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CSI Algonquin Park
by Phil Chadwick
I had met Phil Chadwick professionally several times during my meteorological career, but it was our last meeting that has stuck in my mind and has had an influence on how I now look at weather and art. Phil had been selected to give the 2005-2006 Canadian Meteorological and Oceanography Society (CMOS) annual lecture tour around Canadian, and one of his stops was Victoria, BC. His long title for the talk was "Weather through the Eyes of Canadian Artists Featuring Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven" but he added the catchy phrase: "CSI Creative Scene Investigation" as the subheader.
I attended the talk along with my art instructor and was caught up immediately by Phil's intriguing subject. He spent the talk showing how accurate the famed Pre-Group of Seven painter Tom Thomson had rendered his skies to the situation at hand, particularly an intense storm cell that Chadwick said was a tornado. In fact, Chadwick told us, you could match the sky in his paintings to the weather maps for the day over east central Ontario. I went home from the talk with not only my interest piqued, but also with a quest to see if I could match Thomson's four sky objects in his painting "The Zeppelins" (shown at right with objects circled) to a specific date in time using the star charts. My research at the time showed that if he rendered these extraterrestrial objects correctly, the painting was not done on the date assigned to it (22 April 1915) after his death but in a different month and year, likely June 1914 or May 1916. Recently, Astronomer Paul Sheppard did a similar analysis and found that the picture could have been from 1915 and all the objects were stars. I had assumed some planets. WHAT FUN!
Since that time, I have kept in touch with Phil and am a regular visitor to his website and blog. I love his plein air paintings which are reminiscent of the styles of the Group of Seven and Tom Thomson. And Phil often comments on the weather situation present when he does a work as background information. In 2005, I wrote a piece Weather Painters which looked at weather and paintings by some of the masters, and I later amended it to include a link to Phil Chadwick's website and a piece called "The Weather, Tom Thomson, and the Group of Seven". Just recently, I found that the piece was no longer on his site so I asked if I could reprint it on The Weather Doctor. Phil was quick to give me permission, then sent along other supporting material from his similar lectures on the topic.
Only once before (1998) have I employed a contemporary guest writer for The Weather Doctor but this is well worth making the exception. Therefore, herein, I have combined two of Phil's pieces together. Any roughness in the flow of the article or their joining is my fault as I attempted to make them more readable as a single document by removing some repeated text. I have also added a CSI for Thomson's Dawn on Round Lake. For more information on Phil Chadwick and Tom Thomson look to the end of these articles. Keith Heidorn
Tom Thomson Was A Weatherman
Background: Since around 1995, I have delivered a series of talks entitled something like "Canadian Weather through the Eyes of Canadian Artists - Featuring Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven". It has also been called “Vivid conditions: Exploring Meteorology in Canadian Art”. More recently, I have simply been calling it “CSI Your Location: Creative Scene Investigation”.
The content of the talks has been capsulated as "Creative Scene Investigation (CSI) and investigates the passion of Canadian artists for weather as well as the meteorology behind some of the finest work ever produced. These artists were honest and accurate observers of their inspiration: quite simply, the natural world around them. The science of forensic meteorology applied through CSI uncovers the secrets locked in the details that they recorded on the canvas. Specific deals about their location, direction of view and the weather before, during and after recording the scene can be sleuthed. To attempt to appreciate this art without first putting it into the context of the natural world would be missing the point of the artist. CSI is a fun and unique look at the work of Canadian artists.”
I have coined the phrase of "forensic meteorology" to describe the application of the science of meteorology to deduce the time, orientation and weather surrounding an event. The familiar phrase “CSI” has also been adapted to stand for “Creative Scene Investigation” which is the profession of applying forensic meteorology among the other forensic sciences.
In this presentation “Tom Thomson Was A Weatherman”, I concentrate on the art of Tom Thomson to prove that he was indeed a weatherman. The foundation of this proof is the predominance of his art that features weather and sometimes very obscure cloud formations. Tom painted all types of clouds and precipitation. The sky occupies a large portion of most of his creations.
The fact that Tom himself called this works “records” underscores that he himself felt that he was making observations of the natural world and not necessarily art. A person who makes such records of weather is called a “meteorological observer”. An observer who records the weather as much as Tom, must gain an understanding of the meteorological forces at play. Someone who both observes and understands the weather is by (my) definition, a “weather person” or in Tom’s case, a “weatherman”. If Tom also had a degree in physics, mathematics and meteorology, we could have called him a meteorologist.
