May 20, 2014

A supercell develops. These rare storms are most common in the central part of the United States.     Photo: petesphotography/Getty Images

WATCH: Supercell Storm Time-Lapse

Stormchasers capture surreal vortex-like cloud on film

You don't need to be a weather nerd to appreciate a supercell storm, but it probably helps. Supercells are the rarest kind of storm and can produce high winds, large hail, and tornadoes. The most essential feature is the mesocyclone, which happens when veering winds meet the storm's updraft, producing a terrifying (and beautiful) twisting cloud.

And what a treat we're in for: On Sunday, a storm-chasing group called the Basehunters captured video footage of one of these grand phenomena in Wyoming.

Storm chasers with the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang also managed to witness the storm. They reported that horses in the area were running away from the storm as it formed, and they snapped photos of the growing cloud as it tossed hail at them.

Make no mistake—despite the enthusiastic volume of photos these storm chasers live-tweeted yesterday, supercells can be very dangerous. Fortunately, the parts of northeast Wyoming the mesocyclone traveled through are sparsely populated, and no damage or injuries have been reported.

See the time-lapse video of the supercell for yourself:

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Don't mess with mama bear.     Photo: Anay Tarnekar/Flickr

Bear Attacks Jogger

After being mauled by a brown bear defending her cubs, a woman walks miles before she can get a ride to the hospital.

On Sunday morning, a woman jogging near an Air Force base in Alaska was attacked by a female brown bear whose two cubs were nearby. After suffering lacerations on her neck, arms, and legs, the woman walked two miles before meeting a benevolent passerby who drove her to the hospital at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. She was later transferred to the Alaska Native Medical Center and is now in stable condition.

The woman, who has requested to not be identified, was initially jogging with her husband, a soldier stationed at the nearby base. Not long after parting ways, she turned a corner and startled the seven- to eight-foot mother bear, which took a defensive pose before attacking.

"In this particular case, the runner turned the corner at the wrong time and wrong place," said Major Angela Webb, an Air Force spokesperson.

Mark Sledge, senior conservation law enforcement officer at Elmendorf-Richardson, complimented the survivor on her fortitude. "The survival instinct for that woman is phenomenal," he said. "The trauma that she went through and the walk out was heroic."

Most people know that it's best to avoid confrontations with wild bears. Still, accidents like this happen, which is why we like to give our readers advice on what to do in the event of an unexpected run-in with our ursine cohabitants.

Read About More Bear Encounters

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New Mexico's Organ Mountains. The newly protected area features lava flows as well as rare flora and fauna.     Photo: Lisa Mandelkern/Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks National Monument

New Mexico Gets a New National Monument

Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks range now protected

Move over, Sleeping Bear Dunes, there's a new kid on the block. According to the Albuquerque Journal, President Obama plans to use executive authority on Wednesday to designate southern New Mexico's Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks—a range near Las Cruces, approximately three hours south of Albuquerque—a national monument.

Analysts have expected the action, which protects more than 496,000 acres of land, since March, when Congress designated Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes a wilderness area and Obama used similar authority to preserve 1,665 acres of land along the California coast.

Five ranges—Organ, Dona Ana, Potrillo, Robledo, and Uvas—comprise the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area. Owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management, the region features ancient petroglyphs, lava flows, recreational zones, hunting areas, and rare plants and animals, such as pronghorn sheep and the pincushion cactus. The addition is expected to generate as much as $7.4 million per year for New Mexico's economy by attracting hunters and adventurers from all over the world.

The designation makes good on Obama's State of the Union pledge to use executive authority "to protect more of our pristine federal lands for future generations"; specifically, the president used power granted to him by the Antiquities Act, signed into law by Teddy Roosevelt in 1906 to allow presidents to restrict federally owned public land. Obama's decision follows legislation introduced in December by both New Mexico senators, Democrats Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall.

