IMO advanced spotter training
15 Mar 2003 .
Elkhart, Indiana- Bolingbrook, Illinois

Event Summary
I had never really intended to go to Elkhart, Indiana, particularly on the spur of the moment.  However, the DuPage County Emergency Management Agency canceled their advanced spotter training, a natural choice for me being so close and having had no advanced spotter training before, going to this training actually had several advantages: (a) seeing my friend Dee who I had not seen over a year, (b) meeting lots of new people, (c) getting a chance to see some lecturers I had not seen before (and seeing them up close, as well).

So, I drove down Friday night and stayed at a very nice, reasonably priced motel called Fairway Inn (conveniently located right off the Indiana Toll Road).  Nearby was the Texas Roadhouse Grill, obviously part of the chain, but you would never know from the food.  The service was excellent, the food was tasty, the portions were generous, and it REALLY did remind me of a roadhouse I had stopped at two years ago in Junction, Texas.

The presentation was put on by the Indiana-Michigan-Ohio (IMO) SKYWARN organization (, a severe storm spotter organization that covers northeast Indiana, southern Michigan, and northwest Ohio. The training took place at Elkhart Central High School, and the school auditorium was nearly filled to capacity (that is to say several hundred people). Although someone thinks of the Great Plains states when they think of "tornado territory", this area has had some interesting historical storms: the 1965 'double tornado' that straddled Interstate 80 near Elkhart, the recent Van Wert Ohio storm (an F4 tornado), and many others. And let's not forget the tornadoes that struck Fort Wayne while Dee and I were out chasing in May of 2001!  There also seems to be a new "mini Tornado Alley" that has formed in the northwest corner of Indiana, near Valparaiso.

Speakers included Chris Novy (NWS central Illinois), Dr. David Arnold (Ball State University), staff from the Elkhart NWS office, and last but not least. Dr. Chuck Doswell III. As the auditorium of filled, I saw a familiar face: Dee was there. I sat with Dee and a few of her friends from INchase.

Dr. Arnold's talk covered the necessary conditions or formation of severe Storms, tornadogenesis, and storm evolution. His talk was well organized , and I did not feel that they rush him so much that his talk was diluted or hurried. hopefully the notes from his talk our online, as he had a great number of interesting viewgraphs I would like to look at a second time.

Chris Novy's talk covered many "do's and don'ts" of storm chasing, and had a number of amusing film clips. regarding the "don'ts".  

Memorable among these were the film of two Omaha chasers, who were caught in a storm with baseball sized hail: these two poor souls tried to make a run for it on foot after they lost a windshield. As they were pelted by the large hail, they cried and screamed the whole time until they reached the shelter of a farmhouse. The video of their car after the storm was unforgettable: their windshield looked like they had parked in front of a cannon and it went off.  

Another video (shot near the Rio Grande) showed a hapless motorist making the mistake of driving into a raging flood. His little white Toyota was no match for the raging wall of mud and water that carried his car off, tumbling it like a beach ball as it sunk into the river. Later, after the laughter died, somebody asked the question on all our minds: "Did he make it?"  "No," answered Chris, looking very serious (briefly breaking the mood of jovialty), "he never had a chance."

Side note: Chasers enjoy a good laugh, but never add someone else's expense, particularly when they might die. Once in a great while I run across a member of the public, who despises storm chasers because they witnessed someone who called themselves "a storm chaser" as they cheered on a tornado as it ate somebody's house.  Fortunately, when I have run across such people. they have been patient enough to listen to my explanation that such people that cheer on storms in that manner are the exception, not the rule.

When we broke for lunch. there was an interesting collection of films on the May 3, 1999 tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area.  I was one of the few people in the room who had never seen this footage before, as I was at the South Pole while the May 3 tornado outbreak went on. I was most struck by the fact that this was probably the most publicized and most "real-time" TV news reporting of a major tornado outbreak to date.  Though such outbreaks had happened in the past, the capabilities of today's mobile TV crew far exceed those of the day of the 1974 "Super Outbreak."  Another significant point of these films, was that they documented how unsafe it is to seek shelter from a tornado under a highway overpass.  The misconceptions put forth by the film of the Kansas news crew seeking shelter under a highway overpass will take decades to undo.

The Elkhart NWS folks gave a brief talk on historical weather events, the state of current technology in the Elkhart NWS office, and the key role that ham radio operators and storm spotters play in keeping the IMO area as safe as possible during severe weather.  

Then came the talk everyone had anticipated that all day long.  Chuck Doswell was greeted by a thunderous roar of applause. It's no surprise: Chuck is somewhat of the folk hero to both storm spotters and storm chasers. His outspoken views, divide his friends from his enemies quickly, and most chasers would prefer to be his friends. Chuck gave us a little personal background on himself, spoke about his current research projects, shared a few chase stories, and then fielded a number of questions from the audience on topics covering everything from storm chasing to presidential politics.

The afternoon wrapped up with a panel discussion involving all of the speakers, as well as some of the key people who put on the event.  The questions ran the full gamut. covering everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. A few questions were so obvious (even stupid) that they were thrown out right away. About half as many were so complex and overwhelming that they were either thrown away or tossed to Chuck Doswell by default.  In several instances, when the other speakers did not wish to answer. they simply stared silently, waiting for Chuck Doswell to step in with one is strong opinions. It became sort of a running joke for a few minutes there. At the conclusion of the panel discussion, there were a great many think east to all volunteers who made the presentations and other parts of the event a success. Everything wrapped up around 4 p.m.

Despite a "heads up" from Chris Novy, the westbound drive back toward Chicago and home went very smoothly, and there were very few delays along the way.  On Friday, when I drove east along that same stretch of highway, the westbound traffic was very heavy and there was what seemed like an endless stream of trucks heading toward Chicago. When I got back home. I went to the Saturday evening church service, still charged with plenty of energy from the presentations

Every aspect of the day was nearly perfect, but I am still looking for the presentation materials for the main speakers online.  A lot of good material was presented, but with so much coming at me so fast I could scarcely commit it all to memory.

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