A professor who is a storm chaser

A red, well-used recliner sits in the back by the window, having a full view of the office with Lake Ontario with its rolling waves on the other side. Pictures of family, storms that have been seen and drawings and crafts that could have only been made by kids, are scattered around all the meteorology and math books. However, looking on the very top shelf, just out of sight and above the computer, there’s a stuffed fox smiling down at where students’ sit down for either help or just to chat. The office belongs to Professor Scott Steiger, his passion for weather started as an elementary student outside of Rochester, New York.

At just 8-year-old Steiger came home on the school bus questioning how there was snow at his school, but sunny at his house. By noticing what was happening around him he became more aware. Then on a fishing trip with his dad a couple of years later during an oncoming thunderstorm with lightning and hail, he had another major experience that pushed him toward meteorology. It was when his dad was finishing up with the small boat, young Steiger started walking, while looking down, to their car when lightning went in between his face and feet. 

“But I was only 10-years-old, so it may have only seemed that way,” he said with a chuckle. 

During that same storm, he had seen silhouettes of hailstones just before, it bounced off their car. He was hooked. Fast forwarding through his curiosity with the weather, and receiving his bachelor’s from SUNY Oswego and up to his doctorate degree in Texas, he joined a couple of storms chasing companies before he began teaching. 

In 2002, Steiger had worked for a private storm chasing company Silver Lining Tours as an assistant. The company gives people a way to storm chase with experts in Tornado Alley for fun. However, by 2005 he helped with a storm-chasing class for the College of DuPage and did so for the next couple of years. 

It was in 2007 he began teaching at SUNY Oswego and added his storm chasing class, or “weather camp”, in the spring. 

He admits that the first time out in the field with his own students did make him nervous, even though he had the experience, for a couple of reasons. The main reason was safety and the other was having pressure on him. But not the kind of pressure one might think of first. 

Students usually always want to see a tornado and Steiger doesn’t want to disappoint. 

“It puts pressure on you as a teacher,” he said while recalling a time when they missed a tornado by 20 miles. 

Nowadays, he feels “pretty comfortable” and continues to say safety is still always a “priority.” One of the tornadoes Steiger had seen on one of his many storms chasing trips.

A tornado that formed in the midwest of the United States.

Courtesy of: Scott Steiger

Even with the pressures, the “highlight of the year” for him.

 The one weather event that’s usually guaranteed while taking his storm chasing class is seeing supercell storms, which is also one of his four specified areas of study, along with lake effect snow.

 He also wants to engage students in the area of research with the help of the department and school, making a proposal next month to study lightning in lake effect snow events. 

Steiger doesn’t lose any of his excitement when he is in an actual classroom teaching his students’ everything they need to know beforehand either. 

The meteorology section of the student body may be on the smaller side compared to other majors, but if scouted for, they show a lot of care for their professor. Sharing everything from how well he teaches to having “a great sense of humor” as Kayla Lewis, one of his junior synoptics students mentioned.

 He strives to be available for students and even puts his phone number on the syllabus to make appointments, at appropriate times, for help. 

Paige Elizabeth, a graduate who now works as a storm warning meteorologist in Kansas, agrees with Lewis, even shares one of her stories of her past professor. Starting off with Steiger trying to get the class to come up with the answer in his Synoptic class, he started “moving his arms like windmills” and yelled playfully, ‘what am I doing?’ Elizabeth says. Steiger ended up answering his own question.

 “He is extremely animated and will often be very loud,” Elizabeth continued. “And moves around and gets people involved,” she finished.

Lewis and Elizabeth also both agreed that though the class may be challenging, they are learning and have learned, respectively, a lot. But also makes sure that his students “get the most out of his teachings”. 

Elizabeth recalls the second half of the synoptic class as the hardest, but says it’s “incredibly important to success outside of class.” 

Elizabeth recalls the second half of the synoptic class as the hardest, but says it’s “incredibly important to success outside of class.” 

Professor Scott Steiger standing in his office at SUNY Oswego.

Photo by: Samantha Karlsson

 Whether it’s in an actual classroom, chasing storms in the Midwest with students or doing research, Steiger gives 100% of himself to teaching and doesn’t hide his passion for it. 

“I get excited seeing active weather,” he said.