By Eugene White
Common sense tells you to follow your dreams. It also tells you to stay inside when the weather gets bad. But for University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) atmospheric sciences professor Jeff Frame, the former less so.
Growing up near Detroit, Frame, unlike many children nowadays, was struck by a peculiar interest in the weather. And although Frame says “there was no one real event,” that sparked his interest, he claims his curiosity grew after being introduced to cable television in the mid-1980s. He simply “watched the radar from the Detroit airport go around, and then the soundtrack was the weather radio,” he said.
For most kids, childhood fascinations come as quickly as they go. But for Frame, this one stuck around.
After receiving his bachelor’s degree in atmospheric sciences from the University of Michigan, Frame went on to receive his master’s degree from Penn State, one of the most renowned weather programs in the country. And after passing the qualifying exam to the Ph.D program, Frame began his work as a T.A.. Here, he was able to conduct an undergraduate lab every week, where he “really enjoyed helping the students with their homework and explaining things to them,” he said. “And it was from that that I realized I really enjoyed teaching and and that I was pretty good at it.”
Frame then proceeded to teach the introductory course for meteorology at Penn State as a senior graduate student, officially starting his career in education.
After receiving a temporary visiting assistant professor position at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Frame began looking for other jobs at universities nationwide — primarily small colleges with teaching-focused positions. This changed, however, when a position at UIUC opened.
Although the size of the school was not what he had in mind, Frame recalls as he looked at the job description, he said, “if I could’ve written it, this is what I would teach.”
Since starting at UIUC in 2010, Frame has taught a mélange of weather-related courses ranging from Introduction to Meteorology (ATMS 100) to Field Studies in Convection (ATMS 324), a field course over the summer.
In the field course, Frame and his students choose a location within a 10 to 12-hour distance where severe weather is likely to appear. Here, they carefully examine the weather for days at a time. Frame says “the students come back from the field course and they tell me ‘I’ve learned more in this two-week period than I have in any other two-week period in my life’ — that’s motivation right there to keep doing it.” His extensive experience with storms allows him to teach, navigate and analyze these massive systems, providing a hands-on learning experience for students.
Having participated in various weather-related studies since 2002, some of Frame’s most prominent projects include those of the Vortex 2 study in 2009 and 2010. Regarded as one of the largest weather-related studies in history, Frame along with other meteorologists “took mobile radars and other instruments around rotating thunderstorms called supercells,” he said. “This provided valuable scientific data trying to figure out why some storms produce tornadoes, why some don’t and how that actually happens.”
Frame’s work isn’t limited to national studies, however. He regularly participates in impromptu local storm chases, including the Sept. 9 EF-2 tornado that ripped through Homer, Ill., leveling a home in its path. After spotting the funnel cloud on the way, Frame sent a photo to the National Weather Service, precipitating an immediate tornado warning.
When asked about his future plans, Frame remains adamant about teaching, underscoring his deep passion for the field. And considering his lifelong dedication to weather, his work reflects the epitome of the follow-your-dream notion.
“You want to get a job where you don’t dread Monday morning,” he said. “I love my job, I love teaching and I love working with the students.”
Header photo, tornado photo courtesy of Jeff Frame
All other images taken by Rachel Tison