Archive for Sunday, April 22, 2012

KU meteorology students crazy about the chase

But they’re less fond of amateurs who know little about storm safety

April 22, 2012


For once, Garrett Black and the three other people in the car were in exactly the right spot at exactly the right time.

And for Black, a Kansas University junior studying atmospheric science, and the three people in his car, that meant a video of a tornado near Geneseo that got picked up by The Weather Channel, ABC News and other media outlets.

“We were all just in shock because of what nature can do and how beautiful it was,” he said.

Black and his compatriots have all been chasing after storms for years, but it’s becoming something of a trend, with large numbers of people creating traffic jams for a big storm.

Meteorology students at KU who chase storms often begin preparing for a large event like the April 14 storms a week in advance, trying to determine the likely place for them to be. Their forecasting training can give them a leg up on the increasingly large numbers of relative amateurs who have hopped on the storm-chasing bandwagon, Black said.

KU’s atmospheric science program has traditionally been something of a magnet for people who are interested in tornadoes.

“Most of the students who come to our program in Kansas, they’re interested in severe weather,” said Shawn Milrad, a visiting assistant professor in the program who chases after storms himself.

Storm chasing isn’t part of the official curriculum here, he said, though it is in classes at the University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M; University.

“There’s a lot of legal hoops to jump through,” he said.

Milrad said that when he started chasing storms in 2006 he might run into two or three others doing the same thing. Now, storms often bring out enough people to create traffic jams.

He said amateur chasers can run into trouble in a couple of ways. Many times, they’ll travel alone, checking a computer and a cellphone while on the move.

“The most dangerous thing about storm chasing is not the tornadoes; it’s the driving,” Milrad said.

Also, he often sees people with little to no weather information who just follow the traffic.

“It really should be left to people who know how to forecast and know how to stay safe,” he said.

Aaron White, a senior from Westmoreland, wants to be a meteorologist on television and has been chasing storms since he was in high school.

“I used to sit and watch The Weather Channel when I was young,” he said.

He saw the large glut of newly interested storm chasers when he was out during the big outbreak.

“There were emergency vehicles ahead of us,” he said. “A lot of people were just driving down the road and not getting over.”

Many of the people seemed to be from the local communities.

“Everybody just wants to get out and see something,” he said.

Brianne Gerber, a senior from Council Grove, said she’s used the skills she picked up in meteorology class to help out her rather addictive hobby. About 30 meteorology students are interested in storm chasing, though not everyone goes out for every storm.

It helped when, as with the recent tornado outbreak, it happened on a Saturday.

But even if foul weather occurs during the week, it can be difficult to keep the would-be meteorologists away. Any chance she gets, she’s out there.

“I’ve skipped class a couple of times to chase,” Gerber admitted.

And Milrad admits he’s canceled class during a major thunderstorm. The students do put their forecasting skills to work during a chase, he said.

“No one was going to show up anyway.”


KU meteorology students film tornado near Geneseo

KU meteorology students captured video of this tornado near Geneseo, Kan.


riverdrifter 6 years, 2 months ago

Nice vids of the twisters. It's nonetheless sad to see the circus that storm chasing has become. Three ring circus with clowns. Someday, it will backfire and the chasers will become the chased. None of the locals will feel sorry for them when it happens.

Kikilunet 6 years, 2 months ago

As someone who knows professional meteorologists, I feel I must agree that amateur storm chasing is very dangerous. I know that if I were to go off on my own after a thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado I would be putting my own life in danger.

If you don't know how to be safe and know where the storm is going (amateurs), you should NOT go driving after a storm cell. Professional storm chasers have the training to keep themselves safe.

Really, the programs about storm chasers are just like any reality tv -- scripted and NOT reality. The professionals who do this just do it because they love weather.

Sometimes they will chase a cell that doesn't produce any tornadoes. They live for the chase and the potential of seeing something. They don't do it for fame. They may be chasing a tornado but they are well aware of how dangerous Mother Nature can be.

Erin Graham 6 years, 2 months ago

1. MOST of the 'amateurs' don't even think they're amateurs. They feel as if they're on level playing ground as everyone else. THAT is the single most dangerous factor.

2. As stated, many [amateurs and a handful of well-seasoned folks] have some bizarre sense of entitlement that makes them feel as if getting to the next cell comes above driving wisely. Maybe it's adrenaline that kicks in and shuts the rest of the brain off? idk.

3. If you're going to be out chasing, have SOME sort of emergency response training and a first aid kit!!! [and know your legal limitations of what you can do and not do with your level of training]. At the Very least, learn about the Incident Command System. That way, if you are on a devastating cell, you know what to do or not do. Many 'well doers' can cause big problems for Emergency Response crews.

These folks at KU know their stuff. And many others do through other venues of education.. not all of them in a collegiate setting. But if you're excited about the weather, have seen a few episodes of Storm Chasers, have 'lived in Kansas forever'...and maybe set through a NWS presentation or TV station presentation, GET ADDITIONAL TRAINING.. for your sake and that of others.

It's GREAT people are enthusiastic about weather. I can't tell you how thrilled I am there is such a great interest in it. Just, learn all you can. (There are a lot of resources. And a lot of seasoned chasers are happy to educate. PM me and I'd be happy to share options!).
And -don't- go by yourself.

Jeremiah Jefferson 6 years, 2 months ago

I hate to say it, but if your a student, your not a profesional, you are an amature.

DRsmith 6 years, 2 months ago

wxbuggin...completely agree. There have been lots of stories on this lately and surprisingly not one amateur has been interviewed. Yes, unless you have a degree consider yourself an amateur.

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