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WKU students chase storms and learn new skills in Meteorology’s annual field course

“Slowly moving on from Altus, OK this morning,” WKU Storm Chasers said in a post on X on Friday, May 24. “Today falls back a couple steps compared to yesterday, as we prepare for a busy Saturday setup. Meanwhile, here’s a few shots from yesterday from western Oklahoma.” Photo provided by WKU Storm Chasers via X.

Eight WKU meteorology students traveled to the Great Plains this week for a two-week hands-on field course to chase storms and sharpen their forecasting skills.

It is the 15th year for the Field Methods in Severe Weather Analysis and Forecasting course, also known as WKU storm chase, WKU announced. Students left on Tuesday, May 21, and will travel hundreds of miles, learning to hunt storms and build confidence in making weather forecast determinations.

Students embarking on the trip are:

  • Kaylie Bonifer, a senior from French Lick, Indiana.
  • Josh Brown, a senior from Fairborn, Ohio.
  • Jake Disinger, a senior from Boonville, Indiana.
  • Luke Ferguson, a senior from Ironton, Ohio.
  • Harmony Guercio, a senior from Knoxville, Tennessee.
  • Thomas Payette, a senior from Louisville.
  • Michael Quire, a graduate student from Bowling Green.
  • Samantha Taylor, a senior from Knoxville, Tennessee.

The class itself is a hands-on course that is

“First tornado of the trip in Oklahoma outside of Eldorado,” WKU Storm Chasers said in a post on X on Thursday, May 23. Photo provided by WKU Storm Chasers via X.

intended to enhance students’ skills in forecasting and understanding weather.

“Meteorology is a science that requires hands-on training and perpetual practice,” Dr. Josh Durkee, WKU professor and university meteorologist, said in an email on Friday. “This class offers students a life-long learning experience and one that is quite advanced and delivers a high-impact education.”

Students that seek careers in forecasting will use these newly sharpened skills when searching for jobs, Durkee said.

The hardest part of this course, Durkee explained, is committing to forecasts by driving hundreds of miles to verify the determinations, but also doing it in time to watch the calm skies unfold into explosive thunderstorms that produce hail, damaging winds and possibly tornadoes.

“Oftentimes we get pieces of that, but capturing the full morphology is not as common,” Durkee said, “and watching the joy on students’ faces when they help make that happen is what puts a big smile on my face.”

The class trains students to lead their team with daily expectations and logistics about documenting severe weather outcomes, Durkee said. “We rotate lead forecasters, and students are in charge of travel logistics and managing time considerations.”

On Thursday night, the team drove from southern Texas to watch blue skies end with multiple tornadoes across western Oklahoma, Durkee shared. “The students got us there and made that happen,” he said. “[I’m] so proud of them.”

News reporter Cameron Shaw can be reached at [email protected].

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