The motivation behind this investigation was to fully understand Tom’s art by placing it in his context of who he was and what he was trying to achieve. The deductions sleuthed from the details in Tom’s records can be pretty revealing. In some cases, the motivation behind the creation of the art is uncovered. Although these motivations were not secret at the time of the artwork, they are completely unknown and unintelligible to those who are not versed in meteorology. An apt analogy would be to ask someone to explain the inscriptions on the walls of a pharaoh’s tomb. The hieroglyphics were not written in any secret code but they are certainly undecipherable in today’s society unless one knows the language. Art historians can be forgiven for not accomplishing this as the language of “meteorology” is certainly not a prerequisite for their degree.
The hidden but essential side of this presentation is to reveal the artistic skill that Tom displayed in achieving his observations. Art historians have long recognized Tom’s immense artistic talents.
When one combines Tom’s genius in weather observation and recording these in powerful pieces of art, the result is a Canadian icon of creativity that demands attention and respect more than 90 years after his untimely death (murder). This is my simple goal for these presentations.
During my talks [on the topic], I present a subset of paintings from a collection or 200 or so to which I have already applied “CSI” and "forensic meteorology. The presentation is organized into seasons typically starting with winter. The length of the presentation is determined by the number of paintings discussed. Every presentation is different and very interactive. They are fun!
"Thunderhead", one of Tom's plein air "records/boards" is more than a "Cumulus" cloud associated with "the passage of the wind". It is a full fledged tornado like the actual tornado pictured [above] on the right. Paintings like this inspired me to examine many more pieces of art from a meteorological perspective. It was truly remarkable how accurate and faithful observers of the elements, these artists were. The presentation last however long one can endure. There is no limit to the number of excellent meteorological artwork.
For "Thunderhead", here are a few of the deductions that can be made. Tom could be looking any direction but northerly is likely due to the fact that most convective cells move from the southwest to the northeast over Ontario and specifically Georgian Bay and areas to the east of Georgian Bay. When painting "plein air" looking north is much more pleasant as you can easily become blinded while painting into the sun.
Tom was motivated to “record” this particular observation by the sight and sound of the tornado. This is certainly a supercell producing a tornado and Tom painted in enough meteorological clues to prove it. Once again this could be looking any direction but northerly is likely. If this view was looking toward the west or southwest, Tom probably would not have been able to the “record” the tornado as he could have been a casualty. Most people probably would like to see a tornado before they die, But not just before they die.
The wall cloud underneath the rain free base of a large supercellular thunderstorm appears to be based very low and in all probability, is producing a rather large tornado. Remember that the tornado is the damaging wind and not the cloud. The striations in the edge of the wall cloud are pronounced. The thunderstorm updraft is directly above the wall cloud and actually is the wall cloud. If this is a counter-clockwise wall cloud which is by far the most likely, the winds in the foreground must be from left to right. The wind shear that created the cloud debris orbiting the wall cloud in the center of the painting must result from winds increasing downward toward the ground. The cloud debris that will be drawn into the wall cloud is more advanced lower to the ground indicating that the winds must also increase closer to the ground. This reveals that the tornado is increasing in intensity.
The wall cloud must be moving from the left to the right. In this interpretation, the brightening on the left would be the rear flank downdraft while the bright area on the right is the space between the updraft and the precipitation shaft which is not painted. There are some cloud pieces on the right that could be tail cloud being drawn up into the updraft and condensing at a lower level since the air parcels have been pre-moistened by the precipitation. These cloud pieces are blended together to form the wall.
Note the difference in the colour of the painting. The top half is actually the wall cloud or lowering beneath the lifted condensation level where moisture is lifted into the rotating updraft to form cloud. This area hooks into the tail cloud mentioned above. The colour of this cloud is gray.
Note the colour underneath the wall cloud. This is the actual tornado filled with debris from churning over the forest. This debris “bush” from the tornado would be filled with pine needles, brush and trees. This is the bear’s cage of the supercell. It is called the bear’s cage because entering that area under the rotating updraft is as deadly as entering a bear’s cage.
Tom was too close. He was too close to even include the lifted condensation level base of the thunderstorm in the painting. The tornado passed just to the north of Tom. Tom would have had to sketch in the cloud colours and basic shapes in minutes. The landscape that remained after the passing of the tornado could be done later.
