Storm chasing part of Ball State summer course

Many students spend their summers working, at internships or taking summer classes either on campus or online. But one group of Ball State students will be driving across the Great Plains in search of storms.

"I've really been interested in weather since I was four and living in Indiana it's really hard to see storms coming," AJ Wardle, a sophomore meteorology student, said. "In the Great Plains you can see the sky very clearly and see storms forming very well."

The course, GEO 490, is a six-hour class based on the field observation of severe local storms. Students forecast, observe and document severe thunderstorms and tornadoes.

After Spring Break the students spent eight weeks learning about forecasting thunderstorms, rules they needed to follow, the Great Plains region and safety observations.

"My role is to help them do these things," said David Call, a meteorology professor at Ball State since 2007 and a former television weather broadcaster. "If they miss something, I interject my opinion, but it's very student led."

This summer Call is taking two different sections of students because the class has been filling up the last few years.

The group averages 450 miles a day driving. By the end of the trip, Call said they will have travelled 6,000 to 7,000 miles total.

"Sometimes the driving can get tedious, but that's part of what we are here for," Wardle said. "It's just one of those things you get to deal with."

The students are just over a week into their storm chasing adventure and have yet to see a tornado, but have witnessed moderate thunderstorms, as well as some hail and moderate cloud formations, said Holly Widen, a master student in meteorology.

"Thunderstorms have produced hail in Texas, covering the road like snow," Call said. "In the van it was pretty loud; I was a little nervous. Big hail would have broke windows and dented the van."

Many people think the group goes out just to see tornadoes, Call said.

"From an educational perspective, students learn more when the weather pattern is unstable, and they get a better understanding of what's wrong," he said.

Besides storm chasing, students also got the chance to see the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

"It was a break for students to learn a lot more about what professional meteorologists do, things that the students hadn't thought of," Call said. "It inspires students to do better and inspires me to see projects going on in cutting edge meteorology."

The students have also learned that there are different roles involved with storm chasing.

"We are learning to navigate, learn the radar, call and book hotels, and learning team building that is involved in chasing storms," Wardle said.

Students are hoping they can enhance their meteorology skills with this summer's immersive experience.

"I hope to improve my forecasting skills, to do storm weather and improve my skills to use technology," Widen said.

"I hope to see tornadoes for the first time in person and get a better understanding of how to forecast and how to interpret different model data," Wardle said.
As their professor, Call said he likes seeing the improvement in his students over the two weeks.

"I really enjoy seeing them grow as forecasters," he said. "When we head out, they have general ideas about how storms work and how to forecast them, but after a week or two they know what to look for."


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