Most meteorologists become interested in studying the weather for one of two reasons: either they had a bad experience with weather and want to learn how to predict it and protect themselves in the future, or they saw a storm and fell in love with the majestic beauty that simultaneously produces destruction. I am personally the second type, which totally makes sense because I tend to live life on the edge. People like me stand outside and watch the storm roll in up to the point the it is basically on top of them…and sometimes we stay outside through the whole thing while telling others to take cover. It’s these same people that get hyped up about going on the Storm Chase class that Dr. Durkee and WKU offer during the first month of every summer. Let’s take a little look into what the school has to offer for those that live life on the edge!
What do they do: CHASE STORMS! But first, you have to forecast them. Students wake up bright and early in whatever place they landed the previous night and get together for a forecast discussion. This discussion is student led with a different person taking lead each morning. Students will use their forecasting skills to pick a few target areas and then narrow it down to the area with the best ingredients for severe weather as a team, under the watchful eye of Dr. Durkee of course. He tends to allow students to run much of the discussion, but he will take the van where he wants to if students have made an blatantly incorrect decision. Besides hoping to find storms, each trip is filled with lots of Subway for lunch and great local eats for dinner. By the end of a long day, students crash in their hotel rooms, sleep for 5-6 hours, and do it all again the next day. Expect to travel over 6,000 miles by the end of the trip (with Dr. Durkee doing 100% of the driving).
When: Students must carve out the first 4 weeks of their summer. This 2-week class is dependent on an ever changing variable, so don’t expect to know what 2-week period you will be going until late in the Spring semester.
Cost: Because it’s a class for 6 hours of course credit, it does cost quite a bit. For in-state students, each credit is about $450, but out-of-state students have to pay $1,100. This amounts to over $3,000 for in-state students and about $7,000 for out-of-state students once food and some other expenses are factored in.
Financial Aid: Don’t run away from that financial storm just yet, because students and organizations can get scholarships from the Student Government Association for trips and research experiences such as this if you write a good enough application. Dr. Durkee also goes out of his way to set-up fundraisers such as cookouts and donation programs to help reduce the hit on students’ bank accounts. While it does look like a lot (and it is), there are reasonable steps you can take to get yourself in that van and out to the Great Plains!
Quotes from the students:
“We were able to make our own decisions, and I feel that by having a class structured in such a way really allows for a growth in confidence that’s difficult to find anywhere else.” -Cait French, Class of 2018 and Storm Chase participant in 2018.
“Storm Chase really was a once in a lifetime experience….Storm Chase really helped me become a more accurate forecaster and helped with understanding concepts in the classroom as well.” -Carson Meredith, Class of 2019 and Storm Chase participant in 2018.
“Honestly,words can’t describe how excited I am to go on Storm Chase. These next two weeks…are going to be the best two weeks of my life!” -A very excited Luke Rodgers, Class of 2020 and upcoming Storm Chase participant who leaves this Saturday.
As noted in the quotes, it’s a nearly indispensable experience. But no matter how hopeful someone is when he/she signs up, anything can happen. Don’t let unmet expectations destroy your love for severe weather if you don’t get to chase a tornado, and don’t sign up a second time just because you got to see more than a dozen. Every trip is different, and the group dynamic will change from year to year. The selection process is also complex, so don’t hesitate to reach out to other meteorology schools or go with some friends! College of Dupage offers 4 10-day trips each year between April and June (June 13th-23rd still has 8 available spots!). Visit https://weather.cod.edu/chasing/index.php?load=chases# for more info. And if you want to avoid to lab fees and cost of credit hours, go with some friends for dirt cheap. Granted, you won’t have the expertise of a well-seasoned teacher to look to for guidance, but you can do things in a manner that is a little less structured (while still never neglecting to do it safely). No matter what option you choose, have fun and live life on the edge!