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With Spirit Funder support, WKU Storm Chasers documented multiple tornadoes

With Spirit Funder support, WKU Storm Chasers documented multiple tornadoes

This year for Dr. Josh Durkee’s annual Field Methods in Weather Analysis and Forecasting class, the students had some extra support in the form of WKU’s new crowdsource funding project, Spirit Funder. To help offset travel costs associated with the class, the group was able to raise $4,500.

“It truly means the world to me that WKU selected us as part of their inaugural Spirit Funder campaign,” Dr. Durkee said. “It means even more to me that so many people contributed so much hard-earned money to help ease the cost burden on my students, as well as encouraged them to enjoy this exciting, unique and valuable learning experience.”

Upon return to WKU, the Storm Chaser group logged 6,776 miles across nine states (Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico and Colorado) between May 15-29. That brings the total travel distance of 58,191 miles driven since 2010 during a 16-week period, or a distance equal to 2.3 times the distance around the equator.

Overall, the group documented four to five tornadoes across Texas and Oklahoma, and numerous tornado and severe-warned supercell thunderstorms that produced damaging hail and wind and flooding rains.

“One of our most challenging days involved documenting a tornado less than two miles away and pulling over to wait while another tornado was passing through Elk City, Oklahoma, where we were expected to stay the night,” Dr. Durkee said. “The entire city was without power, including our hotel, the damage was quite extensive, and unfortunately there was one fatality reported.”

The following day, the group added their name to the Red Cross volunteer list to assist with local cleanup and reunification efforts; however, the emergency management situation was too inundated to take on more volunteers at that time.

“Anyone who participates in this trip is often surprised by the variety of experiences the class typically involves,” Dr. Durkee said. “This year we not only stayed quite busy with forecasting and documenting severe storms, we were able to learn more about disaster emergency management, and we even took in some of the physical landscapes, including Palo Duro Canyon in Texas, the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado, Black Mesa in Oklahoma and Sandia Peak in New Mexico. It’s a fantastic experience each year.”

Students are working on case-study research projects related to certain severe weather events from the trip. Meanwhile, Dr. Durkee is already preparing the class for 2018.

Students who were selected to participate in the 2017 course are Jessica Dobson of Louisville; Justin Hobbs of Irvington; Paige Noël of Friendsville, Tennessee; Pierce Larkin of Lawrenceburg; Kelli McShane of Orland Park, Illinois; Jonathan Oglesby of Greenville; Thomas Giebel of Germantown, Maryland; Tori Hampton of Knob Lick.

More information about the WKU Storm Chase group is available on Twitter at

Contact: Josh Durkee, (270) 745-8777

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 Last Modified 5/2/17