Thursday, June 10, 2010

Ball State University Storm Chasers Update

Ball State University Storm Chasers Hit the Road

Reprinted from the BSU Daily News, Kelly Dickey

After their first day chase across Kansas and finding a safe spot on a dirt road, David Call’s geography class found what they hoped to find throughout the summer: a tornado. Call, an associate professor of geography at Ball State University, led his class of storm chasers to the Colorado-Kansas state line to witness a tornado develop on their first day in the field on Tuesday, May 25. “The chances of seeing a tornado on the first day out on the field is less than 10 percent,” Call said. “The rule of thumb is a good chaser in the Great Plains will probably see about one tornado out of every 10 chase days,” he said. “Some days are better in terms of prospect tornados.”

Call said the storm leading up to the tornado was better than most of the storms last year’s group experienced. “Last year the weather pattern was very poor for storms,” he said. “This year we feel more confident and we have a decent shot at seeing another tornado.”

Call and geography professor Reuben Allen are leading a group of 10 Ball State University students to the Great Plains for a trip in search of severe weather. This group of students and faculty is part of the Geography 490 Field Observation of Severe Local Storms class. Unlike with the Ball State storm chasing team, this class gives students the opportunity to earn six credit hours while studying storms up close.

This is the third year Call has led a group of students to study storms. In the last two years, the groups have driven to South Dakota, Texas, Colorado and Missouri, with routes changing according to where they will find severe weather. The trip usually covers about 8,000 miles. The course starts with one week of training in which students learn the basics of how storms are formed; they study maps and atlases and learn how to use weather instruments. The day they depart, they make sure they have everything they need—laptops, maps, walkie talkies, a GPS, weather instruments and first aid kits.

Junior John Rarick said it was an exciting opportunity that he wouldn’t have been able to experience in the classroom. “In the classroom you have to identify parts of a storm structure, but that’s just a picture in a textbook,” he said. “No picture can compare. It was an amazing experience to see the whole thing as it evolved.”

Call said that the group picked a storm they thought would most likely produce a tornado. After 150 miles of traveling around Kansas, they saw the storm drop a tornado. “I’m proud of how the students worked together,” he said. “I help with things, but they did a lot of the work with the forecasting and planning. They did the things we needed to cover the distance and see the tornado.”

According to Call, some of the final decisions come down to luck, but a lot of it has to deal with how well the students work together. Rarick said it’s impossible to predict if they’ll see more tornados based on their one sighting. “We pretty much have no idea what will happen weeks from now,” he said. “It comes down to the people involved, not just the climate model at the time.”

Rarick believes the chase has been interesting, and he’s excited to see as many types of weather conditions as possible. “It’s definitely been exciting,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in severe weather. This was too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

The storm chasing group will remain on the road for about another week to ten days.

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