Penn State's Storm Chase Team applies classroom lessons in the field

By Susan Snyder, The Philadelphia Inquirer
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

May 12--A rainy week? Yum. A super-cell thunderstorm? Better yet, a tornado? That's the trifecta.

"Vacation of a lifetime!" gushed Matt Flournoy, 21, as classmate Brad Guay, 19, nodded in agreement.

Meet the departing and incoming presidents of one of Pennsylvania State University's newest clubs: the Storm Chase Team, or PSUChase (pronounced "sue-chase") for short.

Twenty-three members of the club, all meteorology majors, left Sunday for a 10-day trip to the Midwest, where they will hunt tornadoes under the guidance of Jason Berry, a professional storm-chaser based in Indiana. And yes, for many of them, it will be their summer vacation, one that will be very much on the fly.

Their aim is to follow the weather. Which means after landing in Angola, Ind., they will get a hotel, wake up the next day, look at the weather maps, and go where they think they have the best chance of observing a tornado up close. Then they'll bunk down for the night wherever they can, sleep, wake up, and do it all over again.

They'll probably stay much of the time in Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma, and Missouri.

Although there's a thrill to chasing a tornado, the point of the exercise is for the future meteorologists to learn. They've studied how storms move and function, and now they want to see what they've learned in the classroom play out in the field.

Nevertheless, Flournoy said he was beginning to feel the weight of the task.

"I'm convinced we have the tools and knowledge to stay out of harm's way," he said. "But there's always that if."

Students also had to get buy-in from a higher authority: their mothers. Didn't help that they left on Mother's Day.

READ THE FULL STORY Penn State's Storm Chase Team