Herald JournalHerald Journal, July 21, 2003

Storm chaser Tim Dahl

By Ryan Gueningsman
Staff Writer

Ever since being able to look out a window, Tim Dahl of Winsted has had a fascination with weather and meteorology.

So much so, that Dahl is a certified storm chaser, and also has taken an introduction to meteorology class at Ridgewater College in Hutchinson.

"That class taught why different areas of the country experience different storm systems, and that different latitudes create different storms," Dahl said. The class also covered how the mechanics of weather work, climatical changes, and how to forecast.

"We had to do a two-week forecast, and mine ended up being 85 percent accurate," Dahl said. Forecasting is done basically by weather trends and patterns.
Dahl become a certified storm chaser about five years ago at the age of 16. It was something he did through high school as a hobby, and continues to do so. He graduated from Holy Trinity High School in 2000 and is now attending classes to get his insurance license.

Every two years, storm chasers have to attend a four to five-hour class, which is hosted by each county, Dahl said. They get taught what to look for, the different characteristics of a storm, as well as safety precautions.

"Safety is big," Dahl said. "No matter what the situation is, you have to keep a safe route out, and know where the storm is moving.

"Once on the ground, a tornado can go in any direction."

When a tornado hit Buffalo Lake several weeks ago, Dahl was in the Gibbon-Fairfax area storm chasing, however, he could not see the tornado from his spot.

"It was such a bizarre storm," Dahl said. "It didn't follow a trend, it just sat in the same place and redeveloped."

Because of the storm chasers out that night, along with radar technology, the local law enforcement was able to let people know there was a storm coming, and to seek shelter, Dahl said. "There were no fatalities that I know of, and very few injuries."

Dahl began covering the immediate area around Winsted ­ towns such as Hutchinson, Howard Lake, Cokato, and other surrounding communities. He has expanded into a larger area.

Dahl was a half of a mile away from a wall cloud last Monday near Hutchinson.

"Another storm chasing team from Nebraska was in the area, and so was Channel Five (KSTP)," Dahl said.

One of the major things when it comes to chasing storms is that is should be done by trained people, Dahl said.

A perfect storm chase is one where you do not get rained on at all, he said. To date, Dahl has had this happen to him twice.

Once spotting storms or unusual patterns, storm chasers will call and talk directly with meteorologists, who base warnings and watches off the information given to them by storm chasers.

"Radar is a really good tool, but it can't see anything under the storm," Dahl said. "That visual confirmation is important."

Another important source of information is the World Wide Web. Dahl takes his laptop with him on his storm chases, which can be connected to the Internet via his cell phone.

The site he uses most often is www.weather.gov, and from there he follows the link to the area that he is in for the latest weather patterns. The site also offers information on when and where storm chaser classes will take place in each county.

The best way to go about finding the tornadic activity is to follow the wind.

"Warm wind blows towards the storm," Dahl said. "Wind also flows to the lowest point of the storm ­ it follows the laws of gravity." One misconception people may have about tornados is that they are in the center of the storm, but in reality, they are towards the back of it, he said.

The worst damage Dahl recalls seeing is the St. Peter tornado several years ago.

"I went with a group from school to help clean up, and I had never seen damage like that before," he said. "It's amazing how a tornado could tear down one house and not touch the next one."

He said that he had heard of personal papers being found as far as 60 miles away from St. Peter after the storm had blown its course.

Dahl sees storm chasing as a community service, and feels that it is important that meteorologists have accurate information to base their warnings and watches off of.

"The main goal," Dahl said, "is to use my knowledge and information to help save someone's life or property."

Back to Current Stories Menu | Back to Archives List

Herald Journal
Stories | Columns | Obituaries | Classifieds
Guides | Sitemap | Search | Home Page