Fermilab 2015 Tornado and Severe Storm Seminar

Annual Fermilab Tornado and Severe Storm Seminar with WGN TV's Tom Skilling


When: Saturday, March 28, 2015
Time: Noon, and repeated at 6:00 pm.
Where: Fermilab National Laboratory, Ramsey Auditorium
Fermilab is approximately 40 miles west of Chicago in Batavia. The entrance is off Kirk Road, about 3 miles north of I-88.
Admission is free!

This year's speakers include:

Mayor Gary Manier, Washington, Illinois and Sean Lewis, WGN-TV, the station's reporter/anchor first on the scene Sunday, November 17th, 2013 in the wake of the horrific EF4 tornado in Washington, IL.
At ground-zero in Washington, IL in Illinois's worst November tornado on the books, an EF4 twister with 190 mph winds, which leveled a huge swath of that central Illinois community killing 3, and all this only 16 months ago (Nov. 17, 2013).

The region had been on alert for a week that a potentially serious weather system was on its way. Forecasts out of the Storm Prediction Center, whose director joins us Saturday, March 28th at Fermilab, warned days in advance that the weather system coming together was more than worrisome, it was scary. The issuance of a rare "high risk" of severe weather at midnight Sunday morning made it clear, the area was on the precipice of a serious severe weather event. Less than 12 hours later, it happened. But nothing can fully prepare a community for what actually happened just after 11am on Sunday, November 17th. With many in the central Illinois community of 15,000 in church, and others preparing to watch the Bears game at home on a quiet Sunday, a fateful tornado warning was issued out of the Lincoln, Illinois National Weather Service Forecast Office. It read:

Tornado text for November 17th, 2013

The EF4-intensity twister which roared into Washington with winds estimated up to 190 mph was to remain on the ground 46 miles, cut a damage path up to a half mile wide and was to level more than a thousand homes, kill three and produce devastation estimated at nearly 900 million dollars. So violent was the storm that documents and photos were to arrive with the storm's remnants here in the Chicago area, more than 100 miles away.


WGN-TV reporter Sean Lewis was to arrive from Chicago four hours after the storm struck and encountered a world levels by the fury of the state's more devastating and deadly November tornado. We've never welcomed a reporter to the Fermilab stage who faced the staggering task of trying to report on devastation of a tornado.
Dr. Louis Uccellini, Director of the National Weather Service, Silver Spring, MD: A historic upgrade in supercomputing speed is underway at the National Weather Service, but one facet of efforts to bring more accurate forecasts and move the nation toward "Weather Ready" status. Also, a look back at the crazy extremes of Winter 2014-15: Record Northeast snows; record western warmth and drought

The most sweeping increase in supercomputing speed in the National Weather Service's history will assist mightily in efforts to produce a range of higher resolution, more accurate computer forecast models across the board. It's a component of the National Weather Service's drive toward a Weather Ready Nation and the effort comes on the heels of the extraordinary of winter of 2014-15 But, that's hardly all that's going on under NWS Director Dr. Louis Uccellini's watchful eye. The manner in which the agency's forecasts and warnings are constructed is under the microsope with a goal of toward fine-tuning their effectiveness in communicating weather risks to the users of these predictions as well as the degree of forecast uncertainty. Dr. Uccellini's presentation with us at Fermilab in 2015 is to look at the National Weather Service's latest moves toward creating a Weather Ready Nation--a nation prepared to weather extremes like the record-setting November, 2013 tornado outbreak across Illinois. And, our nation's Leading Weather Forecaster and life-long observer of winter storms, is to look back on the record-breaking snows which lambasted the Northeast time and again.

Computer modeling, high-speed communications and remote sensing of the atmosphere by satellites, in-flight aircraft, buoys and networks of surface based weather observation stations have all contributed to a revolution in weather forecasting which has led to a slow, steady increase in weather forecast accuracy for more than a half century. We now, in many cases, see high-impact weather events coming together a week or more in advance. But, forecasts aren't perfect. The atmosphere is an incredibly complex natural system. The quest toward better, more accurate forecasts continues--as does an effort to craft forecasts and warnings with greater clarity so they communicate the nature of weather threats more clearly to affected populations while making an effort to lay out the uncertainties inherent in these predictions.

