All posts by pujabhattacharjee2017

Severe storms lab developing remote flash flood sensing system

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Falls Creek Baptist Conference Center, the oldest church camp in Oklahoma, hosts more than 50,000 kids and teens who come for summer camp each year. Falls Creek originates from the Washita River in Murray County and flows directly into the campgrounds named for it.

But flash floods now menace the camp and the facility all but closed after a 2015 flood left a few hundred campers stranded for more than 36 hours. So far, scientists do not know what caused the flooding.

With warming global temperatures, though, flash floods are becoming an increasing threat across many area of the US. So on a balmy April morning this spring, three researchers from the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla., drive more than 60 miles to the camp in a black pickup truck crammed with instruments in big boxes.

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Saint John the Baptist gets a makeover at the Art Institute

By Puja Bhattacharjee

A newly restored “Scenes from the life of Saint John the Baptist” by Bartolommeo di Giovanni is among the paintings and objects on display in “Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe,” which opened on March 20 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Scholars believe the painting adorned a Florentine home in the late 1400s. It was a spalliera painting– a painting hung at shoulder height. It was originally part of a series of paintings that would have decorated a room.

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Building a better tornado warning system

By Puja Bhattacharjee

People start trickling into the National Severe Storms Laboratory holding coffee cups and laptops. By 8 a.m., eight people fill a room for the Spring Experiment. The laboratory in Norman, Okla., is open all year. But now it’s tornado season.

Researchers, forecasters, software developers, IT personnel and scientists from different parts of the country have come together for the annual experimental program held during the spring severe weather season to test and evaluate new techniques and tools for hazardous weather forecasting.

One of the goals this year is to continue testing software that could possibly eradicate false alarms, issue more accurate and detailed warnings for tornadoes and other severe weather. “The false alarm ratio of a one-hour forecast of a tornado should be smaller in the future if the research pans out – meaning fewer one-hour forecasts of tornadoes will be wrong,” says Greg Stumpf, who heads this program.

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The calm before the storm: Weather chasers gear up for the next tornado

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Sean Waugh is building two mobile mesonets from scratch In the Research Vehicle Equipment Bay of the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) in Norman, Okla.  These mobile weather stations measure temperature, pressure, humidity  and wind in any  conditions.  But old vehicles with low floors make it difficult to chase tornados and other severe storms across dirt roads and uneven terrain.

So, NSSL rented two pickup trucks from the federal government.  NSSL is the weather research lab under the federal government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization (NOAA).

Waugh builds a metal frame around each rental car, one red and one black. The frames hold the instruments to track the intensity of tornadoes and other severe weather. They also shield the cars from hail  by adding wire meshing to the tops of the frames.

Spring is a busy time for meteorologists – chasing tornadoes and taking atmospheric measurements to study and analyze during the rest of the year.  The season has been quiet so far, this year and for a few years now in the Oklahoma area. Single tornadoes touch down in a day but not the multiples that are so dangerous for communities but offer ideal conditions to study storms.  Storm chasers are watching beyond Oklahoma, of course, and Canton, Texas, was hard hit in April. But NSSL did not have an active watch there. So, until the storms show up, lab meteorologists are busy preparing for when it does.

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Dance therapy helps heal people with impairments or special needs

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Music and dance can help relieve stress. Dance therapy uses dance set to music to help heal people with social or psychological impairments and special needs. Through the dance, participants can express their emotions and improve creativity and imagination. The movements also help improve motor skills.

Photo at top: Dance movement therapist Jennifer Bacani in a class at St. Paul’s House, Chicago (Puja Bhattacharjee/MEDILL)

Wicker Park Bucktown gets a new master plan

By Puja Bhattacharjee

The Wicker Park Bucktown Chamber of Commerce unveiled a new five-year master plan for the Special Service Area (SSA) #33. It is an update to the award-winning 2009 master plan. The new plan will aim to improve pedestrian and cycling areas, and streetscape enhancement including public art elements below the Cortland/Ashland underpass. It also plans to create a new dog park on the vacant land along the south side of North Avenue by the Damen ‘L’ stop.

Photo at top: Intersection of Damen, North and Milwaukee (Puja Bhattacharjee/MEDILL)

Skokie animal hospital treats only exotic pets

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Chicago Exotics Animal hospital opened its doors in November 2000  in Skokie, Ill.  The clinic was started by Dr. Susan Horton who saw the need for an exotics-only practice. It caters exclusively to exotic pets like chinchillas, geckos, hamsters, bearded dragons and tortoises. The clinic has three full-time doctors, as many part-time doctors and nine technicians.

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In a combative world, Aikido teaches defense, not aggression

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Aikido is a non-violent and non-aggressive Japanese martial art form developed by Morehei Ueshiba in the early twentieth century.

It is a comprehensive system of throwing, joint-locking, striking and pinning techniques, complemented with training in traditional Japanese weapons such as the sword, staff and knife. At places like the Japanese Culture Center in Chicago, Aikido is taught as a way  to resolve conflict in a non-lethal, yet effective manner.

Photo at top: Instructor Tatsuo Toyoda (L) works with a student at the Japanese Culture Center in Lakeview. (Puja Bhattacharjee/MEDILL)

Local businesses make the most of a rare, warm February

By Puja Bhattacharjee

Chicago winters are brutal. But not this year. On February 22, the temperature neared 70 degrees, and tourists were pleasantly surprised. And businesses grabbed the opportunity to make some money.

Photo at top: Boaters on the Chicago River enjoy the warm February weather (Puja Bhattacharjee/MEDILL)

Making science fun for eighty years

By Puja Bhattacharjee

A unique store in the Northwest Side of Chicago is helping kids bond with science. American Science and Surplus has been in business for 80 years. It stores every scientific item one can think of. It is popular with parents of school going children who often come looking for items needed in school science projects.

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