Storm Chasers in Training Watch Dean

As Hurricane Dean barrels toward Jamaica as a Category 4 storm and moves closer to the United States, people potentially in the path of storms like it are learning to brave the elements to send back images from the front lines.

A dedicated few always stick around when bad weather hits. Storm chasers risk their lives to get close and study all sorts of meteorological monsters from hurricanes to tornadoes.

Now, one college class is offering students the chance to chase storms for credit.

Professor David Arnold has been chasing tornadoes for the last 24 years.

"[When] I saw my first tornadoes, and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life," he said. "The only thing that's ever come close is watching both my kids be born, to be honest."

Arnold now passes his knowledge to others in a summer class at Maryland's Frostburg State University. For the course, the field is the classroom. Arnold's students learn about these storms the same way he did — chasing them.

"They learn about storms," Arnold said. "They learn about forecasting. They learn about mitigation of severe storms in terms of emergency management."

In the field, his students watch storms as they develop. But Arnold said reality isn't quite as it is depicted in the motion pictures.

This year's students began their chase in Missouri. For 22 days, they traveled a zigzagging trail to Texas, Oklahoma and New Mexico then up to South Dakota, Colorado, Kansas, North Dakota, Wyoming, Wisconsin and Indiana.

"We get up kind of early and have a meeting and do a briefing and pick out where we're going to drive," said student Melissa Riddle. "And we'll get there and we'll set up, look at the satellite and the radar. "

At first, they struck out. There was nothing much in Missouri, then only lightening and hail in Oklahoma, but still no twisters.

Finally, in North Dakota they discovered what they wanted: a tornado.

"This evening in North Dakota was clearly the most memorable experience of the trip at this point in time," Arnold said. "I've seen students cry when they see those storms because it's so overwhelming."

Students said finally catching up with the storm gave them an adrenaline rush.

"It's analogous to being a pilot," Arnold said. "When you're in that bad situation, you swear to God you'll never get yourself in that again. And as soon as it's over, you can wait to start again."

Even though Arnold's students describe storm chasing as an incredible thrill, they realize it is risky business. To take the course, they have to sign one thing first — basically, it's a death waiver.