As a little girl, I loved being bossy, being the leader, telling people how things should be done and why it should be my way or the highway. I loved trying to outsmart and know more than my friends at every chance available. Honestly, I remember learning about weather and different types of clouds in fifth grade and saying, “This is pointless. Why should we have to know this?” It’s amazing how that one ignorant statement, would change to such a deep passion just five years later! Oh the irony.
As I mentioned before I liked to inform people, being able to explain something that was previously not understood was my joy. In 2008, Hurricane Ike made landfall on the southeastern shores of Texas, namely Houston where I have family. Remembering Katrina, I was terrified for my uncle! I watched the news anchors and meteorologists on TV for the entire event. Eventually the system travelled up north to Illinois, where I live. I remember sitting on the steaming hot pavement of my grandpa’s driveway watching the storms approach. I was called inside as the adults realized the potential danger of the situation. Once I caught wits of this, I went straight to the TV, and sat for an hour listening to the meteorologist telling us this is dangerous for these areas…. tornado watch issued for cook county… I was entranced! I ran indoors and out multiple times to watch the RADAR and the reality. My friends and I talked with such urgency that usually accompanies a 10 year old’s mind at the thought of some danger. Again I was the one who knew a bit more, and just a bit ahead of everyone else, EXCEPT the people on TV. I did not like that. As the tornado sirens went off, I took responsibility of ushering my sister to the basement since my grandpa was doubtful of nothing actually happening.
My sister and I sat there for half an hour before we went back upstairs to my grandpa who was cutting apples. I heard the wind howling outside, curious I opened the door but my grandpa was outside before I could step over the threshold. I will never know exactly what he saw, but it was enough to pick up my sister and practically throw me down the stairs to the basement. I was inches away from seeing what he claimed to be a funnel. I never saw it. The next day I bragged to all my friends of what happened and I watched their expressions as I told them my story. That was a great feeling. After a while, I dropped my interest in weather again thinking the only decent paying jobs were all broadcasting and were impossible to get.
Flashing forward two miserable years to 7th grade. I was flipping TV channels until I came upon Discovery’s Stormchasers. The show was all science and every second was unpredictable. I loved it! It displayed beautiful shows of nature closely incorporated with scientists trying to crack the atmosphere, trying to figure out what seems impossible. It took me awhile to come to the realization, “Hey, these guys are getting paid. They are making a career out of this. Huh.” I think the main factor may have been that tornadoes are unpredictable; no one can tell what they are going to do. But what if I could? What if I can forecast better than these guys? What if I could make that discovery and know something no one else knows?
Twenty books later, I was obsessed! Nothing but weather could hold my attention for long! I started sneaking my books into class, occasionally getting reprehended, but all worth it. All the books I could get my hands on were “basics of”. I nourished my brain with field guides rather than that new issue of teen magazine! Still it wasn’t enough. I still couldn’t forecast and barely understood why storms formed at all. I started learning the ways of the Internet and shortly discovered NOAA and took a SKYWARN session through them. I remember meeting the Romeoville NWS head and blushing and stuttering so much. I couldn’t believe I was in the presence of someone who knew so much about what I now was.
My mom sadly started to realize that this wasn’t another phase I was going through and I was legitimate about making this my career. Through girl scouts we found Eddy Weiss and Chasing4Life giving out programs on severe weather from a real storm chaser! I was so excited to finally meet someone who has been out chasing and saving lives. My first class was addicting. My mom had created a monster, and I need much much more. Through Eddy I learned the other side of severe weather, the side that left devastation and death. Suddenly my world altered once more and now I was serving two personal goals; to become an extremely accurate forecaster and save lives of people who depended on those forecasts in the process.
One day I stumbled upon the webpage of Chasercon, the National Storm Chaser Convention in Denver, CO. It was something I just had to attend! While other kids were having graduation parties and big fancy gifts, I only wanted this adventure. Eventually I became so annoying and persistent that my mother approved the trip. Meanwhile I went to another of Eddy’s events and mentioned my trip to him at the end. Someone finally recognized me that night and we exchanged contacts. The three days of Chasercon overwhelmed me with information beyond my comprehension! I spent a few months deciphering all the material of supercell development, forecasting, radar technologies, chasing strategies, and so much more.
Forecasting was something I had to ease into. Not one prediction I made came true in my first month of attempts. I started talking with other chasers and their strategies and what they thought of a certain upcoming storm system. I watched the models play out and started to recognize the patterns. One afternoon Eddy called me, “Jessica, I would like for you to forecast for my team tonight. We need your help since I can’t frequently check the models.” That night my forecast made the center of the Storm Prediction Center’s Moderate Risk box. I grew more accurate with every forecast after that.
This itself is large and difficult journey, but add on having one parent (non-chaser), high school applications, and other kid’s cruel harassment throughout the final six months of eighth grade. I stayed true to my passion by keeping in contact with Chasing4Life and other storm chasers who encouraged me through the most difficult days of humility. Their words wouldn’t be the ones to decide whether or not I wanted a career in meteorology. Every pun and joke thrown at me was discriminating, but I found humor in it and laughed along with them. I had established that one thing in my life to strive for, why let arrogant classmates prevent further exploration?
As of today I have progressed more into the field of meteorology and emergency management than I could have ever imagined. I am the Lead Severe Weather Tracker and forecaster for Chasing4Life as well as an instructor! My forecasts have been used through multiple emergency personnel many times in the 2011 season. I have had forecasts ranging 72 hours out, with tornadoes within five miles of my targeted town. The last year has provided me with two beautiful tornadoes and many stunningly structured supercells within my vicinity. I have completed eight FEMA courses and have taken two Psychological First Aid classes through Chasing4Life. The support I have received from my family-blood related and friends- has undoubtedly lead me through the toughest challenges of my life so far, and I can not wait for the 2012 season to begin!