OR-AMS Meeting Summary




  On June 23, 2009, 24 members and guests came to the Double Tree Inn – Lloyd Center, Portland, to hear two speakers.  This meeting was in conjunction with the national AMS Conference on Broadcast Meteorology.  


  President Bobby Corser welcomed everyone and made announcements.  He started with a tribute to recently deceased 44-year veteran TV weatherman, Jack Capell.  A short DVD clip, produced by Matt Zaffino (KGW-8), was shown that highlighted Jack’s life and career.  Mr. Capell became interested in weather when he was a reporter covering the Allies invasion on the beaches of Normandy, France in 1944.  He looked up to the sky in between the intense shelling.  Mr. Capell earned his Bachelor’s degree in Meteorology from the University of Washington in 1949.  His claim-to-fame on television was the October 12 (Columbus Day) 1962 Wind Storm, the Floods of December 1964, and the Vancouver Tornado of spring 1972.  The national AMS gave him an award.  Bobby announced that, in cooperation with Jack’s family, the Oregon AMS will set up the Jack Capell Memorial Scholarship, in his honor and memory, to help out on the educational costs of a student studying for a college degree in meteorology. 


  Bobby then introduced our first speaker, Jan Curtis, who is a world-renowned aurora photographer.  His day job is that of a Meteorologist and Applied Climatologist with the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – National Water and Climate Center.  Mr. Curtis remembered vivid stories about the “northern lights” from his visiting great uncle from Alaska when he was growing up in New York – like “sky lights so bright that you could read a newspaper.”  He was a meteorologist for the U.S. Navy for 20 years then moved to Alaska.  What should have been a one-year volunteership at the University of Alaska turned into an eight-year affair.  Jan was amongst the first to post aurora photos on the Internet.  Now, he has a popular website: http://latitude64photos.com.


  Auroras result from solar explosions interacting with the Earth’s magnetic field and upper atmosphere.  Those high altitude atoms are being vigorously excited and energized.  The Red (high altitude) and Green (mid-level) colors are the most common.  Auroras span altitudes of 60 to 300 miles from the surface. 


  National Geographic magazine used his photos in November 2001.  Film tends to overexpose on the green colors but the human eye sees more true (but fainter) color.  Many music artists have used Jan’s aurora photos for their CD covers.  He has received royalties for the use of his photos.


  The Polar Regions are the best locales for observing aurora.  So, Alaska on up are good locations.  The Aurora Oval is the dominant area of aurora activity.  Aurora are more spectacular during the peak of the solar cycle (e.g., high sunspots) and meager during solar minimums.   


  Jan then treated us to a stunning 11-minute music slide show.  He then answered questions.  “What types of auroras are there?”  There are arc and bands (building phase) and may reach a corona (peak activity), which is the magnetic zenith.  “How long do you expose the film?”  For most photos, 5-10 seconds is enough and the bright aurora usually 1-2 seconds.  “When is the best viewing season?”  February and March are good – fewer clouds. 


  Jan closed with more personal stories, such as almost being run-over on an Alaskan road as the truck driver didn’t have his lights on and Jan had just snapped his award-winning photo for the cover of National Geographic, or one time listening to coyotes howl as the auroras shimmered overhead.  He emphasized that auroras are a part of Space Weather, which does have real-world impacts for people, such as interference with satellites or the need to ground the Alaskan Pipeline to protect the electronic components.  Jan said that the really good viewing years will be 2012-2013 (next solar maximum) and being up in Alaska.


“The New AMS Weather Book”


  Bobby then introduced our second speaker, Jack Williams, who talked about his new book, “The New AMS Weather Book.”  Mr. Williams showed enlarged photos that appear in the text.  Each chapter begins with a story and he shared many of those with the group.  His extensive travel has led him to some exciting places and he recapped some of his favorite trips. The fact that we were able to get Mr. Williams to speak to our group is a testament to the National AMS folks in wanting to work with the local chapter.  The Oregon AMS is grateful!


Note-taker: Kyle Dittmer, 2009-2010 Oregon-AMS Secretary (and Past-President)