Excerpt: 'Weather's Greatest Mysteries Solved!' by Randy Cerveny

Normal radar bounces microwaves off of storms. By measuring the time it takes the microwaves to return and the strength of those returning microwaves, normal radar can determine the distance and intensity of the storm. Doppler radar extends that principle by measuring the slight change in microwave wavelength that occurs if the target of the microwaves is moving away or toward the radar antenna. By doing so, Doppler radar can establish whether the storm -- or the winds within the storm -- are moving toward or away from the station. Where normal radar indicates a storm's location, Doppler radar is akin to a weather x-ray machine since by looking inside the storm, it can tell which way the winds within the storm are moving.

Consequently, Doppler radar can detect wind shear -- abrupt changes in wind speed and direction -- the key characteristics of a microburst. In the years following the Eastern Flight 66 tragedy, airports were fitted with Terminal Doppler Weather Radar (TDWR), which can detect microbursts. And many, many lives have undoubtedly been saved.

In solving the mystery of the crashed plane, Fujita proved that inductive logic can be as powerful and useful in scientific research as its more commonly used counterpart, deductive reasoning. And in using it, Ted Fujita discovered an entirely new form of weather.

Time: June 2010

Location: JFK International Airport, New York City, New York, North America

A flash of lightning lit up the interior of the Boeing 727 flight deck.

The pilot was all business -- this was the point when she earned her paycheck.

Damn, she thought, those thunderstorm cells are too close for comfort. This is definitely going to be a bumpy landing.

"Crossways Air Flight 234 now on final approach to R-22," she heard her copilot radio to the tower.

"Take it easy," she muttered to herself as the aircraft wings rocked slightly in the strong winds of the thunderstorm.

"Crossways Air 234! We have a microburst alert signal for your runway! Abort landing."

The pilot immediately throttled up the engines -- markedly increasing their speed -- and pulled the flight wheel back. For a long moment broken only by the flashes of lightning from the nearby storms, the plane rose gracefully back into the sky at a steep angle. "Radio the tower to give us a safe reroute," she commanded her copilot. He nodded -- all business on the flight deck.

As they reached a safe altitude, she keyed the microphone to the back passenger section. "Hello, everybody, this is the Captain Poltanos from the flight deck. Sorry for the delay, but we saw a bit of rough weather ahead of us and to play it safe, we're going to make another pass and try again. We should be safely on the ground in about fifteen minutes."

A loud chorus of groans from the inconvenienced but safe passengers filtered through the cabin door.

Acknowledgement: The author thanks Steve Koppes and the people at the University of Chicago Media and Ron Holle for his stunning photography (and good friendship).

Excerpted From: Randy Cerveny, Weather's Greatest Mysteries Solved! (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books) Copyright 2009. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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