Breaking the Ice: Erie Meteorologist Talks Weather with Students | News, Sports, Jobs


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

Discussing the weather is not always a chat.

From storm chasers and hurricane chasers, the Galveston flood of 1900, the super outbreak of 2011 and Hurricane Irma in 2017, Erie News Now weekend weather forecaster Sara Tonks brought to life weather conditions for Beaty-Warren Middle School students.

Tonks spent an afternoon last week talking to students about the weather — events, technology, forecasts — with a focus on her story, since she was presenting history lessons.

She spent time on the 2011 Super Outbreak – the largest tornado outbreak in recorded history. Some 175 tornadoes developed, causing havoc from the Deep South to New York between April 25 and 28.

“We haven’t had an outbreak this bad since,” she says.

Tonks told students that storm surge — rising water pushed inland — is the biggest danger from tropical storms.

She showed a photo of herself standing next to a storm surge indicator in Georgia. The Category 5 surge was more than double its height of 5ft 10in.

Tonks then talked about the storm with the strongest surge on record – Tropical Cyclone Mahina. When Mahina hit northern Australia in 1899, her thrust was over 40 feet.

She also spoke of the devastation wrought in Galveston, Texas by a 1900 hurricane.

Tonks said experts in Cuba predicted the storm would hit the Texas coast. US officials ignored the warning and went so far as to restrict all telegrams from Cuba containing the word “hurricane,” she says. If Galveston had received the warning and acted on it, the city could have become the largest in Texas. Instead, people stopped flocking to the coast and moved a little further inland – and Houston is Texas’ largest city.

Beaty’s social studies teacher Joe Errett asked if people fly over hurricanes.

Tonks said very specially trained pilots — Hurricane Hunters — fly into tropical storms to collect data. She warned students who are thinking of enrolling, “If you have motion sickness, you’ll need a puke bag…maybe several of them.”

Tonks showed the students the list of names that will be put on the storms this season. The list, compiled by an international panel, will start with Alex and include Shary, Hermine and Virginie. It does not include a name beginning with F this year. Tonks explained that some letters, usually those that start with fewer names, are skipped.

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

When asked why it snows in April, she replied: “Part of that is that we’re on a warming trend. It’s rolling things back.”

“That’s part of why we had a ‘not white’ Christmas this year,” she says.

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

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

“I steered him towards the fun side of the weather,” Tonks said. “I always try to encourage children to enter the weather fields.”

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