The Evolution of Storm Chasing


For June 26, 2019                              Please share with your friends & neighbors 

Hi WN@TL Fans,

Twenty years ago at noon on the 4th of July, my brother & his wife, their two children and I launched our two canoes from Kawishiwi Lodge on the north end of Lake One in the Boundary Waters. The air was dripping hot, humid and still. Thirty minutes later, just as we were about to reach into the wide part of Lake One, my 7-year-old niece in the bow of my boat pointed at a rolling-pin of a cloud coming in from the west.

“What’s that?” Jessica asked.

“A squall line,” I answered.

“What’s a squall line?” she asked.

“That,” I pointed.

I have never had much inkling to go chasing after storms.  It’s enough when they come chasing after me.  Especially any historic storms like the 4th of July Derecho of 1999.

The invention of the videotape camera and its successor, the videocamera in everyone’s cell phone, has transformed how easily we can see terrifying storms and hear the fear in the voices of the people behind the lens.

There’s a select few people who don’t hesitate and can’t wait to hop in their car with videocamera in hand and go barreling down the highways and byways and backroads to catch a closeup of derechos and tornados.  They do us a service in showing what a deadly gauntlet any stretch of open space becomes when the debris-laden winds clock in at 80, 90 or 100 miles per hour or more.

This week (June 26) Derrick Herndon of the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies will be here to take us on a road trip to Kansas and parts beyond as he unfolds “The Evolution of Storm Chasing.”

Here’s how he describes his talk:

“We will never know who the first storm chaser was, but since the dawn of time humans have been both fascinated and terrified by storms. Our curiosity has caused us to at times take extreme risk in order to get a closer look at tornadoes and violent weather.

“This talk will discuss how modern storm chasing evolved from simple paper maps and ones own eyes to the current suite of high tech gadgets, tanks and chasing teams that now roam the Great Plains each spring.”

About the Speaker:

Derrick Herndon is an Associate Researcher for the Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at the University of Wisconsin, where he studies tropical cyclones and satellite remote sensing of storms.

Prior to UW he served as a forecaster and aviation warfare specialist for the US Navy for 8 years.

Derrick received his B.S in Meteorology from Florida State University in 2000. From there he accepted a position working for a private company at Stennis Space Center, MS developing high resolution computer models for forecasting winds over the Gulf of Mexico.

His current work involves developing algorithms to estimate the intensity and structure of hurricanes from satellite data that are used by research and forecasting agencies worldwide. He has authored or co-authored several papers on tropical cyclones and has contributed to three books on hurricanes and climate. He has participated in five field campaigns studying tropical cyclones and is a co-recipient of the NASA Group Achievement Award and American Meteorological Society Special Award.

Derrick is also an avid storm chaser having witnessed more than 30 tornadoes, giant hail, 9 hurricanes (including Category 5 Hurricane Michael in 2018) and 1 typhoon (aboard the USS Bunker Hill).


This summer I’ll be returning to Lake One with my brother, his wife, their daughter Jess, and my son Will.  I’ve been back to the Boundary Waters many times since 1999 and have watched the damaged woods slowly heal, burn badly in 2011, and return to healing.

The irony for me is that the scariest part about the 4th of July in 1999 wasn’t the noon-hour derecho on Lake One; no, it was the ferocious lightning storm that hit later that night while we hunkered down inside our sleeping bags, inside our tents, on the east bank of Lake Four.

It’s the storms you can’t see that turn your spine to jelly.  I will be keeping my eyes on the skies.


Next week (July 3) David Perrodin returns to Wednesday Nite @ The Lab to bring us up to date on “School Safety in America:  Rhetoric vs Reality.”

David pointed out during his talk in 2013 that the last time a schoolchild died in a fire in the United States was 1958 at Our Lady of the Angels in Chicago.

While schoolhouse deaths by fire have abated, the chilling reality is that the killing of schoolchildren by firearms continues with a frequency that is at once astonishing and numbing.

Perrodin’s book, “School of Errors – Rethinking School Safety in America,” challenges “the unchecked expansion of school fortification and hyper-realistic drills and questions the realized benefit of inter-agency collaboration during a sentinel event.”

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab.

Thanks again!

Tom Zinnen
Biotechnology Center & Division of Extension


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