Marcus Jackson/About Town: Lifelong storm tracker in his element

Marcus Jackson/About Town: Lifelong storm tracker in his element

URBANA — After teaching an Introduction to Meteorology class on Wednesday morning — where he covered the developing story of Hurricane Irma — Jeff Frame retreated to his second-floor office in the Natural History Building on the University of Illinois campus, plopped down in front of two monitors and continued following the path of the storm.

Some of us kill time setting our fantasy-football rosters or keeping up to date with the latest memes on Facebook or Instagram. Frame, an assistant professor in the UI's Department of Atmospheric Sciences, uses his downtime to follow weather patterns.

Weather is what Frame has been into for as long as he can remember. As a 6-year-old growing up in Michigan, Frame became fascinated with The Weather Channel soon after his family got cable, around the same time his peers were watching Looney Tunes and Winnie the Pooh.

"I found it fascinating that you could watch the weather on television and you could go outside and see it happen," he said. "Then there was another channel with the radar and then you could go out to watch these things and you'd see the sky get dark, you hear the thunder, the wind would pick up and it would start raining and lightning.

"For as long as I can remember, I've been into that."

Frame got his undergraduate degree in Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences at Michigan and followed that up with a masters and a Ph.D. from Penn State. Since 2010, the 37-year-old has been teaching classes at the UI, sharing his love and passion for weather with his students.

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Today, Frame will host a brown-bag presentation at the Natural History Building, talking about what happened with Hurricane Harvey, the recent storm that left parts of Houston and southeast Texas underwater.

"Somebody once asked 'What is the definition of professional success' and somebody answered 'Professional success is finding something you love to do and getting somebody to pay you for it,'" Frame said. "I love what I do and I'm passionate about what I do."

So much so that each year after the spring semester, Frame takes two groups of students from the UI on a two-week storm-chasing mission during the peak of severe-weather season. They're constantly looking at the weather and, from a hotel room somewhere, they'll come up with a forecast and then decide where the best place is to go to safely observe the severe weather.

"We don't drive into tornadoes," he said. "We decide what's going to happen, why we think it's going to happen or here's how what we think would happen might not happen. We go drive there and watch it happen."

In his lifetime, Frame has seen 68 tornadoes, including four EF-4 tornadoes on June 16, 2014, in Nebraska.

"We saw two EF-4 tornadoes ongoing at the same time for only the third time in photographic history. The last time anybody got a picture before that was the 1965 Palm Sunday outbreak in Indiana."

Frame's expertise is more so in severe weather and tornadoes than hurricanes. To stay up to speed on the recent tropical weather events, he's keeping an eye on Twitter, following trusted folks who are on the ground relaying in real time what the devastation is.

"This morning in my class, when I talked about Irma, I went through and found what I retweeted between the morning and last night and said here's what's going on in St. Martin when the eye passed right over them this morning and what's going on in Barbuda, the island hit last night," he said. "That makes sharing the current weather info useful."

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As far as data and models, staples like The National Weather Service, Tropical Tidbits, Pivotal Weather, National Hurricane Center and Storm Prediction Center are all go-to sites for Frame. Even the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn has a website with plenty of useful information for Frame.

And he cautions that the smartphone weather apps we all rely on daily for weather forecasts might not always be the most trusted sources of information.

"If you have a weather app that's completely automated with no human input, it might just latch onto the output from the last forecast model, and these things can change all the time," he said.

As for who's had the best coverage of the recent tropical storms, it shouldn't be a surprise to those who know Frame where he went for his information.

"The Weather Channel gave absolutely great coverage to Hurricane Harvey — better than CNN, better than any other cable news channel," he said. "Breaking weather like this, like these hurricanes, your tornado outbreaks, I think their coverage is really second to none."

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When he's not consumed with all things weather, Frame spends his time checking out the restaurants in Champaign-Urbana and dabbling in photography, a hobby that sparked from his love of chasing storms. On Saturdays in the fall, college football is also a priority.

"Go Blue!" the Michigan grad said. "I love (Jim) Harbaugh. The quirky personality and he wants to win. He's passionate about what he does and I'm passionate about what I do."

Frame also enjoys Penn State football, but there's another Big Ten team that takes precedence.

"The Illinois Fighting Illini, I'm a season-ticket holder," Frame said.

The man who specializes in forecasting things offered up one for the Big Ten football season.

"I think they're going to be a force to contend with in the Big Ten this year."

He's talking about Michigan — not Illinois — which is likely a couple of years away from earning that distinction.

Marcus Jackson is The News-Gazette's community reporter. Follow him on Twitter (@MarcusJ_NG) or contact him by email (mjackson@news-gazette.com) or phone (217-351-5604).

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