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Riders on the storm

June 30, 2014 — 

Summer’s officially arrived, and with it, some impressive weather. If the past weekend is any indication, we could be in for more extreme weather this summer.

Professor of environment and geography John Hanesiak has been studying extreme weather — and chasing storms — for his entire adult life. It’s an inherent interest, he says, which makes storm chasing “that much more fun and enjoyable to do.” He studies both convection (how the earth’s surface can generate storms) and severe weather in general — for instance, what makes certain storms severe.

The U of M offers the only storm and tornado chasing course in Canada. “Severe Thunderstorms: Storm Chasing & Field Techniques” is an occasional summer course* on extreme weather research and the life of a storm chaser offered by Hanesiak through Clayton H. Riddell Faculty of Environment, Earth, and Resources. Topics covered include recent storms such as the 2007 Elie, Manitoba, tornado — Canada’s first F5 tornado event — and how research could help save lives by better predicting severe storms. Current severe storm knowledge and research, including the storm environment, structure, motion, evolution and conceptual models of how tornadoes form are highlighted.

Hanesiak says that the intent of the course is to train people to understand how storms form, and what types of storms might form on a particular day — “to train people to understand a severe weather environment,” he says.

–Mariianne Mays Wiebe

What is storm chasing?

Storm chasing is an activity that goes back to at least the 1950s, and possibly further. It consists of determining (forecasting) where thunderstorms will occur and then getting to that location before they occur. Driving is the transportation of choice, and can sometimes reach up to 1000 km in a day.

Who is eligible to chase?

The course is open to the general public. Primary consideration will be given to meteorology students at the U of M, then other students at the U of M, and finally to the general public.

Who teaches the course?

The answer to this sounds like a punchline to a bad joke. The course is taught by a University professor, a retired meteorologist, a meteorologist-in-charge, and a severe weather forecast specialist. What we all have in common is our love, awe, and respect for Mother Nature and all that she can do.

 *The course is not offered this year.

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