So, we're getting really good with four days, pretty good for seven days, and then it becomes fantasy land once you get more than around 10 days out."

Multiple factors get storm 'organised'

In describing the various combinations that produce extreme weather, Mr Narramore speaks with the exuberance of a chef rattling off his favourite recipes.

"If we are looking for thunderstorms, in general we are looking for a very highly unstable and energetic environment," he said.

"You need lots and lots of energy in the atmosphere — really humid air combined with some really cold air about five or six degrees above the ground."

He said rising and condensing air, together with really strong winds in the atmosphere to "organise the storm", were the perfect ingredients.

"When we have those ingredients, we see the large hail, three-to-five centimetres, winds of over a 100km/hr, and then you get the good old inch (25mm) in the old scale of rain in 10 or 20 minutes.

"If all that comes together, then we're looking pretty good for a severe weather or extreme weather outbreak, for wherever these ingredients line up."

Naturally, Mr Narramore's idea of relaxation is to chase storms, particularly the tornadoes of Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma in the United States.

"It's become a sport over there now," he said.

"There's now thousands of people that go over every year to chase and there's buses and trucks and radar vehicles and so much going on its actually amazing."

Near-miss as tornado chasing takes unexpected turn

It was there in the US not long ago that Mr Narramore's obsession nearly swallowed him whole.

"We had a day in central Oklahoma on 31 May 2013 [where] a very, very large storm developed to the west of Oklahoma City," he recalled.

"We were looking at the data and yeah, a tornado formed.

"We were in a perfect spot and then it moved south — which is very rare, for tornados to do that — and looking at road networks we realised it had trapped us a little bit.

"The tornado itself went from around half a kilometre wide to four kilometres wide in a few minutes.

"When it's moving at 50 km/hr and expanding, you can almost argue that the front of the tornado was moving over 100 km/hr.

"We were on dirt roads or back roads and were struggling to do 100 [km/hr] but we tried — we had to, to get away from it — and we are driving and seeing these huge balls of ice just kind of fall around ... one put a fist-sized dent in our bonnet.

"We have never seen anything like it before and even well-experienced chasers with us hadn't seen anything like it."

Not that the experience dampened Mr Narramore's enthusiasm for storm chasing.

Indeed, he is heading back to the US next storm season on a seemingly endless quest to satisfy his hunger for the perfect storm.

"It's a part of the world you would never go to — the 'bible belt', or the middle part of the country, where there is really not much to see," he said.

"But the people are just incredible, the food is amazing and the weather is just incredible."


© ABC 2018

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