NWS Nov. 17 Response

On November 17th, 2013 a major tornado outbreak occurred across the Midwest. After the damage surveys were complete the event ranked as the four largest tornado outbreak in Illinois history. VUSIT was very active throughout the community that day making sure everyone was aware of the dangerous situation.November 17, 2013

After hearing about the actions of the organization's members the National Weather Service reached out and asked to write a summary of the event. The following quotes are from Sam Berseth and Russell Danielson, Dr. Bart J. Wolf, and Matt Friedlein respectively. 

"For any day with the threat for severe weather in our area, the Valparaiso University Storm Intercept Team will issue a Code Yellow, signaling that the organization will hold a meeting to discuss the potential for a storm chase and the meteorological reasons behind it. Leading up to November 17, we knew that the forcings in place over our area were lining up just right to cause for a high risk. At the weather discussion we held the night of November 16, our concerns were raised that this situation might indeed be too dangerous for us to go.

On the early morning of November 17, the members of VUSIT met to have a final weather discussion concerning the potential for a storm chase. As an organization, and as careful meteorologists, one of our main goals on storm chases is safety. Chases provide us with an opportunity to view the storms in a way that will enhance the concepts we learn in class and build our nowcasting and observational skills. Because of this, we must assess the threat for the coverage, severity, and type of storms that we might be chasing on a particular day. On November 17, the threat was not only for strong, long-lived storms, but also for a high-risk threat that would cover a large area. And any storms that did form had the potential to produce tornadoes, some of which could even become large and violent. If we were to go out chasing, we needed to make sure that we could keep an escape route open as well as keep a safe distance away from anything that formed. We also revisited the actual goals of VUSIT, realizing that if we went chasing on November 17, the risk existed for getting caught between a series of violent storms, and that anything we saw could potentially involve destruction and towns getting hit. These events did not fit with the goals of VUSIT, and the safety of our members always comes first.

The moment we decided not to go chasing, we immediately explored ways we could help the university and surrounding areas and warn about the danger of this event. We realized that not only was this a dangerous situation, it was also occurring at a time of year that most people would’t be expecting such dangerous weather. Making sure the public was aware of the situation became our primary concern. We called the Valparaiso University Police Department (VUPD), explaining the situation concerning the high severe weather probability as well as the times we thought the severe weather would most likely strike the area. One of the VUPD officers came to the weather center in Kallay-Christopher to talk about the situation. We also talked with the Chief of the police department about severe weather likelihood, timing, possible effects, and outreach that our organization was doing in preparation. Soon afterward, multiple people from the organization went to businesses around town notifying them of the severe weather risk. We made sure that important buildings on campus, like the student union, had posters and signs up alerting the public of the severe weather. These signs also indicated a place to take cover and tips on how to keep safe. There was also a play being put on by the theatre department that day in the afternoon, so a group of members also went to speak with someone in charge to make them aware of the scenario, and to let them know the storms would be coming around the start time of the show. They should be prepared to shelter audiences and actors if necessary.

Many VUSIT members and meteorology majors came to the weather center to help keep an eye on the situation and contribute to our warning efforts. We made an announcement that everyone should call their family and friends and alert people as best they could about the severe weather threat. Multiple people posted on social media about the event and we alerted residential building personnel about the efforts they could make. Some members of the department even organized a weather balloon launch so that we could collect data. When the storms began getting closer to Valparaiso, we brought the group together to go over the plan that we would take as an organization to seek shelter. We realized for the amount of people that were in the weather center, the Kallay-Christopher building shelter was not large enough. So we planned to go to the union to seek shelter if needed." -Sam Berseth and Russell Danielson. 

"As the faculty advisor of VUSIT, I was very concerned about field operations on November 17 given the expected coverage, intensity, rapid motion, and visibility of severe convection.  With very little input from me, the leadership and membership of this student group decided that not only would field operations not be prudent, but that their time could be well spent during that day attending to the needs of the campus and area community for detailed weather information and safety advice,  They did a wonderful job in this regard, illustrating outstanding collective maturity, excellent logistical planning, and a considerable sense of concern for the well-being for others." -Bart Wolf

"Thank you for your detailed response of your course of action before and on November 17th!  We here at the office were "wow'd" to hear this.  That was great decision-making and leadership by this student group.  Dr. Wolf's thoughts really echo how community-before-self the group's actions were.  The work with the campus, police, and even businesses shows how you were literally Weather Ready Nation ambassadors, and a "force of nature" as we say ahead of severe and life-threatening weather.
Kudos to your entire group for your work!  We will be holding onto this account and I guarantee using it from time to time coming up.
Thank you again to you Sam, and Russell and Dr. Wolf as well!  Just outstanding!" -An email response from NWS Chicago's Matt Friedlein