Wednesday, May 23, 2018

T.R.'s Closing Thoughts

T.R.'s Closing Thoughts

I can't believe it has been almost two weeks since the SWIFT van left Annapolis in search of severe weather. It has been a ~wild~ ride, one full of unique experiences and lasting memories. I have enhanced my understanding of tornadogenesis and supercellular storms, while expanding my interest in meteorology and severe weather. This hands on experience allowed me to apply classroom concepts in the largest laboratory possible. Since we have covered so much, literally, in the last two weeks, here are my Top Ten Takeaways.

1. No matter how well you may think you understand a concept, witnessing it in the real world is worthwhile to help solidify your understanding. Seeing concepts play out in front of me was an incredibly rewarding and educational experience and one that can only be achieved by stepping outside the conventional classroom.

2. We did not see the number of tornadoes that we had hoped for. This was a disappointment for us, but the lack of tornadoes this year is a blessing for others. It’s important to remember that your desired storm can derail other’s lives. Always maintain that perspective and attempt to learn from each storm.

3. Being in a car for well over 100 hours may sound terrible, but fill it with the right people, snacks, and music, and it won’t seem too bad.

4. Storm Chasing brought me to areas of the country that I never thought I would end up in. We travelled through towns of less than 1,000 people and passed homes miles from the nearest neighbor. Just being someone who lives a different lifestyle that what most of us are accustomed to does not mean that they don’t live a fulfilling or important one.

5. Be thankful for the SPC. Trust the SPC. They are incredibly smart and dedicated to producing useful products. While it may be easy to disregard their warnings as overreaction, they work hard to keep the country safe and alerted to dangerous weather.

6. One of my favorite days of the trip was our STEM outreach to the Osage County Co-Op school. The kids were great and seemed excited to learn. We only taught for about 2 hours, but I quickly developed a true admiration for teachers, especially at the elementary and middle school levels. Their job is difficult, yet critically important and grossly underappreciated.

7. Driving through rural Kansas, Nebraska, Texas, and Oklahoma allowed me to witness where my meats and grains come from. Behind every neatly packaged steak or box of cereal is a long line of hardworking individuals whose profession is one of the most demanding. Farmer’s drive our country and deserve more recognition for their difficult lifestyle. It was rewarding to witness this lifestyle firsthand.

8.Palo Duro Canyon State Park is breathtaking. If your ever find yourself traveling through the Texas panhandle it is well worth visiting. It’s like a mini Grand Canyon, and for someone who has never been to the actual Grand Canyon, Palo Duro was my first experience with such striking desert scenery.

9. Mother nature holds all the cards. We, as a society, need to continue to find ways to better anticipate severe weather and prepare those who we anticipate to be affected. In terms of tornadoes, just 15 minutes advanced warning can save countless lives. This trip has really strengthened my interest in severe weather preparation and management.

10. You can’t always get what you want. I would have loved to see a strong tornado every day in the middle of an isolated field. The atmosphere, however, had other plans. All we could do was put ourselves in the best position possible and hope for the best. Such is life, all we can do is prepare to the best of our abilities and let the cards fall where they may.


Thank you very much to the Naval Academy STEM Department, the Oceanography Departments, LCDR Burich, Dr. Barrett, Keely, Aspen, Noah, Jordan, and Cameron for an amazing experience. I will surely look back on SWIFT 2018 with appreciable memories.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Keely's Closing Thoughts

Chasing last year was so thrilling, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to do it again. The adrenaline of chasing is so unexpected, but being able to see the sky turn from a calm blue into a turbulent gray-green is unmatched. Although the tornado count was low and the season overall was slow, I still learned new things every day. I continue to be fascinated by the unexpected wonders of the atmosphere. Hiking the Palo Duro Canyon made me realize just how much I'm missing just a few miles from home. Climbing the rock fall at Wichita Mountain in Oklahoma opened my eyes to how uncoordinated I am and deepened my hatred for mosquitoes.

Having taken a few more courses in meteorology, including atmospheric thermodynamics and synoptic meteorology, I felt like SWIFT was a culminating event, reinforcing more of the concepts I studied in class. Vising the 15th Operational Weather Squadron did not feel like a repeat because of how much more I learned this year. the SPC visit also felt like a new experience because of how fascinating it is to be in the center of severe weather forecasting.

The unnatural color of the clouds during severe weather is truly my favorite part. Photos are unable to capture the feeling of standing in the middle of a field with turbulent skies overhead with wind on all sides. SWIFT continues to be my favorite opportunity offered by USNA, and I hope to be able to chase again.

Aspen's Closing Thoughts

Ever since high school, attending the Naval Academy Preparatory School, and currently attending the United States Naval Academy, I have wanted to be an Oceanography major. The material constantly intrigues me, especially in my meteorology class. SWIFT has given me the opportunity to not only gain an understanding of how the sciences work but physically enjoy these processes occurring with my own eyes. My knowledge of the formation of supercell storms and tornadoes have greatly expanded by experiencing in field training, and I am grateful for being able to apply what I know on paper to reality and what is happening in the world around me.

