Storm Chasers

February 12, 2014

As we trudge thru one of the snowiest and coldest winters on record, many of us are looking toward spring. But if you're in the storm chasing business, spring brings that desire for another reason, storms.

It's the thrill of the chase, a chase that saves lives. College of DuPage professor Paul Sirvatka has been leading teams of students on storm chases since 1989. He has seen well over 100 tornadoes and strives to alert the public to keep them safe.

''Storm chasing has really brought the storm spotter to a much more important role in warning for communities…the chasers are out there. They're giving real time reports so people on TV and the news can disseminate to the public,'' Sirvatka said.

He's traveled thru hail, and cracked windshields and stresses everyone needs to have a plan of action in case of severe weather. Know how to get that info and what you're going to do with it because we found out just this past November in Washington, Illinois, it can save lives.

''The awareness was so heightened that very few people died and that was amazing thing for the strength and significance of that tornado,'' Sirvatka said.

The Washington tornado is still a topic in assistant professor victor Genisi's class. ''We were really worried about this particular tornado because as it crossed I-39, it stayed together south of Streator, impact Chicago,'' Genisi said.

Since last May, Genisi has led storm chase trips and has logged nearly 20,000 miles. His interest in storm chasing began in 2004 after the Utica tornado. Once the chase vehicles are rolling and his equipment is ready to go he has this goal in mind:

''Ultimately we hope that those reports can help in lead times for tornado warnings,'' Genisi said.

There are five chase trips which College of DuPage conducts each year and they are open to the public with classroom time logged before heading out into the field. One of the students, professional photographer David Mayhew, who currently has a display of his experiences at the Junge Gallery.

''You never imagine that the plains of Kansas can be such a beautiful palate for photography because it's just flat but as soon as you throw in some storms it's stunning,'' Mayhew said.

But in riding on the experience of the professionals at college of update, Mayhew learned some very important lessons in a hobby that comes with great risk.

''Have a reliable vehicle to get you there and always have an escape route,''' Mayhew said.

For more information:

Copyright © 2023 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.