Meet the Penn State Storm Chase Team

When a group of nine adventurous Penn State meteorology students and severe weather enthusiasts embarked on a multi-state storm chasing tour in early 2013, they weren’t exactly sure where it would take them. Eight months later, and Penn State has an officially recognized student organization called the Penn State Storm Chase Team.

For those of you who don’t know (or have never stumbled upon “Storm Chasers” on the Discovery Channel), storm chasing is an intense (some might say crazy) hobby in which people locate severe weather — usually tornadoes — and get ridiculously close to the storm for fun. While most people want to be as far away from a moving tornado as possible, storm chasers try to get up close and personal with the storm, which results in some awesome footage and big time thrills. The most hardcore storm chasers ride around in badass tank-like vehicles, like this:


The Penn State Storm Chase Team might not have a war vessel yet, but the founding members went on their first “official” storm chasing tour this summer out west with experienced storm chaser Jason Berry.

“The chase, in my opinion, was a huge success,” said PSU Storm Chase Team VP Jacob DeFlitch. “Although we did not intercept any tornadoes, the first two days we chased down two tornado-warned cells and saw some picturesque storms.  We not only chased storms, we also explored the northern plains from Mt. Rushmore to driving the distance to Montana, and accumulated almost 4,000 miles in less than 8 days.  It was an experience of a lifetime, one that we will be fortunate to share with those attending next year’s trip.”

While skipping classes to chase tornadoes seems like a good time, it can’t and won’t be the only focus of the Storm Chase Team. The group members hope to utilize their meteorology backgrounds to educate each other about severe weather along with an official storm chasing trip in the western United States at the beginning of the summer.

“Another separate goal of ours will be to educate our future members about what to look for on models and to depict severe development or tornadic activity,” said Trip Affairs Chair Lexie Herdt. “We also plan on having other professional meteorologists and speakers at end the meetings and teach the members the ins and outs of storm chasing, along with sharing their own stories.”

Of course, the folks in Penn State’s Office of Student Affairs can be a finicky bunch when it comes to student safety (and everything, really). To officially recognize the club, the founding members had to convince the university that they would take the proper precautions when dealing with the potential safety risks that come with storm chasing.

“We are just as concerned for our safety as anyone else, except maybe our mothers,” said President Matt Flournoy. “We understand we are putting ourselves in the vicinity of danger, but not before we understand these situations ourselves and how to handle them. We plan on having multiple training sessions and inviting a number of guest speakers to talk to the group, so students will have many opportunities to expand their knowledge of being near severe storms. Club members will be required to go to many, if not all, of these training sessions. All of these reasons helped the HUB come to grips with the safety situation. Last but not least, we told them that we would stay at least one mile from any severe storm.”

The club is looking for more members to participate in its full inaugural year, so be on the lookout for more information and meeting times (or e-mail its president). And, even if you’re too chicken to actually get within a mile of a tornado, you can Tweet at them to buy this awesome t-shirt.


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About the Author

Kevin Horne

Kevin Horne was the editor of Onward State from 2012-2014 and currently holds the position of Managing Editor Emeritus, which is a fake title he made up. He graduated from Penn State with degrees journalism and political science in 2014 and is currently seeking his J.D. at the Penn State Dickinson School of Law. A third generation Penn Stater from Williamsport, Pa., Kevin is also the president of the graduate student government. Email: [email protected]

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