The speed at which National Weather Service supercomputers are able to solve the complex equations which describe how weather systems come together is critical. Increasing this speed enable teams of this country's most brilliant modellers to produce weather forecast models which handle weather developments in greater detail and at greater range.

This effort has an impact on the entire national weather enterprise, impacting the work of broadcast meteorologists to military and private forecasters. The National Weather Service is the agency whose data and modeling efforts underpin EVERY weather forecast and weather-related informational product generated in this county.

Efforts to generate warnings which are clear in communicating risk but also lay out uncertainty is an ongoing challenge which is being tackled by National Weather Service through a cadre of social scientists who study just how such warnings are received and interpreted by those who use these forecasts. Spearheading and guiding all of these efforts is National Weather Service Director Dr. Uccellini, who is passionate in describing his agency's drive toward producing a Weather Ready Nation---a nation prepared for a range of weather conditions which may be among the most challenging anywhere in the world.

Dr. Russell Schneider, Director of the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Oklahoma: The National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center: Our country's round-the-clock Severe Weather Sentinel

Imagine having the 24/7 responsibility of overseeing the effort to forecast outbreaks of severe weather across the United States. It's a mammoth responsibility. Those are the shoes filled by Chicago area native Dr. Russell Schneider and his staff at the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma. Russ, who points to outbreaks of severe weather in this area as having ignited the interest in these storms, remains passionately intrigued by these storms to this day, as does the remarkable staff of scientists with whom he works every day.

More than 75% of the world's tornadoes occur in the U.S. and April, May and June mark the busiest months for these storms. This is why, for 35 years, we've set aside time in this period of the year, to talk about the incredibly important subject of severe weather and the remarkable tracking and weather forecast system which has been developed to predict and warn about it.

The Storm Prediction Center issues all of the country's severe thunderstorm and tornado watches and also puts out critical wildfire guidance and forecasts which have taken on a new urgency in recent years as drought and warming temps across the West and Plains have led to extraordinarily active fire seasons.

Chris Strager, Central Region Director, Kansas City, Missouri: NWS's "Weather Ready Nation" program: Surviving Extreme Weather Events

Forecasts of high-impact weather events are growing more accurate and warnings are being issued on a more timely basis with a good deal of lead time. Yet an alarming loss of life continues.

From April 25-28, 2011, 355 tornadoes--including the infamous Tuscaloosa, Alabama twister--skipped across 21 states. Only a month later, on May 22, 2011, a tornado ravaged Joplin, Missouri. The threat of each outbreak had been highlighted by the media and National Weather Service forecasts days in advance and, on the day of these storms, both warnings and watches went out in a timely fashion affording advance notice of the storm threat. Yet 513 died and more than a thousand people were injured. This is a tragedy of immeasurable proportions. What can be done to avoid this kind of loss of life, even when watches and warnings come out in a timely fashion? This is one of the key functions of the National Weather Service's Weather Ready Nation program. Joining us to discuss this is one of the key architects of the Weather Ready Nation program, Chris Strager, the National Weather Service's Central Region Director out of Kansas City, Missouri.


Dr. Steven Ackerman, Director of The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) and Professor of Meteorology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison: The indispensible role of weather satellites in observing and forecasting the weather--including severe weather--and in monitoring climate change

The University of Wisconsin-Madison was the birthplace of satellite meteorology more than a half century ago, a by-product of the late Dr. Verner Suomi there, widely considered the father of satellite meteorology. Suomi and colleagues were the first to put instruments for launch into space to look back at our planet's weather. The satellite offers a perfect platform from which to look at, measure and better understand earth's atmosphere. The Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies (CIMSS) at UW-Madison continues as one of the world's leading weather satellite research facilities. Though collaborations with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the University of Wisconsin and other universities, institutes and research and operational meteorological centers, Dr. Steve Ackerman and 100 associates there, develop and produce satellite derived products which seek to improve the forecasts of severe storms with an eye toward moving these out of the research lab and into operational use. You see CIMSS analyses and other products cited regularly when reading National Hurricane Center (NHC) hurricane discussions.

Dr. Steve Ackerman received his doctorate as the University of Colorado and has a list of awards and recognitions far too numerous to list here. But they include being a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society, NASA's Exceptional Public Service Award, being a Fellow of he Wisconsin Academy of Science, Arts and Letters and The Chancellors Award for Distinguished Teacher at the University of Wisconsin. His own work has dealt with the distribution of radiative energy as it impacts our planet's climate.

