LOCAL FOLKS: Keeney’s passion for storms led to career change

By Christie McNeal/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – When David Keeney was 4 or 5 years old, the town’s Fourth of July celebration was canceled because of a tornado warning, and from that day on he was hooked on weather.
“It had a profound impact on me,” he said.
However, it took Keeney a while to figure out exactly what he wanted to do with it.
He was born on a U.S. Air Force base in Spain, spent a few years in Omaha, Neb., and graduated high school in Plano, a suburb of Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas. He worked for a petroleum engineer company for a while before deciding he wanted a change.
“I wasn’t fulfilled in my job,” he said, so he enrolled in the meteorology program at Mississippi State University.
He originally was focused on broadcast meteorology, which he said is for those who intend to be on TV, but he found he liked more of the behind-the-scenes work and changed to operational meteorology.
After graduation, he got a job with a weather company in Kansas. While out there, he had the opportunity to chase a few tornadoes. He said he really enjoyed those chases because there are no hills and few trees.
“You can just see forever,” he said.
After about a year and a half he was back in Mississippi at the meteorology graduate program at MSU. When he graduated, MSU offered him a job teaching.
Keeney mainly teaches online meteorology classes but also interacts with students as a faculty adviser for the weather club.
Keeney, who has a 2-year-old son, Drew, said his family responsibilities prevent him from doing too much weather chasing these days. However, he sometimes will plan his drive home from work to Tupelo to try to intercept a storm.
He said his chasing is not like what is often shown on TV, and he usually tries to stay about two miles back from a storm.
“Unless you’re trained in doing that, you need to stay back,” he said. “I try to err on the side of caution when I chase.”
Keeney said his favorite type of weather is tornadoes, but he said there also is so much more to see in storms.
“My favorite thing in the world is to watch a tornado and watch all the different thunderstorm mechanisms form and then decay and watch the entire process,” he said.
His wife, Karen, hates severe weather.
“She just wants updates,” said Keeney, who said his wife often laughs that she’s married to a weatherman, but he never tells her when she needs an umbrella.
The two also often joke about Karen being an architect.
“She builds them, and I destroy them,” laughed Keeney.

Keeney helped build a 3-foot-tall working tornado machine from scratch that’s on display now at Oren Dunn City Museum in Tupelo.
He also is giving tours for elementary-schoolers.
For more information about the exhibit, visit the museum’s website at www.orendunnmuseum.org or call (662) 841-6438.

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