SWIFT was full of adventures, taking on thousands of miles in our 'weathered-out' duty van ready to catch storms. Gaining a new perspective on paper road maps and Atlas' is something our generation lacks and learning how to navigate using these tools has broadened my knowledge. The long road trips with a great group of Midshipmen and the laughs I've had with them is something I will never forget... it is like a road trip with your family.

From catching sunsets to officially ending SWIFT with a tornado, I am ever so grateful for the opportunities USNA presents. The lectures before the trip, all of the classes, and the academic push during the trip were all absolutely worth this experience.

- A.S.B.

Noah's Closing Thoughts

My experience becoming an Oceanography major in a way mirrored my experience of being added as a member of the SWIFT team - hectic and extremely unconventional. I did not realize my desire to switch to Oceanography until midway through one semester of another major, and the opportunity to join SWIFT did not open up until nearly a week before the team's departure. Although my addition was unique and unexpected, I was grateful for the team's willingness to immediately accept me into the group.

This past semester, I've fallen in love with the material I've been studying in both my Oceanography and Meteorology classes. I am passionate about the environment, and it has been intriguing to begin to unravel the secrets of the math and science behind our understanding of how the atmosphere works. Aside from the thrill-seeker and adventurer in me, this academic interest was my main motivation for embarking on SWIFT; I desired to apply the classroom concepts learned this past semester to real-life scenarios. I've also always had a soft spot for long family road trips, which is essentially what this trip became.

SWIFT simultaneously fulfilled my expectations and also completely surprised me. I was amazed by the sweeping landscapes, powerful storms, and lightning shows, and I was concurrently unprepared for the hours upon hours of deliberation, uncertainty, and the often frustrating unpredictability of the natural environment (ironic, I know). The team shared countless laughs throughout the journey and I greatly expanded my practical meteorological knowledge. Plus, we even saw a tornado on our last chase day - I swear we did.

- N.R.E.

Cameron's Final Thoughts

It is difficult to find trainings at the Naval Academy that provide extensive opportunities to apply classroom concepts to real-world circumstances. SWIFT is almost certainly one of those trainings. Never before had I been able to connect somewhat abstract meteorological principles to reality. PowerPoint and whiteboard diagrams are often the preferred means of information transmission in the classroom, but learning through experience and observation is exponentially better. Meteorological concepts are made crystal clear: it is next to impossible to not understand what a rear-flank downdraft is when one is hitting you directly in the face!

The logistics dimension of SWIFT should also not go unmentioned. Our planning and decision-making skills were tested every single day, as we briefed others on the daily atmosphere landscape through model predictions, SPC outlooks, and forecast discussions from the National Weather Service. Once we were on the road, our target area and route often shifted as satellite or radar data confirmed or disproved model projections. We practiced effective communication, relaying hotel reservations, fuel stops, and other relevant information to members of the team in a timely manner. We made plans, only to revise those plans with the revelation of new insights into the life cycle and mechanisms of the storm.

SWIFT was truly a formative experience- it confirmed and strengthened my passion for severe weather. It was excellent training that was relevant in every way to our future careers as Navy and Marine Corps officers. I would highly recommend this experience to anyone with an interest in learning more about meteorology and the science behind our atmosphere!

Jordan's Final Thoughts

SWIFT 2018 was an experience that fostered learning in a fun, positive environment. Being able to directly take what I learned in the spring semester and apply it to the field was a gratifying feeling that I will not soon forget. Despite only seeing one tornado the entire trip, morale was relatively high throughout the entire experience. I thoroughly enjoyed developing relationships with the other members of the team and working as one unit. The days were long and could sometimes be disappointing because we did not always see much, but the positivity of the entire group made SWIFT a great internship to be on.

Not only did what we learn in the field reinforce what we learned in the classroom, we also dove into topics that we did not have time for during the academic year. I have a whole new appreciation for meteorologists because I now have a deeper understanding of the work that goes into forecasting. Meteorology is complex and requires accuracy and attention to detail. By developing a weather discussion on almost a daily basis, touring the 15th Operational Weather Squadron, and touring the NOAA Storm Prediction Center, I figured out very quickly the amount of work that goes into forecasting. I love that I can now look outside and have a fundamental understanding about what meteorological processes are taking place. SWIFT is an amazing internship that I would recommend to anyone!

-J.J. Neal
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Day 11 In Review

"Lucky Day!"

In the evening hours of 21 May, the SWIFT team witnessed its first tornado east of the Sacramento Mountains. After a long transit from Altus, Oklahoma, the SWIFT team set up shop near Roswell New Mexico. Significant moisture directly east of the Sacramento Mountains as well as surface heating contributed to the storm. "Orographic lift" was the new term learned by the team which is essentially cloud formation due to an air mass being lifted as it ascends up a mountain. Orographic lift played a large role in the formation of the storms because, without it, the environment would have been much more dry, negatively impacting storm formation. 

The unusually high terrain made it a bit difficult to chase in this area of New Mexico. Nonetheless, the SWIFT team was able to witness a gorgeous supercell and small tornado that occurred just before dusk. This was a magnificent end to a somewhat uneventful journey. The SWIFT team is looking forward to a 3-day transit back to the United States Naval Academy.

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