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Meet Su Dike: The Storm Chaser Collecting First-Hand Data to Help Deal with Climate Change

LifestyleMeet Su Dike: The Storm Chaser Collecting First-Hand Data to Help Deal with Climate Change

With only 10 hours left before Typhoon Muifa was expected to make landfall in eastern China, Su Dike and his team decided to head to Zhoushan, Zhejiang province, from Ningbo to “encounter” the storm. Unfortunately, their car encountered tire trouble on the way and they had to immediately rent a new car and move their equipment in the rainstorm. Despite the setback, they eventually arrived in Zhoushan and found a good position to record the typhoon.

As they were driving, they witnessed the strong winds of the typhoon causing trees to fall and street lamps to blink out in the heavy rain. After around 10 minutes, the rain suddenly became lighter and the wind turned softer, indicating that they had reached the eye of the typhoon. During their adventure, Su and his team collected a lot of data that can reflect the microscopic characteristics of typhoons, hoping that the information can help people better understand such storms.

Su explains that although people may think that storm chasers are looking for excitement, they actually shoulder the responsibility for each chase. By getting to the deepest point of a storm to gather first-hand data, they can help deal with future climate change. Over the past three years, Su and his fellow storm chasers have visited over a dozen provinces, including Heilongjiang, Shandong, and Jilin, travelling a total distance of over 30,000 kilometers.

For Su and his team, most natural events provide their own reward. They chase after storms, clouds, sunsets, rainbows, lightning, hail, and even solar corona. In addition to storms and strong convection, they also chase the first snow, cold snaps, floods, and dust storms. As a senior student majoring in photography at Communication University of China, Su has used almost all of his spare time chasing the wind. He is also a popular meteorological science video blogger on Bilibili, where he posts videos of his storm-chasing adventures and uses them to popularize climate science.

Su was born in Chengdu, Sichuan province, but he moved to Hangzhou, Zhejiang, during middle school. Living in the east of the country, where typhoons hit annually, he developed an interest in meteorology and began accumulating knowledge in this field. He became a photography enthusiast around the same time and decided to pursue professional photography in college.

On August 10, 2019, Typhoon Lekima, the second most costly typhoon in Chinese history, made landfall in Zhejiang. It was during the summer vacation after Su graduated from high school, and he asked his father to drive him through the area where the typhoon hit. For the first time, Su got to face such a storm directly.

Su remembers that night clearly, as they drove back from Wenling to Taizhou. The houses, farmland, and high-voltage electricity pylons on both sides of the highway were all soaked with water, and the area was out of power, leaving them in darkness. It was a striking experience for Su and fueled his passion for storm chasing.

Since that night, Su has been chasing storms and accumulating data to better understand and forecast them. He and his team have visited over a dozen provinces in the past three years, travelling a total distance of over 30,000 kilometers. Storms, clouds, sunsets, rainbows, lightning, hail, and solar corona all provide their own reward for Su and his team.

Su’s pursuit of meteorology and photography has led him to become a popular meteorological science video blogger on Bilibili, a video-sharing platform popular with young Chinese. Through his storm-chasing adventures, he hopes to popularize climate science and help people better understand the impact of natural disasters.

Su’s interest in meteorology and photography began during his middle school years in Zhejiang, where he was exposed to annual typhoons. His firsthand experience of Typhoon Lekima in 2019 fueled his passion for storm chasing and led him to pursue meteorology knowledge and professional photography. Through his storm-chasing adventures and video blogs, he hopes to raise awareness about climate science and the impact of natural disasters

Su Dike and his storm chasing partners are always on the move, making quick decisions about where to chase a storm, which city to land in, and which route to take. They are constantly monitoring weather patterns and forecasts to determine the best course of action. The 24 hours leading up to a storm are critical for their planning process.

Once a storm starts forming, they follow its growth and movement on radar, analyzing data to determine if it’s worth chasing or not. They take into consideration various factors, such as the strength of the storm and its predicted path. A day before the storm is due to hit, they make a decision whether to proceed with the mission.

When the decision is made to chase the storm, Su and his team draw a circle on a map that covers the location they predict will be the center of the storm. They then find the nearest city to that location, and head there to set up their equipment. They usually rent a car and buy fast food en route to their designated recording spot.

In addition to cameras and drones, Su and his team bring a small sensor array that Su built himself. The array captures data in real time, such as temperature, wind speed, atmospheric pressure, and dew point. This data is essential for understanding the storm and its behavior. The team can then use this data to better predict future storms and improve their ability to deal with climate change.

Storm chasing is not just about the thrill of the chase. Su and his team are passionate about understanding weather patterns and sharing their knowledge with others. They hope that by sharing their data and experiences, they can help people better understand and prepare for future storms.

Storm chasing is a dynamic and constantly evolving process. It requires quick decision-making, careful planning, and a deep understanding of meteorology. Su and his team are dedicated to their mission, and their efforts to collect data and promote climate science are truly admirable.

