The skies between the Rocky Mountains and the Mississippi River bring out nature’s best. From the lowest clouds, stratus, to the highest clouds that we can see, cirrus, to the planets and the stars and the entire universe, we can experience just about everything right here in the heartland of the United States.

As a weathercaster in Kansas City for the last 11 years I have watched the sky continually. Each morning, the first thing I do is look outside and up to see what brilliance nature has to offer. Every
day is unique. Every day is exciting as we venture into its uncertainties.

Are there signs of a change in the weather? How about a gorgeous sunrise? Are the clouds up there the kind that will create a beautiful horizon — or do they tell of an approaching storm? And there’s much more of interest in the sky, things that don’t pertain to weather. Is the moon waxing or waning? Is that bright star on the horizon the planet Venus, or is it a Supernova? Did you see the tremendous Aurora Borealis?

In this book, we’ll show you fantastic photographs of what the universe offers the naked eye — and some of what you can see only with optical help. We’ll tell you what’s going on in those images — for instance, what cloud formations mean. Did you know that you can forecast the weather with some accuracy just by looking at the sky?

You’ll see sunrises and clouds and the sun close up, and awesome storms over the plains. You’ll see splendid scenes in the night sky — out there in what seems like darkness beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Ever since age 5, I’ve been interested in the sky. The first small cumulus cloud I remember seeing filled me with excitement. Soon, I realized that those small clouds changed shapes and often began to grow. Now, I know that an approaching cold front — or the day’s heat — may deliver enough energy to produce hail, squalls, lightning and maybe even a tornado. All that can occur within hours of the time you first spot that little cumulus cloud. And in a matter of minutes the thunderstorm can wither as downdrafts take over and the violence fades away. Then the sky clears and just a few clouds are left — to create a beautiful sunset.

As the sky turns dark, the stars appear. Do you know what the Milky Way is? Have you seen it?

We’ll show you the vast array of the night sky. If you’re an amateur astronomer, a weather enthusiast, or a professional — or if you’ve ever simply marveled at the stars and the clouds and the moon and the planets — this book will open your eyes. You and your friends and your family will return often to the daily spectacle in the skies above the heartland.

— Gary Lezak / 2002