New storm-chasing course to follow extreme weather

watching radar dataSUNY Oswego will present a new summer program, “Storm Forecasting and Observation,” from May 28 to June 16, studying extreme weather where it strikes.

The course may have the biggest classroom of any college offering, as the class may spend time anywhere in Tornado Alley—from Texas to North Dakota, Colorado to Missouri—on any given day, said Dr. Scott Steiger of SUNY Oswego’s meteorology program.

Steiger said the new course, presented by the college’s Division of Continuing Education, is the only one he knows of in the Northeast. The handful of existing offerings are located at Midwestern colleges.

The first week will include six hours of daily coursework, including lectures, classroom discussions, laboratory exercises and videos to recognize different storm conditions. “We want to give them a good background before we go out in the field,” Steiger said.

The next two weeks are a traveling storm-chasing adventure throughout the Great Plains where tornadoes are most prevalent. “Every morning, we’ll have a forecast discussion as a guide. Then we’ll travel to our target zone where we believe we’ll have the best chance to observe storms,” Steiger said, noting that the class will also stress observing the weather safely.

The course does involve a lot of time on the road in a large van and uncertainty in what city they will book a hotel the next night. “One day, we could be in Texas, a few days later, we could be in North Dakota,” Steiger said.

“I want students to be able to learn how to forecast the weather, but also how to observe the weather,” Steiger explained. “By going out, looking at clouds, feeling the temperature and the moisture in the air, they are learning by observing.”

Jason Keeler, a senior meteorology major from White Plains, said he has been interested in taking the storm-chasing course since it was proposed a few years ago. While he has “lost count of how many waterspouts” he has seen on Lake Ontario, “I’d like to see some full-fledged tornadoes,” Keeler said.

The course represents “one more opportunity for me to be with the people I’ve been with for four years and see exciting weather,” Keeler said. “Even if there aren’t a lot of severe storms, I’ll be seeing a lot of the country I haven’t seen before.”

Keeler is excited by the opportunity for real-time forecasting, or “nowcasting.” “Every morning, we’ll be looking at the maps and figuring what’s going to happen and where it will happen,” he said.

Steiger has had discussions with NBC about the possibility of SUNY Oswego alumnus Al Roker joining the class on the road and considering segments on the “Today” show.

While the three-credit course appeals most to meteorology students, Steiger said anyone capable of doing the coursework, including non-traditional learners, is invited to apply.

Saying he looks forward to “living, eating and breathing severe weather,” Keeler adds: “It’s going to be intensive, but I couldn’t imagine spending three weeks any better way, in terms of education and fun.”

For information, call 312-2270, visit or e-mail

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PHOTO CAPTION: Seeking storms—Jason Keeler (left), a senior meteorology major, checks data from a tornado with meteorology faculty members Scott Steiger (top) and Robert Ballentine. Keeler will take the college’s new “Storm Forecasting and Observation” summer course taught by Steiger. Students will go on the road throughout Tornado Alley in the Great Plains states to observe extreme weather.

(Posted: Apr 05, 2007)