Christopher Emersic Official Website
Home A personal account of my experiences during my career Read about my research (Coming soon!) Want to learn some background science?  Here it is in simple terms (Coming soon!) See all the presentations I've given on visits or at conferences (Coming soon!) Read about my involvement with the media and how to contact me (Coming soon!) Read my blog thoughts about random lightning things that I come across A friendly chat forum for the atmospheric electricity community and general public where we can talk all things thunderstorm and beyond (Coming soon!) Some links to other webpages of interest
NOAA / NSSL / The University of Oklahoma An amazing year as an NRC Research Associate
Surprisingly, I wasn’t at all apprehensive about starting a new life in a foreign country.  I was quite content with jumping in at the deep end as it were.  Despite this, I have a poignant memory of sitting in the dark at 6am on a freezing cold metal bench waiting for the train to the airport to arrive.  A couple of friends saw me off (one in tears…) and I was away!  I landed in Chicago...just as the immigration staff were heading out to lunch, and it took so long for the queue to move that I missed the connecting flight to Will Rogers in OKC.  I had to go via Texas instead, adding hours to my journey.  I finally arrived at the hotel exactly 24 hours after I’d left, but in time for bed conveniently. I finally got to meet Don MacGorman in the morning who picked me up for a tour of the city of Norman.  It was a new experience for me to actually meet someone in person whose name I’d seen in papers and in books—it was quite an honour!  Being driven around, I remember noticing how everything was the same, but different.  There were trees, but they looked different; there was grass, but it was brown.  Even the streets looked different with their power poles running down.  It’s interesting looking back retrospectively how at the time, Don could have been driving me around in circles and I wouldn’t have noticed it was so unfamiliar, yet after a year there, I realised where I’d been taken.  Don really was, again, a surrogate father for me there; I wouldn’t have been able to cope initially without his incredible thoughtfulness and effort.  I’ll forever feel indebted to him for his initial care, and more generally throughout the year; he’ll certainly be a role model for me if I ever find myself in an equivalent hosting position in my future.  I didn’t have a car when I arrived and he drove me around to find a place to live and even to the bank to open an account.  And that’s another thing: popcorn in a bank?!  Apparently perfectly normal in Oklahoma, but mesmerizingly alien to me.  Not too long after I arrived, Ted Mansell loaned me his old car.  Everyone in the US was so nice.  He actually halted an otherwise guaranteed sale so I could have it for that year.  I actually bought it off him at the end when I knew I’d still need one.  Then I had to learn how to drive on the other side of the road, following American road rules—like being able to go on a red light, but not always being able to go on a green light.  Oh, and paying peanuts for petrol...I mean gas. After the first few days (and enough time for the 2-week plane cold viruses to kick in) I was ready to start the new job.  As an NRC fellow, I was told I had to follow big names; people who’d been awarded it in past had gone on to do great things.  My first challenge was filling out the largest, most tedious and horrible pile of federal paperwork.  Not only was I working at a federal institution, but I was also a foreign alien—tentacles and all.  It took weeks to finish it all, and there was always a form that seemed to come along that made it never ending.  I even had to have my fingerprints taken to work in my office!  Speaking of which, it was really nice to have my own office with my own name tag, even if it did have no windows.  I really appreciated the efforts that people made for me and how welcome I felt. It was quite a contrast working in this position as a postdoc in a semi-related field.  I had to start from scratch again, learning the ropes and reading papers.  It’s always hard starting from the bottom of a scientific discipline, particularly one as complicated as mine.  I learned how to use a few software packages to perform lightning analyses, and I was really impressed with the Lightning Mapping Array and radar technology they had there.  It allowed a developing lightning channel in a storm cloud to be animated in 3D and overlaid with radar data.  It was enjoyable all year being able to work with such a great group and I really loved the lightning research. Of course, it wouldn’t have been Oklahoma without the tornado chases.  Pretty much the local sport there.  Around March time, people start salivating uncontrollably at favourable forecasts in what I now know to be called Supercell Deficit Syndrome (i.e. having gone through winter without a storm chase fix).  I was fortunate enough to have been invited on a few chases.  Don was very good about it too; he advised me to have fun, but not to let myself get carried away, or I’d never get any work done.  It was during these storm chases that I realised how much I happen to hate long drives.  There would be times when we would drive for 13 hours and see nothing.  However, there were times when we saw some amazing tornadoes and storm structures—certainly memories for life.  I was there for the Brice Tornado March 28, 2007 and Protection Kansas series of tornadoes 23 April 2007—which was quite an adrenaline rush being stuck under the tornado producing clouds at one moment and being surrounded by tornadoes.  I remember two very eerie experiences while storm chasing.  Firstly, stopping temporarily in a town that had lost its power from a tornado, and the howl of the incredible storm winds roaring across the plains was very spooky in the dark.  Secondly, the eerie banshee wail of the tornado sirens from nearby towns was very haunting. I was somewhat famed amongst my friends for seemingly having more interest in the lightning than the tornadoes we were chasing—but I guess that’s to be expected from a lightning scientist.  One thing that really stuck with me about many of the other lightning scientists there was how I seemed to be the only one absolutely glued to the window whenever there was lightning activity in the area.  Even now, I'm completely mesmerised whenever there’s any lightning and you can’t tear me away.  Yet many of the lightning scientists I was working around often seemed oblivious or blasé about observing first-hand the very thing they were studying.  Maybe my passion for lightning is unusually extreme, but I never get tired of watching it.  One of the lightning highlights was being on the observation deck when the roof of the building was struck by lightning.  