Archive for Wednesday, April 18, 1990

KU TEAM SEEKS OUT, FOLLOWS BAD STORMS

April 18, 1990

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While most people run for cover during severe weather, a group of Kansas University meteorology students runs to the heart of the bad weather system.

For example, Mark Bogner, coordinator of the newly created Severe Storms Chase Team, said he and other team members two weeks ago chased a severe weather system from Lawrence nearly to Wichita in hopes of learning more about storms.

Bogner said the trip, although spontaneous, was successful. He even reported having seen some "good hail."

Bogner said he got the idea for the chase team from a similar program at Oklahoma University and from an experience more than a year ago when he found himself chasing bad weather.

"In November 1988, Topeka had a tornado," Bogner said. "We were all just sitting around when the tornado hit. Someone said, `Let's go find it,' and we did. We did that sort of thing several times."

Only recently, though, did a chase team begin to take shape. Bogner has enlisted the services of about 15 other members of the Kansas University Atmospheric Science Boosters club, which he has broken into three groups each with five members.

WHILE five-member teams actually chase bad weather systems, seven others stay behind in the KU weather laboratory in Malott Hall and set up a command post of sorts.

Those in the field, armed with meteorological devices, measure different aspects of the storms and report their findings to the laboratory. Members at the lab also monitor the weather forecasts and keep those in the field posted of new weather developments. They also will inform the National Weather Service in Topeka of new weather systems that the field team spots.

Team members this year will communicate with ham radios, supplied by the KU Amateur Radio Club. Three members of the chase team also belong to the radio club, Bogner said. The team also has the use of a video camera to record the storms.

During the team's impromptu test run last Monday, Bogner said the ham radio allowed for much better communication than citizen band radios, which booster club members tried last year during a brief stint as an informal chase team.

BOGNER SAID team members went almost as far as Wichita last week because they had a jump on a severe storm system that was expected to hit the area.

"We knew a tornado watch was going to be issued in Lyon County 56 minutes before it was issued," Bogner said.

About the only requirement to join the chase team is to have taken more than an introductory level meteorology class. Bogner said the requirement was a safety measure, adding that the advanced classes teach students how to approach and respect a storm.

So far, all of the team's members are volunteer and its equipment is on loan. But Bogner, who graduates in May, said he hopes the team grows each year and becomes more self-supportive.

"We have big dreams of what we want to do," he said. "Maybe a few years from now, we'll be as big as we want to be," adding that he hopes the KU program will grow at least as large as OU's program.

PERHAPS the two programs could link up in the future because Oklahoma is on the southern edge of the highest concentration of tornados in the world and Kansas is on the northern edge.

The local team's biggest drawback right now is the lack of money, Bogner said.

"We're sort of in a Catch-22," he said. "You have to prove you can do it before you get money and you have to have money to prove you can do it."

Bogner said he is looking into several funding sources.

While the team has not set any strict boundaries for itself, Bogner said that this year it plans to concentrate primarily in Douglas County.

Bogner said he is confident the team will prove worthwhile based on what he saw last week. However, he won't get another chance to evaluate the team until a storm hits.

"WE PROVED on Monday night that this can be done," Bogner said. "We're just waiting now for some severe weather."

Joe Eagleman, meteorology professor, said he supported the chase team.

"We're interested in getting all the information we can about weather," he said. "Anytime an undergraduate can involve himself in research, I think that's appropriate."

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