Why is weather fascinating?

With New Orleans and the Louisiana coast picking up the pieces after Hurricane Ida's devastating blow, severe weather events are top of mind for many.

September is National Preparedness Month, a federal government designation to raise awareness about the importance of preparing for disasters and emergencies that could happen at any time. To mark the occasion, Paul Sirvatka, meteorology professor at College of DuPage, will present the virtual Hinsdale Public Library program "Storm Chasing and Severe Weather" from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 12, for a program on weather and the storm chasing he conducts (see Page 22 for details).

"I don't think a week goes by where something interesting doesn't happen," Sirvatka said by phone last week. "Weather is never exactly the same."

Now in his 33rd year at COD, Sirvatka helped establish the school's premier meteorology curriculum.

"We're definitely the most advanced program of any community college in the country," he said.

He likes giving this talk to a Midwest audience, accustomed to wild swings in conditions from season to season, as they can relate well to the topics he covers.

"This program is basically designed for an Illinois audience," Sirvatka said. "Every year we have several weather headlines - wind events, hail events, winter events with ice or extreme temperatures."

He cited the tornado that ripped through nearby Woodridge in June, destroying more than 100 homes in a rare suburban twister touchdown.

"We hadn't had a significant tornado like that one in DuPage County in decades," he said. "It reminded us of the danger of tornadoes and how vulnerable we are."

Sirvatka and his students plan storm chasing excursions five times a year, although the pandemic has curtailed such outings recently. While the Midwest is prime hunting ground for such chases, the COD contingent has been known to travel to Texas and even as far north as the Canadian prairies. He also plans trips for the public at large.

"It's very exciting to go out and do these 10-day trips with people from all over the world," he said.

These are not simply thrill-seeking adventures, Sirvatka stressed.

"The purpose of our trips is not show people stuff but to have people appreciate the dynamics of a system," he said. "We have lots of safety training. Then we watch the development of the storms and learn the difference between thunderstorms and those that are not."

He said the Plains is his favorite region of the country for storm chasing "because it's just easier to see the whole expanse."

Society's attention to weather means new lingo enters the collective lexicon, like the term "derecho" when a powerful wind storm blew across the area last summer.

Sirvatka likes to help program participants understand the why behind the words.

"I think the question that people most ask is, "Why do certain things happen?"

Sirvatka said he aims to provide some answers in his talk.

"I would encourage anybody to join who has sort of interest in the weather - including high school and junior high students," he said.

- by Ken Knutson

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean