Posted: May 10, 2005 8:09 am EST

When a storm comes, he heads for it (~19 col. in.)
by Paul Glasser, Greensburg (Ind.) Daily News
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    Paul Glasser
    CNHI News Service

    GREENSBURG, Ind. - Instead of running the other way, Brian Schoettmer is one to actively pursue tornados and severe thunderstorms.
    Schoettmer, a native of Greensburg, is a junior at Ball State studying meteorology. He will get a chance to pursue his passion this spring. Through June 9, Schoettmer and 13 other students will travel 14,000 miles, chasing down tornados and thunderstorms in the Great Plains between the Rockies and the Mississippi River.
    “I’m really excited,” Schoettmer said. “It’s been four years in the making.”
    Since he was in high school, Schoettmer has wanted to go on this trip. It’s actually a class offered by David Arnold, professor of meteorology and climatology at Ball State. The students will drive hundreds of miles a day to chase down severe weather. Schoettmer got hooked on storm-chasing after watching TV programs on the subject and finally decided to pursue meteorology in college after hearing about the program at Ball State. He’s not a big fan of the math and physics requirements, but he loves to learn about the weather.
    “It’s something new everyday,” Schoettmer said. “It keeps things exciting.”
    The students will get up early each morning to assess a weather briefing and will use that information to determine where extreme weather is most likely to occur. Then, they’ll drive out to the target area and try to catch the storm before it develops.
    “It’s a great chance to tie in all the stuff I learned in the classroom to what is really happening in the atmosphere,” Schoettmer said.
    This won’t be his first experience with storm chasing for Schoettmer, who helped produce a documentary about severe weather in Indiana last year. He joined a group last semester and studied severe weather formations for three days. The experience only whetted his appetite for excitement.
    “It’s just the awesome power of mother nature,” he said. “It’s just amazing to watch.”
    However, Indiana isn’t a great place to be a storm-chaser because the climate makes it difficult to observe storms. Indiana has high levels of humidity, which creates a lot of clouds, and makes it difficult to tell the difference between a storm cloud and other formations. Out west, there’s less humidity so storms form in isolated events. There’s also very few trees and flat plains that create visibility for hundreds of miles. All those factors will give Schoettmer the chance to experience some fantastic weather formations.
    “You’re guaranteed to see some magnificent storms,” he said. “They can’t guarantee tornados, but they’re an added bonus.”
    Professor Arnold has been teaching this course for 12 years, ever since he received his doctorate. He got the idea after chasing storms with friends and family during the 1980s and created the trip as an opportunity for students to get real experience chasing and observing storms.
    “The students have the background theory from the classroom,” Arnold said, “but watching storms develop in person is much more effective than any classroom tool.”
    Each day will be a mini-class exercise, where the students have to analyze potential storm patterns and plan accordingly.
    “It’s all designed to improve the students’ ability to forecast severe weather,” Arnold said.
    On days when there’s no bad weather, the students will get to visit the National Severe Storms Lab in Norman, Okla., and the Forecast Systems Laboratory and Climate Diagnostics Center in Boulder, Colo. But, it won’t be all work and no play. The students will also have lots of free time to visit the Rocky Mountains, Carlsbad Cavern and catch a few baseball games.
    “Some students have never been west of the Mississippi, so this will be an incredible experience for them,” Arnold said.
    The trip will be featured on NBC affiliates, the National Geographic Channel and the NBC Nightly News.
    In general, all the storm-chasers agree the class is an incredible opportunity to observe the power of mother nature.
    “It’s hard to describe, but storms are very beautiful,” Arnold said. “They’re deadly and destructive, but are still an awesome sight.”

    Paul Glasser writes for The Daily News in Greensburg, Ind.

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