Most people would probably want to put as much distance as possible between themselves and tornadoes like those seen this week in Oklahoma. But for some meteorologists, getting up close isn't just the ultimate thrill. Our Sarah Blazonis spoke with the founder of SUNY Oswego's Storm Forecasting and Observation Program. He says keeping tabs on such systems also helps keep the public safe.
OSWEGO, N.Y. -- It's scenes like the one in Moore, Oklahoma that helped inspire Scott Steiger to form SUNY Oswego's Storm Forecasting and Observation Program.
"We feel powerless. As meteorologists, we know a lot about the weather, but there's still so much we need to learn," said Steiger, an associate professor of meteorology.
Every summer, Steiger takes a group of students storm chasing. They launch weather balloons, take measurements and, most importantly, observe.
"Most of what we've learned about how tornadoes and tornadic storms behave is a result of storm chasing," said Steiger.
That knowledge has helped increase the warning time from less than ten minutes two decades ago to about 15 minutes today.
"Which gives people more time to get to basements, to get to lower shelter," said Steiger. "We'd like to keep improving that."
YNN Meteorologist Vanessa Richards says that firsthand experience helps forecasters pick up where technology leaves off.
"The radar can only take you so far, so these kind of programs where they train meteorologists to spot tornadoes is important for warning systems, letting people know, okay, it's not just a tornado warning, there is a confirmed tornado or funnel cloud on the ground," said Richards, who was among the first group of students to take part in the storm chaser program at SUNY Oswego.
And knowing what kind of devastation varying degrees of storms bring helps let the public know what safety precautions to take. That's especially important when dealing with storms like Monday's.
"If you were not underground in a storm shelter, you were not going to survive. When you see the damage firsthand, you know how you can relay safety instructions to your viewers," said Richards.
It's a goal Steiger hopes more students will be able to accomplish thanks to taking a closer look.
Students with this year's storm chaser program leave May 28. They'll follow severe weather anywhere from Texas to North Dakota. After two weeks of forecasting and studying storms, they'll spend the last week of the program back at SUNY Oswego analyzing results.