Breaking the ice: Erie meteorologist talks to students about the weather | News, Sports, Jobs


Times Observer Photo by Brian Ferry Erie News Now Weekend meteorologist Sara Tonks talks to students at Beaty-Warren Middle School about the history of weather.

Discussing the weather isn’t always small talk.

From storm chasers and hurricane chasers to the Galveston Flood of 1900, the Super Outbreak of 2011 and Hurricane Irma in 2017, Erie News Now weather forecaster Sara Tonks brought the weather to life for students at Beaty-Warren Middle School.

Tonks spent an afternoon talking to students about the weather – events, technology, forecasts – with a focus on its history last week as she gave a presentation in history class.

She spent time with the Super Outbreak of 2011 — the largest tornado outbreak in recorded history. About 175 tornadoes developed and wreaked havoc from the Deep South to New York between April 25 and 28.

“We haven’t had such a bad outbreak since” She said.

Tonks told the students that storm surges — rising water that’s being pushed inland — are the biggest threat in tropical storms.

She shared a picture of herself standing next to a storm surge gauge in Georgia. The Category 5 climb was more than double her height of 5 feet, 10 inches.

Tonks then spoke about the storm with the highest recorded storm surge – Tropical Cyclone Mahina. When Mahina hit northern Australia in 1899, its surf was over 40 feet.

She also spoke about the devastation caused by a 1900 hurricane in Galveston, Texas.

According to Tonks, experts in Cuba predicted the storm would hit the Texas coast. US officials ignored the warning, going so far as to restrict any cables from Cuba containing the word “Hurricane,” She said. Had Galveston received the warning and acted on it, the city could have become the largest in Texas. Instead, people stopped flocking to the coast and settled a little further inland – and Houston is the largest city in Texas.

Beaty social studies teacher Joe Errett asked if people fly through hurricanes.

Tonks said very specially trained pilots – Hurricane Hunters – fly into tropical storms to collect data. She warned students considering enrolling “If you’re going to be sick at all, you need a puke bag… maybe several of these.”

Tonks showed the students the list of names to put on storms this season. The list, developed by an international panel, starts with Alex and includes Shary, Hermione and Virginie. It does not contain a name beginning with F this year. Tonks explained that some letters, usually those beginning with fewer names, are skipped.

Although the program was focused on weather history, Tonks answered questions about the current weather in Warren.

When asked why it snowed in April, she said: “Part of this has to do with the fact that we are on a warming trend. It pushes things back.”

“It’s one of the reasons we had a ‘non-white’ Christmas this year,” She said.

The students’ questions were recorded and were scheduled to be broadcast on ENN Friday and Saturday.

“It’s a great opportunity to talk to our kids about weather history and preparation,” said Errett. “The children’s questions for Sara really exceeded our expectations.”

“I balanced it on the fun side of the weather.” said Tonks. “I always try to encourage kids to get involved with weather fields.”



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