It set the fire alarm off, and I remember we were all made to automatically exit the building into the open during an electrical storm!  I just went and hid in my car for a while.  That event may have led to policy changes with the fire alarms.  Another unique event in that part of the world was tornado drills—kind of like your standard fire drill but more surreal. During the summer months, I was invited to participate in a balloon launch programme for the TESTS project.  This turned out to be one of the scariest things I've ever done.  In brief, we spent time setting up mobile weather stations, sondes and other scientific equipment.  We were on call 24 hours a day—whenever a storm system came through—and we would report to base, gear up, and head out to launch a weather balloon into a raging lightning core.  Naturally the storms would always arrive at 3am; you could see it coming on the radar at 9pm and you’d be wrestling with the decision of whether or not to even bother going to sleep seeing as you knew you’d get the call out.  I often chose to sleep and would be completely out of it when the call came at 3am to head in.  It was a great team experience though—all meeting at base, bog-eyed and tired, slipping into the waterproofs (making sure to bang out wellies in case there were any brown recluse spiders in there), putting radios on, and heading out in multiple vehicles.  Setting up literally in the middle of a field, with rain slamming down and stinging hailstones waiting for the right time to launch.  Standing there in the middle of a field with lightning striking close by was the most terrifying thing—constantly bracing yourself.  Then the countdown starts, and we begin our launch sequence—opening up a large yellow balloon bag and watching the balloon shoot off up into the storm.  One of my jobs was to stand out there and watch it until it entered the cloud base—which meant I was the last one to run for cover.  Some of the things I've done in the name of science…  But I did get to see some very nice lightning. Oklahoma does get some really interesting weather.  One of the most memorable events (other than the storms, tornadoes, and even tropical storm Erin that strengthened over the state), was the ice storm natural disaster.  Essentially, freezing rain fell during one night and this caused everything to be glazed in an inch of ice.  It was a very peculiar and poignant sound to hear the crystallising trees creek in the breeze.  Disturbingly in the middle of the night, the weight of all the ice was too much, and one-by- one the trees began to collapse under their own weight.  There’d suddenly be an almighty crash and trees literally started collapsing.  This continued all morning and steadily, pavements, pathways and roads were being cut off by fallen trees.  Power lines were also brought down (you could see the power flashes occasionally) and pretty soon we had power cuts and it became a real natural disaster.  No traffic lights worked, everywhere was wrecked and we were pretty cut off.  But somehow it was exciting.  My car was completely entombed in ice.  Cleverly, I’d bought an ice scraper a few days before…stupidly, I’d left it in the glove compartment and so couldn’t get it.  I had to use a knife to smash through the ice and into my own car (taking care not to damage the paint).  It was immensely satisfying though smashing through all the ice.  Once I was in one of the doors, I could turn the heaters on which helped melt it.  The trees were still crashing down all the time I was doing this.  Very surreal.  Driving round town was amazing.  You recognised it, but it looked totally different.  Pretty much every man for themselves at traffic light junctions with no power.  No power, no food, no restaurants, but we all somehow had fun.  The city was still clearing up tree debris for months afterwards, and the remaining trees looked very bare. Toward the end of my time there, I found out that funding for a second year had been pulled, and despite everyone’s best efforts, there was no chance of staying on.  This was disappointing really as I’d just started to get good at the analysis and science, and a second year would have really been fruitful.  Don advised me to write a proposal to the NSF to study a hail storm, so I spent some time doing that.  I also got to visit the AGU international conference in San Francisco.  This was about the time of the ice storm—I remember because my flight was cancelled and I was late getting there by a couple of days.  While there, I met Paul Krehbiel who eventually offered me a postdoc position at New Mexico Tech.  I’d been thrown a bone and was in the very fortunate position of being able to stay in the US for another year continuing more lightning research.  I was really grateful to everyone who helped make my time there so wonderful, particularly Don MacGorman, and we all went out for a leaving meal a day or so before I left.  My friends even baked me a cake!  At the very end, I packed my few meagre possessions into my car, waved goodbye to Oklahoma, and embarked on a 10+ hour long drive to New Mexico where my postdoc adventures continued.
My First Postdoc Experience My First Postdoc Experience
Postdoc 1 summary My postdoc position as an NRC Research Associate in Oklahoma revolved around analysing the evolving electrical structure of a thunderstorm.  This involved analysis of lightning detected using a Lightning Mapping Array network.  This network allows lightning to be recorded in three dimensions and time—essentially allowing you to play back each lighting flash like a movie.  I also had access to radar data which could be overlaid with the lightning data to see which regions of the cloud the lightning passed through and build a bigger picture.
A group photo of the NOAA staff in 2007.  I'm in the middle right on the third row from the front Me looking at lightning on a tornado chase while everyone else is looking at the mesocyclone A cheeky photo one of my friends took of me during a storm chase bust! Me and some friends at a house party.  You can't be men without a fire! At the Oklahoma fair, me and a friend got into a yellow sports car on show Me feeding birds with friends at the local duck pond On a storm chase Interesting clouds on a storm chase bust Dave Rust and Don MacGorman preparing for our balloon launch Dave Rust and Don MacGorman preparing for our balloon launch Preparing to launch the balloon under the approaching thunderstorm The launch team stood by the balloon bag Ice storm damage courtesy of Robin Tanamachi and Aaron Botnick Ice storm damage courtesy of Robin Tanamachi and Aaron Botnick This is not my car (fortunately).  Ice storm damage courtesy of Robin Tanamachi and Aaron Botnick Ice storm damage courtesy of Robin Tanamachi and Aaron Botnick It was delicious!  Thanks Robin! Ice storm damage courtesy of Robin Tanamachi and Aaron Botnick