2021 Science Reporting – In-Depth - Gold

Noah Gallagher Shannon created a storm chaser story for a new and undetermined meteorological landscape. As climate change increases both the size and intensity of storms worldwide, atmospheric scientists are struggling to predict stronger and increasingly erratic weather patterns. For some scientists, “the chaos wrought by climate change requires radically rethinking some of meteorology’s core concepts,” writes Shannon. One group of scientists, led by University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign professor Steve Nesbitt, is studying the monster storms in northern Argentina to produce a blueprint that could help with future predictions. Shannon follows Nesbitt and his group as they chase down a monster storm in the hopes of placing their imaging equipment in its eye. Nesbitt works closely with local meteorologists and agricultural communities to collect data on remote storm surges, often in areas scientists are unable to access in real time. “We see the lengths scientists must go to in order to study extreme weather, the value of local knowledge and disparities in how weather prediction technology is deployed around the world,” said Kaiser Health News Senior Correspondent Anna Maria Barry-Jester. “Shannon's quiet and unsettling portrayal of the weather patterns of a remote area masterfully illustrate how little we understand the planet’s future in a changing climate.” Shannon’s descriptions of the storms are hauntingly beautiful. “He made them sound like living beings,” said Alex Kuffner, energy and environment reporter for The Providence Journal. "During my reporting, I was continually struck by the sheer logistical undertaking of studying storms,” Shannon said. “To predict how the largest and most violent ones might change in a warming climate, scientists first had to find them and get themselves and instruments deep inside. It was a reminder of the human endeavor that goes into making something as commonplace―but life-saving―as a forecast. I’m thrilled that their work and my own were recognized.”