Tornadoes to Master Naturalists: The variety of learning around Chicago outdoors
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CRESCENT CITY, Ill. — A woman in our church jumped out of a plane in her 90th year. I find that awesome.
She just celebrated her 92nd birthday. That’s no accident. There’s a strong connection between a good, full life with lively curiosity and a willingness to try new things.
I doubt I will last to 90, but I figure I have 25 good years left and intend to stay curious and actively learning.
During the last year, as our children grew old enough to manage themselves, I started tapping into some outdoors-related learning.
That’s partly why I was sitting Wednesday in one of the white plastic folding chairs lined in a community center for spotter training from National Weather Service senior meteorologist Kevin Donofrio.
By necessity — but I also think by personal preference — any outdoors person is a weather junkie. Weather matters whether you’re fishing, hunting, bird-watching or hiking.
Any weather junkie knows modern technology is a marvel, but as Donofrio noted, ‘‘You can’t see everything on radar.’’ That’s why when issuing warnings, especially for tornadoes, forecasters also factor in on-ground reports from spotters.
With that, Donofrio was into the training. Most spotter trainings run about two hours. Teaching includes such things as single-cell, multi-cell and super-cell thunderstorms, the differences between wall clouds and shelf clouds, updrafts and downdrafts and what most likely leads to a tornado. Super cells are most likely to produce a tornado, but even they produce a tornado less than 20 percent of the time.
A funnel cloud is rotating and only becomes a tornado when it touches the ground (sometimes visually confirmed only by debris and dust).
Trained spotters contact the NWS with significant weather information: tornadoes (as well as funnel clouds and rotating wall clouds), severe hail (quarter-sized or larger), damaging winds and flooding.
For spotter trainings in the Chicago area, which run through April, go to weather.gov/lot/spotter_talk.
The evening fired my interest enough that I signed up to take a training in March on CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network). Information is at cocorahs.org.
My first organized outdoors learning was last spring with the University of Illinois Extension Master Naturalist Program.
Holly Froning runs the Master Naturalists and Master Gardeners for Kankakee County from Bourbonnais. Last year, the Master Naturalists (she alternates years with the programs) met at Camp Shaw-Waw-Nas-See, which is along Rock Creek near Kankakee River State Park.
Mike Ward, an associate professor in the University of Illinois’ Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, worked magic when he taught ornithology one day and called birds while walking around Camp Shaw.
Another day, Derek Rosenberger, an assistant professor in Olivet Nazarene University’s Biological Department, taught us entomology, and we helped organize the school’s longtime insect collection.
I just started taking the Master Gardener course two weeks ago. It already featured a daylong training on college-level botany.
There are so many things to learn and do. I will not live long enough.
Next year, I hope to take Openlands’ TreeKeeper certification course. This spring, it is at Chicago’s Washington Park fieldhouse on Thursdays and Sundays from April 8 to May 3. Cost is $128. Information is at openlands.org/treekeepers.