Dr. Donald J. Wuebbles, The Harry E. Preble Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois, Urbana:  Severe Weather in a Changing Climate (afternoon session)

The 2014 U.S. National Climate Assessment (NCA) draws upon the latest scientific understanding of climate and climate change, synthesizing recent advances in the understanding of the science, and providing a succinct overview of the past and projected effects of climate change on the United States. The NCA was conducted under the auspices of the Global Change Research Act of 1990 that requires reporting to the President and the Congress an analysis every four years that integrates, evaluates, and interprets the state of the science. The 2014 assessment shows that climate change is clearly happening now, happening extremely rapidly, it is affecting the American people, and the changes occurring are primarily because of the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases and particles resulting from human activities. These conclusions are based on observations and detailed scientific analyses. Scientific analyses indicate a strong link between changing trends in severe weather events and the changing climate. This presentation describes the major science findings with a special focus on severe weather. The bottom line is that climate change is one of the most important issues of our time, something we should all be concerned about. Yet, it is important that we also have a sense of hope – we can adapt to the changes in climate that are unavoidable and we can prevent the worst of the projected changes that would most affect our children and grandchildren.

Doug Sisterson, ARM Climate Research Facility at Argonne National Laboratory, Lemont, IL:  What we Know and Don't Know about Climate Disruption (evening session)

Climate change is probably the greatest challenge we face in modern society, yet many of us don’t fully understand the causes or the consequences. Washington Governor Jay Inslee famously stated: “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”
Doug will address the mixed messages we receive in media and elsewhere and will explore in detail the striking scientific data that points to trouble ahead. While the cause of climate disruption is certain, the timing and impact of the impact where we live is uncertain.  Doug will provide a general overview of climate based on the science-based evidence of what we know.

Ed Fenelon, Area Manager, National Weather Service Chicago area Forecast Office-Romeoville, IL: Marking the 50th anniversary of one of this area and the country's most devastating tornado sieges: The Deadly Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak of 1965
The Palm Sunday 1965 tornado outbreak was one of the most deadly and destructive in recorded history. April 11, 2015 will mark the 50th anniversary of this devastating event in which 47 tornadoes tore across 6 states resulting in 271 fatalities, over 3400 injuries, and more than a billion dollars of property loss. We’ll review what happened on that day in history, including taking a look at the atmospheric conditions that led to such explosive severe weather development. We’ll see how surveys of this event led Dr. Fujita to corroborate his theory of suction vortices within large tornadoes. We’ll also chart some of the lifesaving initiatives put into motion following this tornado outbreak including: implementation of the tornado watch and tornado warning program as we know it today, the SKYWARN storm spotter program, expanded Weather Radio and weather wire, the collaborative partnership with local TV in broadcasting warning messages, increased linkages with local emergency management authorities, public tornado preparedness and education efforts, and the increased acceptance of professional meteorologists in the media. /div>

Brian Smith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, National Weather Service Omaha, Nebraska Forecast Office, Valley, NE: Riveting video of violent tornadoes on the ground simultaneously in Nebraska makes national news

A Look at the 16 June 2014 Tornadoes in Northeast Nebraska. Brian will be showing us video of these twisters and the damage they produced. That this was an occasion in which multiple violent tornadoes were on the ground simultaneously and in relatively close proximity made national news. It's not every day you see multiple violent tornadoes on the ground at the same time.

Brian will look at the results from the damage survey and also look at the success of cell phone alerts of this tornado event that saved lives in Pilger, NE as well as with the EF4 twister which ravaged Washington, IL.

Tom Skilling, Chief Meteorologist, WGN-TV and the Chicago Tribune: It's been one of this country's most iconic tornado photos of all time.
My producer Pam Grimes tracked down the wife of the photographer, Paul Huffman, who was in the front seat of their car when he snapped the now famous shot--as well as others who remember that horrific storm.

Goshen Tornado from 1965

Ed Fenelon of the Chicago National Weather Service will talk more about the specifics of the mammoth outbreak. This photo, which was for many years among the only twin tornado shots of its kind to receive wide distribution, was snapped by now now deceased Paul Huffman as the storm hit the Midway Trailer Court near Goshen. A large version of the photo adorns the wall of the Elkhart Truth newspaper. Their managing editor talks about the importance of the storm to that area even 50 years later.

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