[Mitch] Dobrowner’s black and white images of that megastorm are some of the most spectacular in his ever-expanding portfolio of extreme weather photography. Although tornadoes get all the attention on TV, Dobrowner is more interested in supercells, massive storm systems that sometimes spawn tornadoes. “I see them as living things,” he says. “Some are gorgeous and beautiful, some are tornadic and violent. And the longer they last the more form they take. Eventually, they mature and die. So I try to take a portrait, almost like with a person.”
He was, by then, closing in on his 10th year as head of the Cloud Appreciation Society and, as he’d done after 10 years with The Idler magazine, he was questioning his commitment to it. Somehow, being a cloud impresario had swallowed an enormous amount of time. He was lecturing about clouds around the world, sharing stages at corporate conferences and ideas festivals with Snoop Dogg and Bill Clinton and appearing monthly on the Weather Channel. Then there was the Cloud Appreciation Society’s online store, a curated collection of society-branded merchandise and cloud-themed home goods, which turned out to be surprisingly demanding, particularly in the frenzied weeks before Christmas. The Cloud Appreciation Society was basically just Pretor-Pinney and his wife, Liz, plus a friend who oversaw the shop part time and a retired steelworker he brought on to moderate the photo gallery. It was all arduous, which Pretor-Pinney seemed to find a little embarrassing. “My argument about why cloud-spotting is a worthwhile activity is that it’s an aimless activity,” he said. “And I’ve turned it into something that is very purposeful, that is work.”
At the same time, he realized that he’d conjured a genuine community of amateur cloud-lovers from all over the world but regretted never doing anything to truly nourish it; it felt so “fluffy,” he said, “with no center to it, like a cloud.” Soon, that spectral society — that cloud of people on the Internet — would be celebrating its 10th anniversary. “I’m thinking that it might be a nice reason to get everyone together,” he said.
That’s probably because they are made by the same people and use the same data. As of today they are sensibly going to operate under the same name: Dark Sky.
I’m currently reading The Weather Experiment by Peter Moore, a terrific account of human efforts to understand and predict the weather. Highly recommended.