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Weather Talk: Parallax and storm cells

Many, many times during the course of the thunderstorm season, we get questions about why at a particular location, the storm cells that appear to be heading right at said location usually just miss. What it usually is, is nothing at all. Instead...

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A thunderstorm takes shape over a field of sunflowers north of Mapleton, N.D., Aug. 7. Nick Wagner / The Forum

Many, many times during the course of the thunderstorm season, we get questions about why at a particular location, the storm cells that appear to be heading right at said location usually just miss. What it usually is, is nothing at all. Instead, it is the visual property of parallax. When a person at a particular point on a Doppler radar map is watching a storm cell approach, it can appear to be headed right for the person’s location when it is really headed for a point just to one side or the other. An approaching thunderstorm cell, though small, is relatively large compared to the point at which you are located. And any slight angle that the cell is moving to one side or the other will cause it to miss your location. In other words, it was never actually headed toward you at all. Storms do change direction but our mostly flat terrain has little to do with this.   

 

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