WKU Storm Chasers Tracking Severe Weather Across Great Plains (And Possibly Canada)

May 18, 2015

WKU student Tori Hampton and WKU Meteorology Professor John Durkee ahead of their departure to the Great Plains.
Credit Kevin Willis

A group of WKU students is spending the next two weeks in the Great Plains tracking severe storms and dangerous weather patterns.

WKU Meteorology Professor Josh Durkee is taking eight students to a part of the country that is often hit by tornados and other storms this time of the year. He says the class is an opportunity for participants to collect and analyze weather data that are used to predict where storms will next appear.

“The most common phrase I hear students say is, ‘I learned more in two weeks that I have in two years.’ That’s because it takes a lot of the stuff we have been learning about in the classroom and they get to see it in real-time, and they get to put their hands on it.”

Durkee says the students taking his annual Field Methods in Weather Analysis and Forecasting course are never in danger and stay at least five miles away from the storms they are tracking. The class travels throughout the Midwest and Great Plains regions to learn more about how to predict how and when severe weather will impact the area.

Metcalfe County native and graduating senior Tori Hampton has been looking forward to taking the class for years. She says experiencing a tornado at the age of five fueled a passion to learn more about storms.

“And just being able to see what impacted me as a little girl—seeing that in real life, and to be able to understand how it works, and to be able to forecast that—I think that’s going to have a huge impact on me,” Hampton said.

Ahead of their departure this week, Dr. Durkee made sure the students participating in this year’s class have passports. In the past, the class tracked storms that moved from the U.S. into Canada—but they had to stop at the border because not all of the students had passports.

Since its inaugural year in 2010, WKU Storm Chasers have traveled over 37,000 miles across 19 states and documented more than 30 tornadoes, along with hail, windstorm, and flood events.