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Skilling to host popular weather seminar at Fermilab

BATAVIA – Tornadoes that hit Illinois in November, leading to the death of seven people and destroying thousands of homes and buildings, demonstrated just how dangerous severe weather can be.

And severe weather can strike anywhere, including in Kane County, said WGN-TV chief meteorologist Tom Skilling, who will host the 34th annual tornado and severe weather seminar Saturday at Fermilab in Ramsey Auditorium.

Two sessions will be presented, at noon and at 6 p.m.

“The fact is, these tornadoes have occurred in places that seem to be geographically unfavored for tornadoes,” said Skilling, who grew up in Aurora. “They’ve seen tornadoes on mountain tops; they’ve seen them down in valleys. We’ve had tornadoes in the city, even though many people feel that Lake Michigan is an absolute deterrent.”

WGN-TV will stream the entire seminar starting at noon on Gov. Pat Quinn, who has toured the storm-ravaged areas, will be part of the noon seminar.

Visitors should enter the Fermilab grounds via the Pine Street entrance off Kirk Road in Batavia. Attendees are advised to get there early because of the sessions’ popularity.

The event attracts thousands every year.

Skilling started the seminar in 1981 with Brian Smith, a Geneva native who is now the warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Omaha, Neb. Smith is among the speakers who will be at the seminar.

Skilling said he hopes those who attend the seminar realize the importance of having an emergency plan in place in the event of severe weather.

“There is no reason to believe there is an immunity from these storms,” Skilling said. “And therefore, it’s pretty wise to take them seriously and have a plan and think it out. And that’s one of the things we hope to do through these seminars, to talk about not only the big issues like climate change and how that may be affecting the occurrence of storms, but also to look at storms that have occurred and the damage they have produced in order to protect ourselves when new ones happen.”

Russell Schneider, director of the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center in Oklahoma, also will speak at the seminar.

“They’re the folks who put out all the country’s tornado watches and warnings,” Skilling said. “And boy, they nailed this tornado outbreak we had on Nov. 17, days ahead of time. They were right on target with that, and had that area in a high-risk area that day.”

He believed those warnings helped save lives that day.

“When you look at the carnage that the storms unleashed, it’s amazing that more people weren’t seriously injured,” Skilling said. “You’ve got to believe that timely warnings helped a great deal.”

Skilling said he believes man-made climate change is behind the extreme weather events that have been occurring around the world.

“There’s little doubt that we’re changing the chemistry of the atmosphere,” Skilling said. “There have never been higher carbon dioxide levels than we’ve got going right now. While we were cold this winter, much of the rest of the world was abnormally warm. There were all kinds of unique weather anomalies everywhere. This is completely consistent with the notion that our changing climate is going to produce more extreme weather.”

Other speakers include weather service director Louis Uccellini, who will discuss the improvements in technology that have allowed forecasters to better predict extreme severe weather events.

“The National Weather Service is undergoing an historic upgrade in their computing capability,” Skilling said. “Next summer, the National Weather Service will have more computing capability for the first time in decades than the Europeans have.”

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