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ESC 477 Storm Chasing

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June 2012

About Brockport's Storm Chasing Summer Program

NOTE:  The Storm Chasing course is currently on hold until a qualified instructor can be found.  We hope to be offering it again very soon!

The Department of the Earth Sciences is excited to offer this two-week, faculty-led excursion through the Great Plains of North America in early June, near the peak of tornado season in the region.  Ours is the first storm chasing program in New York State to be offered for college credit.  The main objective of this program is to provide a hands-on, practical experience of observing the formation, development, and structure of severe weather phenomena, something that cannot be accomplished in a traditional classroom environment.

The program will start from a "base city" located in the Midwest/Great Plains of the United States. From that point, students will be constantly on the move, on board a 12 or 15 passenger van, seeking a safe position to observe the development of severe thunderstorms. Cutting-edge technology and real-time satellite-fed data are used to properly position the vehicle and safely observe these storms. The general geographical area that may be traveled during this program extends from the Mississippi River to the Rocky Mountains, and approximately from I-40 northward to the Trans-Canada Highway.

storm chasing map

Brockport's Storm Chasing Program affords students the opportunity to:

  • Be trained on severe weather safety;
  • Gain experience in interpreting the atmosphere through visual cues;
  • Be taught how to identify severe weather structure and phenomena;
  • Learn the basics of meteorological data acquisition and analysis in the field;
  • Improve their severe weather forecasting skills;
  • Develop a distinctive perspective to theoretical concepts discussed in traditional courses;
  • Participate in a unique meteorological hands-on experience;
  • Spend lots of time in close contact, and perhaps develop friendships, with other individuals who share a similar passion for severe weather;
  • Extensively travel through little-visited portions of North America;
  • Enhance their career prospects;
  • Have fun.


Students will be required to participate in small atmospheric data collection and analysis tasks, and they will be required to keep a personal journal. Every night, a discussion of the next day's potential for severe weather will be held at the hotel and a preliminary decision will be made on the plan of action and destination for the next day. All students will be responsible for preparing and leading these discussions at least once. Consequently, a minimum academic background in meteorology (ESC 211 – Introduction to Meteorology, or equivalent) is required for participation in this program.

It is entirely possible that the weather will be benign during brief periods or (knock on wood) for the entire duration of this program. During these periods of inactive weather, alternate educational activities in the geosciences will be pursued, which may include measuring the urban island heat effect in a city in the North American Great Plains, measuring the relationship between temperature, pressure, humidity and altitude at Rocky Mountain National Park, examining the geological and hydrological elements of Natural Parks or Monuments in the area (e.g. Badlands National Park, Mount Rushmore, Devil's Tower, etc.) or visit a federal meteorological center such as the National Center for Atmospheric Research, the National Severe Storm Laboratory, the Storm Prediction Center, or a National Weather Service Office.

Candidates to this program must:

  • Possess a minimum background in Meteorology (ESC 211 or equivalent);
  • Be physically fit to load and unload a 12 or 15 passenger van in less than 30 seconds;
  • Be medically and mentally fit to spend extensive hours confined to a vehicle, with limited access to facilities;
  • Be willing to wake up early and go to bed late to give the group the best chance to witness meteorological phenomena;
  • Be flexible about their lodging accommodations and food options;
  • Carry limited luggage;
  • Have a cooperative and considerate attitude to promote an enjoyable experience for the whole group.
  • Sign any liability release documents required by the College at Brockport.


Students will stay in hotels, in quadruple occupancy.  Students will very likely need to share the hotel bed with another student. This is done to keep the program costs to a minimum. The lodging is included in the program cost. The exact location of the hotel will change from night to night based on the planned activities and based on where active weather is occurring. The lodging arrangements will be made by the instructor every night.

Due to the high mobility nature of this program, food options are assessed in the last minute. These options are very limited in the middle of the Plains of Nebraska or Kansas. Moreover, whenever the group must quickly move in order to reach a chase in time for storm development, these options will be solely restricted to the closest fast food outlet.  Students with substantial dietary restrictions must take that into consideration before applying to this course.


The cost to participate in this program will vary somewhat from year to year, but the following guidelines will give you an idea of what is covered and not covered by the registration fee.

Included in the Cost:

  • Program acceptance fee
  • Tuition and course instruction
  • All lodging accommodations, quadruple occupancy
  • Ground transportation in the Great Plains; van rental and insurance costs, including gas to cover up to 6000 miles of driving
  • Admission to national parks and meteorological centers, if necessary
  • Use of meteorological instrumentation for field measurements, and stream of live meteorological data to safely chase storms
NOT Included in the Cost:
  • Meals
  • Transportation to/from the US "Base City" where the course will begin/end
  • Passport or Enhanced Driver's License to enter Canada, if necessary
  • Health Insurance
  • Personal Expenses


The student's performance will be based on 3 main components: an assessment of the student's overall cooperation and attendance to all events, a personal journal, and the oral presentation of a severe weather potential forecast.

The major component of a student's grade is his/her punctual attendance to all course events (late night or early morning meetings, forecast discussions, data collections, field activities, hotel departure meetings, etc). This component also takes into account the student's overall cooperation. An uncooperative or negative demeanor that is detrimental to the group and/or the seamless progress of this course will reduce the student's grade. At any time, the instructor can terminate a student's participation in this course if his/her behavior is unacceptable, disruptive, or detrimental to rest of the group and the continuation of this course. Should this happen, this student will automatically receive a score of ZERO for this component, which effectively results in a failing grade (E) in this course.

All students will be required to maintain a personal journal for the duration of the course. They will be required to make daily entries, which briefly list the following 4 items: 1) main concepts learned or knowledge gained that day, 2) any data collected in the field, 3) information from the daily weather discussion, and 4) a description of observed weather. These journals must be turned in on the last day of the course and will be primarily assessed for completeness and accuracy, rather than interpretation and wordiness.

Lastly, the student's grade will also be based on the presentation of a 1-day forecast discussion for groups of 2 or 3 students (at the instructor's choice).

Contact Info

For more information concerning ESC 477 Storm Chasing, please contact the department chairperson, Dr. James Zollweg at (585) 395-2352 or via email at

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Last Updated 10/28/13