Jewish World Review May 4, 2004 / 13 Iyar, 5764
Chasing tornadoes; how modern day sports photography was born
Up close and terrifyingly personal, a tornado sounds just like what its victims on the TV news always says it does when it runs over them -- a jet engine.
But there's much more to know about the scary sounds, sights and mysterious behavior of tornadoes, as National Geographic proves in its April cover story, "The Hard Science, Dumb Luck and Cowboy Nerve of Chasing Tornadoes."
Just in time for the start of tornado season, the article is based on the three horribly boring, mostly futile springtimes (2001 to 2003) that writer Priit Vesilind and photographer Carsten Peter spent driving around Tornado Alley trying to get close to one of the 1,000 tornadoes America spawns each year.
Racing from Texas to South Dakota, the pair traveled with the migrating herds of amateur and professional storm chasers and scientists of varying degrees of sanity who photograph tornadoes, measure their winds with mobile Doppler radar units or place instrument packages directly in the path of oncoming twisters.
It's really hard to catch a tornado, as any professional magazine critic who's spent two weeks in Kansas doing newspaper feature stories on storm chasers can tell you. But Peter's amazing photos of a tornado bearing down on the duo prove they ultimately succeeded.
National Geographic's mix of good writing, great photography and scientific illustrations give the casual tornado nut all he needs. The coolest feature is a big U.S. map that plots the paths of every tornado to hit the country since 1950. It's a wonder anyone is still alive in states such as Oklahoma.
Speaking of good artwork, some of the best sports photos of the past 50 years are on display in Sports Illustrated's special issue, "The Pictures," which tells but mostly shows how SI and its shooters invented modern sports photography.
Almost everyone's favorite all-time image -- Muhammad Ali standing over KO-ed Sonny Liston in 1965 -- is among the scores of portraits, action shots, inspired special-effects tricks and the detailed explanation of how SI's Bill Frakes spends three days setting up 47 cameras to cover the Kentucky Derby's two minutes.
No Steelers from the '70s and no Mario Lemieux pics made the cut. But those looking for local sports heroes will find Bill Mazeroski's 1960 home run at Forbes Field as "seen" from atop Pitt's Cathedral of Learning, Arnie Palmer driving at the 1966 U.S. Open and, from the crazy days of 1980, bad boy Dave Parker smoking what looks like a joint in the Pirates dugout.
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JWR contributor Bill Steigerwald is an associate editor and columnist at the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2002, Bill Steigerwald