A storm-chasing team that studies tornadoes up-close in Iowa and across the region is gearing up for a new severe weather season. Ken Dewey heads the Vortex Intercept Team, composed of graduate students, faculty and government agency personnel. Dewey, a climate science professor at the University of Nebraska, says some tour companies offer trips for people to look at tornadoes, but his team is not open to the public.
Dewey says, "For us, we’re not out to see a tornado. We’re storm chasing. We want to go out and look at the storms and how they grow and evolve, and then we’re very interested in photography. It’s probably the biggest thing our group does." He says the Lincoln-based team covers a lot of territory.
They chase storms as far east as Des Moines and the northwest corner of Missouri, in addition to parts of Minnesota, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado and all of Nebraska, the Dakotas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Dewey’s team chased the May 2004 tornado that stayed on the ground for 52 miles through southeast Nebraska. It leveled a direct hit on the town of Hallam. Dewey remembers a call he got afterward from a storm chase team member at two-30 in the morning.
Neither of them could sleep, having seen the deaths and damage tornadoes can dish out. The caller, a graduate student, said it was a life-changing experience as he really needed to reconsider whether he wanted to do storm-chasing for a living. Dewey says the one thing in weather that is constant — is change.
"Things are always changing and that’s why we study weather," he says, "that’s why we study climate. It’s the unexpected. The one storm in 1980 with no storms within 700 miles that sat on top of Grand Island (Nebraska) and produced seven tornadoes the night of the twisters." Dewey says severe weather is still studied because experts often cannot predict movement while it’s still happening, nor can they know what’s going just a few weeks away.