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October 19, 2009

Professor chases storms for over 20 years

Summer class sells out each year, but experience not like on TV

FROSTBURG — Dave Arnold started chasing storms 2 1/2 decades ago, when it was something of a novelty.

These days, seems like everybody’s doing it — from the guy next door with a handheld camcorder to the Discovery Channel’s “Storm Chasers,” who drive armored vehicles into the midst of tornados for an international audience.

“I think it’s popular for the same reason reality television has become so popular,” said Arnold, a Frostburg State University geography professor who saw his first tornado in 1992 near Ellettsville, Ind., and hasn’t stopped pursuing them.

“I guess it’s because it’s real. It’s exciting. I think it’s something a lot of people fantasize about being involved with, but would never have the courage to do. It allows them to live that fantasy out.”

Arnold, who teaches a storm-chasing class every summer at FSU, will share some of his experiences with the community Saturday during a presentation at Frostburg United Methodist Church’s Fellowship Hall. Some of his photographs are stunning.

“Probably the most memorable thing last summer was a big tornado we saw in Goshen County, Wyoming,” said Arnold, who captured a black-and-white image of its slender, angling funnel cloud. “...We came up over the top of a hill, and there it was in all its glory.”

The American Association of University Women, which is hosting Saturday’s presentation, is trying to grow the organization by offering almost monthly speakers, said Yvonne Beal, president. Last month, a health care worker supervisor from Western Memorial Health System spoke about stroke; next month, an FSU librarian will discuss banned books.

“We try to get something that will be of value and be interesting,” Beal said. AAUW’s Frostburg chapter at one time had about 90 members, she said, but now has fewer than 30. Nationally, AAUW has more than 100,000 members.

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