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Monday, May 2, 2016

Local weather enthusiast chases storms

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Chris Edwards displays the weather equipment on his truck. Edwards said he has recorded winds over 100 mph with this equipment.
Most people don't show any pride in dents, dings or cracked windshields in their cars.

Most people don't do free work that might require an hour of driving to provide.

Most people don't go looking for storms.

Edwards shows damage to his truck from a hailstorm he recorded data on.
Chris Edwards isn't most people.

Edwards is the severe weather expert for Putnam County. He runs storm spotter training classes for the county, with one coming up on Feb. 23 from 7 to 9 p.m.

Edwards does a variety of activities around the county related to severe weather, one of which is driving to where bad weather is and accumulating data.

"Last year I ran into the largest hail that's been recorded in the state," he said. "It was baseball-sized hail. It broke out my windshield and did about $2,500 worth of body damage to my truck, but I enjoyed it."

Hail isn't the only weather activity that gets Edwards excited.

"I've tracked down 17 tornadoes over the years," he said. "Five of them didn't have any warnings with them until I radioed in over amateur radio service."

Besides gathering data during storms and running classes, Edwards also helps with post storm surveys both for the National Weather Service and for Putnam County. He has also helped the county with damage assessments.

Kim Hyten, Putnam County's emergency management director, said Edwards has been a very good resource to the county, both because of his experience and because of certifications he has received.

"Since I came with the department in 1996, I've never had someone come to me and volunteer for such a job," Hyten said. "I don't know if I'd use the word thankless job, because I thank him tremendously, but there's a chance he could potentially do damage to his vehicle or possibly even be injured himself."

Edwards has been interested in severe weather since the mid-1980s.

"I saw my first five tornadoes in 1987 from my own front yard," he said. "I watched it for 30 minutes as it cycled through, broke apart and then a new tornado would develop from the same storm, which is somewhat common.

"Outside of that I've always been highly interested in meteorology," he continued. "It just seems like something I've always been good at. I was taught that if you're good at something, do it."

Edwards said before he could drive, he would get his parents to drive him out during bad weather. His interest in extreme weather continued as he got older.

"It has slowly, gradually evolved through the years," he said. "I went through my first class in 1995. Over the years I've become familiar with NWS personnel. They've kind of taken me underneath their wing and taught me pretty much everything that they know. I've got all the computer skills and all the radar training."

That exposure to NWS personnel led to greater responsibility with different meteorological phenomenon.

"Half the time they will contact me when there is a storm out in west central Indiana that they think I can get to in a half hour to an hour," Edwards said. "They trust me to find the right spots and to be safe."

As he became more involved with weather spotting, Edwards accepted more responsibilities.

"I rewrote the storm emergency siren activation criteria," he said. "It's going through the stages of being tweaked a little bit. Instead of just the tornado being the only sounding of the sirens, I want it to include baseball-sized hail, sustained winds or measured winds of 70 mph or higher -- which happens. Those will do substantial damage, especially when the trees get leaves on them. It gives people an extra warning to seek shelter if they choose to."

Edwards said he first became involved with the county because people recognized the distinctive equipment on his truck.

"I've probably put close to $2,000 into equipment," he said. "It records atmospheric air pressure, (wind speed) the dew point, which is the temperature where water will condense out of the air, relative humidity, temperature ... pretty much the whole thing. It records the extreme highs and lows."

Edwards said his equipment is getting old, but still works.

The class Edwards will teach Feb. 23 will allow people to interpret the difference between clouds and what weather patterns means, which Edwards has learned to do over the years.

"A lot of people mistake a tornado for shelf clouds, which is the leading front of a storm," he said. "You get that nice long string of clouds that kind of looks like a door wedge, it rolls over your head, the temperature drops 10 to 20 degrees, it gets a lot colder. Once you go through that area, the chances of real bad severe weather have diminished already."

Hyten said Edwards is a resource to the community.

"He's a fine resource and a qualified resource," Hyten said. "There's not a lot of people that I've ever seen come walking into my office, knocking on my door and saying 'hey, if you don't mind I'd like to chase storms and tornadoes that could potentially even damage me.' That's a statement I'd like everybody to know."

A few seats remain for the storm spotter training class. To register for the class contact Chris Edwards at stormchasing@hotmail.com

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