STORM SPOTTERS HAVE THEIR EYES ON THE SKY
April 13, 2007 — Spring marks the start of the severe weather season across much of the nation and the NOAA National Weather Service will be there for you if severe weather threatens your area. But did you ever wonder what you can do to help protect yourself, your family and neighbors? Have you considered becoming a trained NOAA Skywarn storm spotter? A trained storm spotter knows their local weather hazards, the visual clues of threatening weather and how to get critical weather information to the local weather service office and emergency managers in a timely manner.
storm spotters are the ‘eyes’ of the National Weather Service
and local community. Their reports greatly help the overall warning process
and can save lives,” said Brig. Gen. David
L. Johnson, U.S. Air Force (Ret.), director of NOAA’s National
Weather Service. “Although Skywarn spotters provide essential information
for all types of weather hazards, the main responsibility of a Skywarn
spotter is to identify and describe severe local storms. In the average
year, 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes
occur across the United States. These events threaten lives and property.”
Spotter reports also help their local public safety officials make critical decisions to protect lives — when to sound sirens, activate safety plans, etc. Trained spotters perform an invaluable — and often little recognized — service to their communities.
lives have been saved because of the unique partnership between volunteer
storm spotters, emergency management and the NOAA National Weather Service.
“Just one report form a single Skywarn storm spotter can save thousands
of lives,” said Chris Maier, NOAA’s national warning coordination
meteorologist based in Silver Spring, Md. “They are in the ranks
of citizens who form the nation's first line of defense against severe
weather. There can be no finer reward than to know that their efforts
have given communities the precious gift of time — seconds and minutes
that can help save lives.”
The organization of spotters and the distribution of warning information varies among areas of the country, with local National Weather Service offices taking the lead in some locations, while emergency management (police, fire and emergency management personnel) takes the lead in other areas. In some areas where emergency management programs do not perform this function, people have organized Skywarn groups that work independent of a parent government agency and feed valuable information to the NOAA National Weather Service. While this provides the warning meteorologist with much needed input, the circuit is not complete if the information does not reach those who can activate sirens or local broadcast systems.
“Radar can detect the basic parent circulation that spawns tornadoes, but it can not always tell you whether tornadoes are actually being produced and their precise location. Also, certain types of tornadoes can form before a Doppler radar signature is detected,” said Maier. “Storm spotters still give us the most complete picture of what's really happening in and around severe storms. Radar simply cannot tell us everything we need to know in the warning decision making process.”
Since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by Skywarn spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled the NOAA National Weather Service to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods. According to Brent MacAloney, meteorologist in the National Weather Service Warning Verification Program in Silver Spring, Md., trained spotters have contributed to more than 220,000 severe weather warnings over the last five years.
a NOAA Skywarn Storm Spotter
“The specific needs of the communities can vary, depending on its geographic location and the experience level of their spotters. Basic storm spotter classes are required for new spotters, although more experienced spotters are also encouraged to attend these sessions to refresh their skills and knowledge. Experienced spotters are also encouraged to attend more advanced Skywarn training sessions,” said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service forecast office in Norman, Okla.
emergency operations center personnel, and/or ham radio network controllers
who help relay information between the storm spotters and the NOAA National
Weather Service are encouraged to attend these training sessions to gain
a full understanding of the terminology and the need to relay such information.