Climate expert: Bike helmets are tops when it comes to tornado defense

North Dakota state climatologist Adnan Akyüz simulates a tornado for first-grade students Tuesday, April 30, at Kennedy Elementary, Fargo, during Severe Summer Weather Awareness Week. Akyüz encourages students to wear bike helmets during tornado warnings as head injuries are the leading cause of death from tornadoes. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — How does the old adage go? Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

Well, except for Adnan Akyuz, North Dakota's state climatologist.

One thing he does is talk to school children about tornadoes and how to stay safe if one comes around.

And if there's one thing he wants to get into their heads — or rather onto their heads — it's bike helmets.

Most fatalities during a tornado event are caused by head trauma from flying debris, according to Akyuz, who advocates that something as simple as putting on a bike helmet can greatly increase someone's chances for surviving a twister.


He delivered that message on Tuesday, April 30, to about 86 first graders at Fargo's Kennedy Elementary School, many of whom wore their bike helmets while Akyuz talked about the building blocks of weather, including air pressure and how differences in air pressure make airplanes fly and tornadoes twist.

His visit to Kennedy Elementary Tuesday was timed to kickoff Severe Summer Weather Awareness Week.

Akyuz's presentation included North Dakota tornado facts delivered with the help of an assistant who secretly slipped answers to the students as Akyuz querried them on tornado-related questions like: how many tornadoes does North Dakota gets each year? And what is the worst month and time of day for tornado activity ?

The kids shouted the answers: 30, July, and the afternoon.

"Amazing, you guys are so intelligent," Akyuz said.

In addition to being the state climatologist, Akyuz is also a professor of climatology at North Dakota State University and a regular visitor at Kennedy, which has hosted his tornado tips for years .

First-grade teacher Paula Bandy said the tradition started when she had Akyuz's son as a student and the idea of giving weather talks was precipitated by a parent-teacher conference.


As part of his presentations, Akyuz creates dramatic, mini tornadoes in a clear display booth using dry ice and a heating plate.

In a different bit, Akyuz drops a burning cotton ball into a jug, creating an instant low-pressure zone that demonstrates the power of air pressure differential when an egg placed at the top of the bottle gets sucked inside.

Applying the same concept to explain what keeps airplanes aloft, Akyuz told the students Tuesday that the difference between air pressure on the top side of a plane's wing and the underside is what keeps their "mom and dad and all that cargo just floating in the air."

Winding up his talk, Akyuz urged his audience to carry the lessons they had just learned home with them.

And, he told the students, keep those bike helmets handy.

I'm a reporter and a photographer and sometimes I create videos to go with my stories.

I graduated from Minnesota State University Moorhead and in my time with The Forum I have covered a number of beats, from cops and courts to business and education.

I've also written about UFOs, ghosts, dinosaur bones and the planet Pluto.

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