Huskers spring game crowd spills into Weatherfest

Story and photos by Demetria Stephens, NewsNetNebraska

Storm spotters and families crowded into Hardin Hall on Saturday for the Central Plains Severe Weather Symposium and Family Weatherfest.

About 3,000 people came to the event, which Ken Dewey, professor of climatology at the School of Natural Resources, said was the largest crowd he had seen since the event started in 1999. Dewey coordinated 147 volunteers, symposium speakers and the Weatherfest event with demonstrations and exhibits for photography, weather safety and science from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dewey, who asks attendees to fill out surveys about the event, said he was surprised to discover that many of the people in attendance from outside of Lincoln came to his event because of the spring game.

“Number one in Nebraska, whether we like it or not, is sports,” he said. “Small town or big town, it’s sports. We’re not going to beat that. Number two in Nebraska, weather.”

Demetria Stephens

Mike Mogil (second from right,) a meteorologist in Naples, Fla., shows what happens when you add dry ice to water during the Central Plains Severe Weather Symposium and Family Weatherfest, April 6 at Hardin Hall in Lincoln, Neb.

Dewey said the encore to his event was the annual training for storm spotters at 2 p.m., with the public invited to attend. More than 100 people attended. Spotters are usually the first ones to see weather that could become severe weather warnings, he said.

“They volunteer, they do not get paid, they’re out there in the dark of night protecting all the citizens of Lancaster County,” Dewey said.

Jim Shorney, a storm spotter for about 30 years, said Lancaster County probably has the premier spotting network in the U.S. Shorney, an amateur photographer, ham radio operator and ghost hunter, was taking the spotter training with Bob Mitchell.

“We do it right and they try to emulate us,” Mitchell said. “They get on a ham radio about 9 p.m., every evening in the Lincoln area, he said.

Dewey said people of all ages can enjoy the weather.

“We discovered that families were hungry for family-friendly fun weather experiences.”

Demetria Stephens

Zach Schafel (left,) a sophmore fisheries and wildlife major, takes a photo of Dale and Kay Softley, in front of UNL professor Ken Dewey’s tornado photo at the Weatherfest in Hardin Hall, April 6. Dale is storm spotter and forensic agronomist who works with insurance companies on damage caused by weather. Kay takes photos of the damage.

One of those experiences is the opportunity for people to pose in front of a six-foot tall photo of a tornado that-Dewey took in 2004.

Dewey said his goal is to help those children and specifically women in science. Up to middle school, women outperform men, but by the end of high school, they fall behind, he said.

“Even today, we have women being told by guidance counselors, ‘Oh, that’s too hard, you wanting to go into science. You want to be a teacher or a librarian?’”

He started a weather camp and nature camp three years ago. Applications were open for the first time for UNL to host a National Weather Camp. He expected the camps to fill by the time he got home. The camps can give children a chance to meet others with similar interests, he said.

“They suddenly discovered there are other kids that are just like them,” he said, “where geek is cool and nerd is cool and grades are cool and wanted to go to college is cool.”

Dewey was working on the camps with H. Michael Mogil, a meteorologist giving a speech, “Extreme Weather on an Extremely Small Scale,” which focused on weather that changes quickly. Mogil tapped a pot of dry ice over a child volunteer’s head to “make it snow” in the building.

After the exhibitors started packing up and the storm spotter training began, Dewey again urged participants to fill out surveys with suggestions for next year.

“We literally don’t know what you want,” he said. We keep trying to guess. … Let us know what you want us to do next time, and there will be a next time.”

Here are the highlights of today’s event via Twitter:

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