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The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

The Student News Site of Tarrant County College

The Collegian

Thunder god valuable for student’s stormy successes

By Susan Tallant/managing editor

   (Part two in a series on storm chasers.)
   When severe weather forms in Texas, Clint Perkins feels an itch that must be scratched.
   Long before the skies turn black and the radar map turns red, Perkins hits the road in pursuit of the vicious storm to catch a glimpse of nature in all of its fury.
   Perkins, a 33-year-old Fort Worth native dubbed the “Lone Star Storm Chaser” by USA Today, has been chasing tornadoes since he was 16 years old.
   “ I start to watch weather patterns a couple of days in advance, so I can have a good idea of severity and location pinpointed,” he said.
   Perkins began studying weather patterns at an early age and knows what to look for when watching satellite images.
   “ I watch for primary ingredients such as upper level wind patterns, surface conditions and advancing fronts,” he said. “Then, I determine drive time to allow for hours on the road.”
   Perkins said severe weather typically initiates in early afternoon when surface heat reaches a maximum temperature.
   “ I like to be in a central location by noon,” he said.
   When Perkins was 16, he would limit his chases to Tarrant or surrounding counties. Now he travels as far as Nebraska if the weather looks promising.
   “ Tornadoes are the goal, but you must learn to appreciate the whole display Mother Nature provides,” he said, “and not just the tornadoes, or you will get burn-out quickly.”
   Perkins’ chase truck, a 2004 Toyota 4Runner, is named after a Greek thunder god. “Thor” is armed with a laptop computer, two ham radios, two scanners, two still cameras and a video camera.
   “ The truck sounds like a dispatch office at times with six radios going at once,” he said. “Most of the devices feed the information directly into a computer receiver inside of the chase vehicle.”
   Thor also sports an instrument that reads barometric pressure, wind speed and direction, temperature and dew point.
   “ The equipment on top of my truck has little sensors that relay the information for documentation purposes,” he said.
   “ This equipment can be very vital for future weather patterns with tornado occurrence,” he said.
   Perkins said this type of equipment is expensive, but it helps give better prediction time allowing for earlier warnings to the public.
   Steve MacLaughlin, meteorologist for NBC, said storm chasing is too dangerous for him personally.
   “ The people who are brave enough and educated enough to safely get near tornadoes claim it is the biggest rush in the world,” he said. “Most chase storms not just for the thrill, but to help save lives.”
   MacLaughlin said the weather team at NBC5 works with a staff of storm chasers, called NBC5 Storm Trackers, who stay in close contact with the NBC5 weather team and the National Weather Service during a storm.
   “ Without them, we would have no idea what is actually [happening] on the ground,” he said. “We use our computers and radars. They confirm what we see so we can tell anyone in harm’s way how to remain safe and alive.”
   David Clinkscale, Perkins’ Texas history teacher and social science department chair on South Campus, has no plans to get into an airplane that is going to deliberately fly into a hurricane, but he has enormous respect for those who do.
   “ What I really admire about Clint is that he not only developed his passion for stormy weather at a very young age, but that he’s stuck with it into adulthood,” he said.
   “ I find that kind of longevity of interest refreshing in these days of 15-second fads and 15 minutes of fame,” he said.
   Clinkscale said with Perkins, storm chasing does indeed rise to the level of passion.
   “ When he discusses his experiences, his eyes light up, he becomes animated. It is impossible not to get caught up in his enthusiasm,” he said.
   Clinkscale is also impressed with Perkins’ Web site and said it is full of really good information about the significance and influence of weather in our part of the country.
   “ [The site] was so well done that I asked his permission to establish a link to the site through my faculty Web page so that students in my Texas history class could use it as a resource,” he said.
   “ After all, you can’t teach Texas history without at least some knowledge of the profound effect climate and weather have had upon the human experience in our state,” he said.
   This spring, Perkins will assist Brian Waldrop, rocket designer and storm chaser, with a tornado-seeking rocket project.
   Perkins said project TSR will involve launching a rocket into a tornado within 200 yards of the storm.
   “ What we hope to accomplish is a pressure reading from within the vortex as well as a geo magnetometer reading,” he said. “This [rocket launch] will provide a reading on the magnetic field associated with the tornado.”
   Perkins said an onboard camera will record the entire flight into the tornado and relay the information back to the monitor inside the chase vehicle.
   Information about storm chasing and the TSR project can be found on Perkins’ Web site at www.mesopursuers.com.

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