Su and his partner, often Wang Lucheng, navigate their way to a random spot in the predicted path of the storm. This requires constant adjustment of their navigation and destination while on the road. Wang not only monitors the navigation route but also checks the direction in which the storm is heading at the same time via radar software on his laptop.

The process is very different from that of self-driving tourists who navigate to the parking lot of a scenic spot. For Su and his partner, it’s like throwing a dart on the map, sometimes driving into a field because they don’t know what the spot looks like.

Every chase is intense for them because they have a set deadline for reaching a specific spot, and missing it means that they cannot record the storm data they need. Wang says that finding the best position is crucial to measure good data and capture the storm from a good angle.

Despite the danger that comes with storms, Su and his partner are more aware of how to stay safe than normal people. They avoid mountains as heavy rainfall can cause mudslides and unpaved roads that can cause the car to get stuck easily. The best distance for them to observe and record the storm is between 5 and 10 kilometers from the storm.

Su says that a storm is fast, taking only 10 to 20 minutes to pass overhead. They need to chase one for the whole day before the “encounter.” They don’t think about the time or where they are, but they focus on where they are in relation to the storm and calculate how much time they have before it arrives.

Storm chasing is inherently dangerous, but Su and Wang take every precaution to ensure their safety while capturing data on these powerful weather events. When Typhoon Mitag made landfall in China during Wang’s first storm chase with Su on October 1, 2019, they encountered heavy rain and strong winds that caused Su’s glasses to be blown away. Despite this setback, they continued to chase the storm, always mindful of the risks involved.

Wang explains that they avoid mountains when searching for a position to observe and record the storm, as the heavy rainfall can cause mudslides. They also avoid unpaved roads that could result in their car getting stuck easily. Their goal is to find the best position to capture data and images of the storm from a safe distance.

While they aim to be close enough to the storm to capture useful data, they also recognize that getting too close can be life-threatening. Wang notes that they try to position themselves between 5 and 10 kilometers from the storm, striking a balance between safety and data collection.

Su and Wang understand the speed of storms, noting that it usually takes 10 to 20 minutes for a storm to pass overhead. However, they must chase the storm for the entire day before encountering it. Su’s focus during these chases is on the storm’s location and timing, rather than the time of day or their own location.

Despite the inherent danger, Su and Wang find the experience of storm chasing to be unique and rewarding. They are motivated by the data they collect, which can aid in multidisciplinary studies, and the thrill of capturing images and videos of these powerful weather events. With their safety measures in place, they continue to chase storms, always mindful of the risks involved.

Missing a storm is a common occurrence for Su and Wang, which can happen due to inaccurate projections or when the storm behaves unpredictably. This can be frustrating after a day’s worth of chasing. Su emphasizes that each storm has its unique behavior, and the thrill of the chase keeps him going even after a disappointment.

Apart from the excitement and sense of accomplishment of capturing a storm, the data collected during their chase can be valuable for multidisciplinary studies. Su has been contacted by research institutions interested in his data. He sees this as another reason to continue his trips.

Su’s recent trip involved carrying a signal communication device made by the College of Surveying and Geo-Informatics at Tongji University. The device was used to collect data on a typhoon, which can be used for studying the impact of extreme weather on positioning accuracy. This information can be beneficial for future applications in autonomous driving and other artificial intelligence applications.

When chasing a storm, Su and Wang have to take into account several factors to ensure their safety. They avoid mountains as heavy rainfall can cause mudslides, and they steer clear of unpaved roads that may cause their car to get stuck. They also have to be at a safe distance from the core location of the storm, where heavy rain or hail can be life-threatening.

Su and Wang rely on their experience and instincts to navigate and calculate the time they have before the storm arrives. Su mentions that a storm passes overhead quickly, usually taking 10 to 20 minutes, but chasing one for an entire day is necessary to encounter it.

Storm chasing may be dangerous, but Su and Wang are well aware of the risks and take precautions to stay safe. The information they gather can be useful for various fields of study, and the excitement of capturing a storm keeps them motivated to continue their trips.

Su’s approach to storm chasing involves a balance between the “spirit of exploration” and meticulous preparation. He emphasizes the need to conduct research and analysis before each chase, noting that it requires both passion and a cool head to execute successfully. Su believes that the pursuit of storms is a combination of science and romance.

Through his photos and videos, Su aims to capture the beauty of storms from different perspectives and raise awareness about climate change. He believes that experiencing storms up close is the only way to fully appreciate their destructive power, as seen in the devastation caused by typhoons.

Su is currently working on a documentary about his storm-chasing adventures. He emphasizes that the focus of the film will be on the storms themselves, rather than on him. As he spends more time chasing storms, he has come to realize that they have a connection to things on the ground, including plants, animals, and humans.

According to Su, storms have a “dialectical” relationship with the natural world. While they can bring much-needed water to flora and fauna, they can also cause significant damage. For humans, storms can often be a disaster, but Su notes that our civilization has continued to thrive despite the risks posed by natural disasters.

Su describes his experience of storm chasing as a “dialogue” with nature. As he continues to pursue this passion, he develops a deeper connection with storms, which he sees as an opportunity to learn more about the natural world and our place within it.

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