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Tornado Tracking 101

March 8, 2016
The April 9 tornado near Franklin Grove, Ill. Photo courtesy Walker Ashley, NIU Department of Geography

The April 9 tornado near Franklin Grove, Ill.
Photo courtesy Walker Ashley, NIU Department of Geography

All DeKalb-area residents can remember the violent and deadly tornado that tore through Rochelle and Fairdale last April, leveling houses and trees in its path.

At the next STEM Café, “Tornado Tracking: How Meteorologists Predict and Pursue Storms,” NIU associate professor Walker Ashley will tell the story of how he forecast and chased the tornado.

The free talk and discussion will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 22, at the Fireside Grille, 49 Sugar Lane in Sugar Grove.

Ashley, who teaches in the meteorology program of NIU’s Department of Geography, will use the story of the Rochelle-Fairdale tornado to illustrate the most current scientific theories about how storms form, what determines their intensity, and how they can be predicted in advance.

He will also explain how non-experts can get safely involved in spotting and chasing storms.

“There are a lot of myths out there about storms and storm-chasing,” says Ashley, who has been following tornadoes for nearly 20 years. “What you see in movies like ‘Twister’ or TV shows like ‘Storm Chasers’ is not reality. There’s a lot more sophisticated science behind it – and a lot more driving and downtime, too. It takes patience.”

Walker Ashley

Walker Ashley

Ashley’s presentation will include some fruits of his own patience: selections of time-lapse photography from his years of storm-chasing. “There’s so much beauty to storms and their skyscapes,” he says. “There’s danger there, but if you respect the danger and know what you’re doing, you can enjoy the beauty.”

Ashley also will discuss his most current research, which focuses on increases in societal vulnerability to tornadoes.

“The story Professor Ashley has to tell makes this STEM Café an exciting way to pick up some cutting-edge science,” says NIU STEM Outreach associate Judith Dymond. “We’re lucky to have an expert with so much direct experience right here in the NIU community.”

This event is part of STEM Outreach’s series of monthly STEM Cafés, all of which are free and open to the public. Food and drinks will be available for purchase from the Fireside Grille.

For more information on STEM Cafés and other STEM events, call (815) 753-4751 or email [email protected].