Cumberland Times-News


October 19, 2009

Professor chases storms for over 20 years

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


Arnold, a native of California, first taught his storm-chasing class in 1994 at Ball State University and introduced it to FSU when he came here in 2006. Typically, he takes about eight students in a van on a 31-day trip across the Great Plains to track and study storms. The class never has any vacancies.

“We’re trying to learn how the storms develop,” Arnold said. “How communities mitigate those storms, how the public reacts to those storms.”

Though television depictions often include footage of vehicles racing toward a tornado, a really good storm chaser doesn’t actually do much chasing, Arnold said.

“If you’re in the right place at the right time, a storm develops right on top of you,” he said, adding that forecasting where a storm will form is more than half the battle. “You keep watching maps, satellite images, trying to pinpoint an area that’s really about the size of two counties.”

Students who take Arnold’s class must sign a waiver. Safety is primary, he said.

“Some of the stuff on the reality shows you see, they’re trying to top each other,” Arnold said, adding that getting in front of a storm isn’t a prudent thing to do. “They’re in it for the fame of getting the best tornado shot ever. “

Arnold always approaches a tornado from behind, he said. At least when he’s teaching.

“No. 1, the way I chase by myself and the way I chase with students, there’s a big difference between the two,” he said.

Still, even caution can’t always provide protection from nature. A couple of years ago, Arnold and his students stopped at a restaurant at the end of their day, turning all their radar equipment off.

“A tornado went right by the restaurant and blew all the windows out of the van,” Arnold said. “We weren’t even chasing. It was crazy. Whamo. We got nailed.”

Contact Kristin Harty at

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