The perfect storm ... clouds

A friend of mine once signed up for a garden plot so, as she explained, she'd have at least one reason to be happy when it rained. She wouldn't have to water.

The rain that falls on the plain in the Midwest, however, is more likely to obliterate a garden. Supercell thunderstorms are the Godzilla of the cloud family, hurling down hail the size of baseballs, dropping torrential flood-inducing rains, and whipping up a tornado or two as a finale.

The size and force of these storms, sometimes a hundred miles in length, have long intrigued scientists. But why they build to such enormous proportions has remained a mystery.

In Peter N. Spotts's cover story (at right), a new project this summer has researchers chasing these megastorms down "Tornado Alley" in search of answers. The hope is that new data will help forecasters gauge severe weather with greater accuracy and alert locals earlier as to when to batten down the hatches.

For less wet adventures, but in climes no less extreme, try David Hugh Smith's review of "Walking my dog, Jane," by Ned Rozell (page 18).

Part of this week's special book section on travel, Rozell's "walk" is not your afternoon stretch of the legs. Rather, it's an 800-mile hike along the Alaskan pipeline, accompanied by his four-footed friend.

Not perhaps the first place one would think to stride out. But Rozell waxes philosophical in the long tradition of authors writing about journeys "innocent of formal objectives." Most of life's trail, he suggests, is walked solo.

*Susan Llewelyn Leach is the assistant Ideas editor. Comments or questions? Send e-mail to

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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