Lauren Goelz, 8, sat in the front row of the Kankakee Community College auditorium Monday night for the Weather Spotter Training held by the Kankakee County Sheriff’s Office.
Goelz, of Chicago, came down with her mom, Jennifer, who works with Kalee Dionne, a weather forecaster for NBC 5 TV. Dionee was hosting the training along with Mike Bardou of the National Weather Service in Chicago. Dionne is Lauren’s idol.
“She’s going to be taking my job one day,” said Dionne of Lauren.
The Goelzes were part of 200 people on hand for the annual training.
“It’s great to have people out in the community because we’re not everywhere,” Kankakee County Sheriff Mike Downey said.
Tornadoes can occur in any month of the year, but April begins the peak season for severe weather. According to the NWS, April to June is the peak season for tornadoes, and those mostly occur between the hours of 2 to 8 p.m.
Bardou led a detailed presentation on weather spotter training, highlighted by videos and Powerpoint slides on the terminology on all aspects of severe weather from how storms are formed, different cloud formations and what to look for as a spotter.
“Spotters are very important to us,” Bardou said. “We’ve got a lot of fancy equipment. We’ve got a lot of high-tech equipment that’s always improving, always getting better. But radar has got limitations, and we need to see what’s going on, on the ground.”
The training underlined what ingredients are included in storms — moisture, instability (warm, humid air above cold air), lift and wind shear. It explained updrafts and downdrafts and how to distinguish a shelf cloud from a wall cloud. The do’s and don’ts of weather spotting also were covered.
“My favorite thing is tornado chasing, forecasting and hurricane chasing,” said Lauren, after the training.
She carries around a portable lightning detector.
“Whenever there is lightning, it counts it and says the distance,” Lauren said. “For example, if there was lightning, it would say 8 miles away.”
She also watches Dionne on TV all the time.
“She’s pretty awesome, and she’s as tall as I am,” said the diminutive Dionne. “My passion started when I was about her age as well. And not really knowing what I was looking at, I just knew I needed to know more about it. That’s still what it is. Even after being in this business for more than 10 years and after studying it for a long time, I still want to know more about it.
“That’s what drives the passion really.”
Dionne, a 2003 Herscher High School graduate, has made appearances at area schools to give weather presentations. She said weather spotters are invaluable.
“It’s important for everyone to be doing it, and it’s important for us to go out and talk with them about learning it as well as what we need from them and what they need from us,” she said. “It’s all about safety, so we have to work as a team.”