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Fairdale Still Fresh: Weather Watchers Of All Ages Get Training

Jenna Dooley

A standing room only crowd of northern Illinois weather enthusiasts recently learned how to properly spot severe weather conditions.

Fifth grader Evan Kemp of Somonauk is a weather watcher.

“I am usually in my house or at my boat looking at the radar and trying to see how bad it is.”

His mom Stephanie decided that his hobby could become useful for meteorologists in northern Illinois so they attended a recent training in weather spotting by the National Weather Service.

“It’s much different than when you are looking at a radar application on a phone and not seeing it in person and knowing what you are looking at. So being able to see in both dimensions—both the scientific dimension in front of you plus what’s actually happening in front of you,” Stephanie Kemp said.

They see images showing the differences between funnel clouds and "scuds." Those are tornado imposters.

Meteorologist Matt Mosteiko leads these trainings:

“We actually do have a fair amount of tornadoes for not really being like down in Oklahoma or Tornado Alley. Northern Illinois does get a fair share of weather—we get all of the seasons and we get winter storms and blizzards and lake effect snow from Lake Michigan,” Mosteiko said.

He says it’s a good time to bring people together with a similar passion.

“A lot of people like to bring up their personal stories. I just like to explore northern Illinois and see what the people have to say and I like to see all of the people sort of heeding the guidance that we give them.”

It’s an annual event, but with special meaning this year. The small community of Fairdale sits not too far from this training in DeKalb. Fairdale was nearly wiped out after a deadly tornado ripped through last April. Two people died.

Credit Jenna Dooley
Carter Lee, of Fairdale, attends a weather spotter course in DeKalb

10-year-old Carter Lee sat in the back of the room. He wore a custom T-shirt. Permanent marker reads “I survived [sic] the Rochelle/Fairdale tornado.” It’s signed by his friends. He lives in Fairdale, and is starting to see some of his neighbors return to new homes.

His mom Shannon says he’s always been interested in the weather, even before seeing a tornado firsthand.

"He’s like a little old man. He gets up on weekends and he gets his juice or whatever and he turns on channel 362...the weather channel. He can sit and watch it for hours," Shannon Lee said.

They took notes and shared looks when some of the images showed the destruction from their home town.

10-year-old Carter says there are some basics when severe weather comes:

“Find a safe spot like a ditch or a basement.”

Music to the ears of those gathered in the room.

Jenna Dooley has spent her professional career in public radio. She is a graduate of Northern Illinois University and the Public Affairs Reporting Program at the University of Illinois - Springfield. She returned to Northern Public Radio in DeKalb after several years hosting Morning Edition at WUIS-FM in Springfield. She is a former "Newsfinder of the Year" from the Illinois Associated Press and recipient of NIU's Donald R. Grubb Journalism Alumni Award. She is an active member of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association and an adjunct instructor at NIU.
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