From storm chasing to teaching


UI News Bureau: Stauffer

Portrait of Eric Snodgrass, instructor – atmospheric sciences

By Janet Kim

Upon walking into the office of Professor Eric Snodgrass, the director of atmospheric sciences, one might notice books like “Clouds in a Glass of Beer” and “The Children’s Blizzard” are scattered throughout, along with key chains and pins that he uses to reward students for answering questions in his classes. Despite appearing comfortable in his work space, it’s a place where Snodgrass said he didn’t initially see himself.

“When I was a sophomore, I told myself that there would never, ever be the slightest possibility that I will become a teacher. I didn’t ever want to teach. When I started graduate school, I told my graduate research advisors that I never wanted to do anything with weather forecasting,” Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass had a different aspiration in mind. 

“I chased the storm the whole way,” Snodgrass said.

His most exciting chase happened in Wisconsin on June 7, 2007. Snodgrass chased a storm that produced a series of tornadoes that tracked from the central area of the state all the way to Green Bay.

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“Along the journey, I (dodged) extremely close lightning strikes and softball-sized hail. It was a rush,” Snodgrass said.

Now, Snodgrass is doing something dramatically different than dodging softball-sized hail every day. 

“Now I am a teacher and my private company is a weather forecasting company,” Snodgrass said. “The two things I thought I never wanted to do turns out to be things that I enjoy doing the most.” 

Though his career path has changed, as a native to central Illinois living in Rochester, Snodgrass said he always had a fascination with the weather.

“The influence started off young,” he said. “I was able to witness storms, and I was able to witness a variety of types of weathers. I had parents who were very encouraging about studying science and studying weather, and I had some great teachers along the way that helped me shape that view.”

His high school teacher was one of the main motivators to get him on track to becoming the teacher he is today.

“This guy really got me into physics and mathematics and gave me opportunities to stop being an adolescent, hyperactive boy,” Snodgrass said. “He was one of those people who coach you into maturity.”

As Snodgrass transitioned to college, he wasn’t completely sure why he chose to major in meteorology. It was one of things that he enjoyed doing and talking about; so many people encouraged him to major in it.

“I actually don’t remember why I chose atmospheric sciences,”he said. “You know when you think about why did I choose that as a major, I knew that I liked problem solving a lot. I just enjoyed doing computational and mathematical problem solving. I was horrible at it, I mean like really bad at it, but I liked it. So I did it, and when I started, I never looked back.”

As he aged, the passion shifted to a different aspect of atmospheric science. It built into a desire to teach other people how the weather affected us and how it can influence every single person in the world’s life.

“When I initially started, it was all severe weather,” Snodgrass said. “I was just fascinated by it, so I wanted to study it and learn about it and how it impacted people and livelihoods. 

“With time, I ended up studying the exact opposite. I studied very non-severe weather but a very important part of the atmosphere,” he said. “What motivated me the most was that I was studying a field that affected everybody. Therefore I enjoyed being able to explain and teach that to people and explain how weather is going to influence whatever they’re going to do.”

But it wasn’t until a fishing trip with a family friend when Snodgrass decided to go into teaching.

“At the time, I was dating during my senior year in college — my now wife — and he asked me what I was doing with (my girlfriend), what was the long-term goal. I said, ‘I want to ask her to marry me.’ He goes, ‘She’s going to say no.’ And I ask, ‘Why is she going to say no?’ He goes, ‘Because you have no plan. She’s going to drop you like a bad habit.'” 

Snodgrass’ family friend gave him a plan: go to graduate school, find a career path and call him along the way. 

“So … I got here,” Snodgrass said.

Though his career is much more different than he originally intended, Snodgrass said it’s right for him.  

“(If) you never look at a clock, then you found the right job,” Snodgrass said. “When time just flies by while you are working, you feel happy and satisfied. I feel like I finally found that in this career.”

And a couple doors down from his office, Francina Dominguez, assistant professor in atmospheric sciences, can hear the passion he has for teaching. 

“I arrived to the University of Illinois last year and have been very impressed by the critical role that Eric Snodgrass plays in the department. He is an amazing instructor and really gets the students interested in atmospheric sciences. In fact, any new faculty member at the University will likely see Eric’s work when advised about best teaching practices,” Dominguez wrote in an email. “Eric is also thinking beyond the student’s current education into their future career paths and advising them about their future.”

Students like Ada Tanmp, junior in Business, shares this sentiment. 

“He shows passion and enthusiasm every time he teaches. I unexpectedly found myself learning so much more from his class than I do in other general education courses I have taken,” Tan said. “Professor Snodgrass makes class very engaging by showing relevant videos and photos that adds depth to his teaching. I like how he relates the topic we learn to real, current-day examples as well.”

After 10 years of teaching, Snodgrass has a new lesson to pass onto his students.

“I would say that to really have a long, single-minded forward vision of your life is kind of a waste of time. It’s the characteristics of your life — the passion, what you want to do is secondary to why you want to do it.”

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