Further investigation on the probable Fujita scale of the tornado can even be surmised. If we note the trees at the shoreline and take an estimate of 10 metres in height for the highest tree, the debris field and tornadic winds on the ground is roughly 4 tree heights wide or 40 metres. The tornado however is in the distance so the actual tornado path on the ground must be wider than 40 metres. The exact excess of path width beyond 40 metres is anyone’s guess. However a typical F1 tornado has a path width up to 50 metres while an F2 tornado damage path is typically 50 to 175 metres wide with a path length of 4 to 15 kilometres. As a result, it is fairly safe to ascertain that the tornado is in the F2 category packing winds of at least 180 km/h but not more than 240 km/h.
Tom Thomson Was A Weatherman and Thunderhead 1913 ©2006, 2009, Phi Chadwick, All Rights Reserved.
Trained as a nuclear physicist, Phil found a career in meteorology with Environment Canada in 1976. Phil has remained an operational meteorologist for most of his career specializing in verification and performance measurement, severe weather, radar and satellite meteorology. Phil specializes in severe weather conditions and has been the meteorologist behind the "scenes" in some very major weather stories. Currently Phil is training meteorologists and completing some research work. His focus has always been on advancing and sharing the science. He does this with considerable creativity, enthusiasm and humour. Phil worked for a few years in Environment Canada's Training Branch and from those days still retains the nickname of "Phil the Forecaster".
Phil started painting with the late Mario Airomi in 1967 and has never stopped. Prior to 1995 Phil's art was by necessity, mainly studio work that tended toward photographic realism. Phil concentrated on the handling of the brushes and the mixing of colours. Oil, charcoal, pen and ink and a very few watercolours were the media in the early years. Post 1995, Phil's work has shifted toward a much looser impressionistic-realism style working almost exclusively in oils. Phil now spends most of his art-time painting outside in the weather "Plein Air". He will still do a few studio pieces "when the weather is especially nasty but that doesn't happen too often." As a result, his style has become increasingly loose. "One has to concentrate on colour and shapes when the subject matter changes quickly in the natural world. There is no time for stifling detail." One recent work Smoke Lake Cumulus (2009) is shown to the right.
His artworks are depictions of personal experiences. They hang in many private and corporate collections around the globe. Several magazines and calendars have used his work. All of Phil's work is included in his gallery right from the first day with mentor Mario Airomi to the present. Trends in style, subject matter and technique are all reflected and nothing is left out. Phil is an occasional writer for Harrowsmith and other nature oriented magazines. Weather stories and art, both from a realistic perspective, get into print as often as possible! Phil also does presentations on a wide range of topics from the weather to art, climate change and land stewardship. Phil is also interested in the birds and the bees. As a beekeeper (apiarist), he keeps up to 10 colonies on the family farm.s
Tom Thomson (1877 – 1917) was an influential Canadian artist of the early 20th century. In 1907 Thomson joined Grip Ltd. in Toronto, an artistic design firm, where he met many of the future members of the Group of Seven. Although he began painting and drawing at an early age, it was only in 1912, when Thomson was well into his thirties, that he began painting seriously. He often travelled with his colleagues around Canada to paint, especially to Algonquin Park and other wilderness locations in Ontario, which was to be a major source of inspiration for Thomson and the others. Members of this a group of painters become known as the Group of Seven, and though he died before the Group formally assembled, he is usually included as an ex-officio member in historical discussions.
He began working as a full-time painter in 1913. An avid outdoorsman and expert canoeist, Thomson preferred spending his time at Algonquin Park. Beginning in 1914 he worked intermittently as a fire fighter, ranger, and guide in Algonquin, but found that such work did not allow enough time for painting. During the next three years he produced many of his most famous works, including The Jack Pine, The West Wind, The Northern River, and Early Spring (to left). Thomson's art bears some stylistic resemblance to the work of such post-impressionists as Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cezanne. Thomson died under mysterious circumstances in 1917, disappearing during a canoeing trip on Canoe Lake in Algonquin Park. His body was discovered in the lake eight days later. Thomson's major paintings began as sketches before being expanded into large oil paintings at Thomson's "studio. Since his death, Thomson's work has grown ever-more valuable and popular. In 2002, the National Gallery of Canada staged a major exhibition of his work, giving Thomson the same level of prominence previously afforded Picasso, Renoir, and the Group of Seven. [Bigraphical material adapted from Wikipedia.]
Tom Thomson Was A Weatherman and Thunderhead 1913 ©2006, 2009, Phi Chadwick, All Rights Reserved.
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