Hokie Storm Chasers return home early

Quiet severe weather season in Great Plains

BLACKSBURG, Va. – Two months ago Friday, our area was hit with six tornadoes. In an effort to improve forecasting severe storms and tornadoes, meteorologists rely on storm chasers. 

Did you know we have a team of storm chasers here at home?

Meteorology students at Virginia Tech have been to take a three-credit field course in storm chasing since the early 2000s. You may be wondering why they're doing this.

Peter Forister, a rising senior, explains it in two different ways.

"We go to witness the beauty of the storms," he said. 

"Another reason we can go out is for scientific research."

Students went to the Great Plains because it's typically where severe weather occurs in May, and you can also see for miles and miles. 

This year was a challenge, because severe weather hasn't fired up like it usually does in the nation's heartland.

Catherine Maxwell, another rising senior on the trip, said, "Summer really came in full swing, and spring was really short-lived, so really we didn't get the active pattern I was expecting to see on this chase."

Through the middle of June, the United States has only seen 500 reported tornadoes, not all of them have been confirmed. On average, there are usually 900 reported tornadoes at this point in the year.

The team was successful in spotting three tornadoes during their shortened trip this year. The tornadoes weren't as defined as what they were expecting, though.

Maxwell told 10 News in a one-on-one interview, "Whenever we did see the three tornadoes, two of them weren't clearly indicated because they were rain-wrapped."

Despite the unexpected appearance, forecasting challenges and early trip home, the team came away with valuable lessons and unforgettable memories. 

Forister remembers how the storms felt more than how they looked.

"I got to experience for the first time a Great Plains supercell breathing in and out. You could feel the wind being sucked in and the storm picking up energy from the atmosphere around it."

The Hokie Storm Chasers traveled through nearly 20 states on their trip. Both Forister and Maxwell said they were glad to come home and get some rest. 

They also say that storm chasing is best to do in an area where you can see the entire storm. Here in Virginia, hills and trees inhibit our view and make chasing storms more dangerous.

For a recap of the chase from team leader - David Carroll, check his Facebook post here.

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