National monuments—as the Organ Mountains are set to become—carry fewer restrictions than wilderness areas, which only Congress can establish. Heinrich and Udall knew their bill, which proposed the latter, stood little chance in today's divided Congress.

"Once an area has been recognized as a national monument and its profile is raised in this way, I think it makes it easier on the legislative front," Heinrich said. "But, as you know, nothing is easy in Washington these days."

Heinrich was referring to skeptics of Obama's decision who framed the designation as an assault on the rural New Mexico way of life, as well as hindering law enforcement along the Mexican border and restricting hunting and grazing areas.

"It bypasses the will of the people," said Republican Steve Pearce, a New Mexico congressmen who suggested a far more modest 58,500-acre monument for the Organ Mountains. "It's not going to be good for the county, and it will depress the economy over the long term and make it harder for the rural New Mexico way of life to continue."

Pearce's worries seem somewhat unfounded. For one, Obama's measure doesn't go as far as the bill Heinrich and Udall proposed, which sought to protect nearly 3,000 more acres and would have established eight wilderness areas in the region. Heinrich actually expressed some disappointment about the national monument designation because it won't modify current federal border enforcement policies or hunting restrictions.

In fact, the White House has invited John Cornell, a staffer for the New Mexico Wildlife Federation and president of the Dona Ana County Associated Sportsmen, to Washington for Wednesday's announcement at the Department of the Interior.

"It's a huge day for sportsmen in New Mexico," Cornell said, praising the decision he said will guarantee "that future generations will have these places and good hunting grounds" to pursue quail, antelope, dove, mule deer, and waterfowl.

The Organ Mountains will become New Mexico's second national monument, following Obama's establishment of the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in March 2013. The decision is part of the president's recent push to promote U.S. tourism ahead of the summer travel season—he'll swap his cowboy hat for a baseball cap as he heads to Cooperstown's Baseball Hall of Fame today.

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Help wanted: Water, rain.     Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Texas Towns Face Water Shortage

Can El Nino help?

Rain has been rare in Texas for years now, but for some communities the need for water is growing urgent. Thirty-four Texas communities, mostly in the northern part of the state, currently have fewer than 90 days of water left, according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. A dozen of those say they have fewer than 45 days. Residents have taken to having water delivered by the truckload or are paying exorbitant fees to dig for it.

"We have sort of taken water for granted for a long time. And I think that time is over," said St. Mary's University water law professor Amy Hardberger. "I think its valuation has gone up. Some communities are in more trouble than others."

Pebble Beach, home to the now rapidly shrinking Medina Lake, and Bandera County recently received a $350,000 grant from the Texas Department of Agriculture to build a 30,000-gallon storage tank for the community. With a little luck and a little rain, they might be able to water their lawns for the first time in three years.

The approaching El Nino weather cycle could break the drought and bring heavy rains, but that would carry its own risks. The 1997–1998 cycle brought heavy rains to the region—so much so that central Texas was hit hard by floods. Communities could soon find themselves praying for just the right amount of rain.

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Artifacts from the dig site at Theodosius Port.     Photo: Mavi Boncuk/ICOM-CC WOAM

Byzantine iPad Unveiled

9th-century notebook and tool in one

Are you a first-gen freak? Here's a throwback: A Byzantine-generation tablet was unearthed from a dig site off the coast of Istanbul yesterday. Archaeologists working in the Theodosius Port, a center of excavation work in Turkey, unveiled the 1,200-year-old wooden box from one of 37 ships buried in the Yenikapi area. The discovery was dubbed the "Byzantine iPad" for the device's ninth-century integration of notebook and tool in one.

The Byzantine tablet (about the same length as modern seven-inch iterations) hid an "app"—sliding back the top panels reveals a hand-carved "screen" in the bottom panel.

Each panel has four holes, probably to bind them together with leather straps for portability on the open sea. Ufuk Kocabas, director of the Yenikapi Shipwrecks Project, says that the merchant ship's captain probably used it to assess the value of precious metals.

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