CARBONDALE — Kevin Skow, meteorologist from Topeka National Weather Service, provided the storm spotter training class in Osage County on March 23 at Santa Fe Trail High School. The Topeka National Weather Service provides storm spotter training classes each year in the surrounding counties.
The storm spotter training class covered six topics, a review of the 2016 severe weather in Kansas, situational awareness while out spotting, the role of storm spotters, storm clouds, what the storm clouds mean to storm spotters, and spotting tips.
During the class emphasis was put on safety. Safety covered included whatever person, not just storm spotters, should exercise. Everyone should put together a plan of action for when severe weather strikes, repeatedly practice that plan, and have at least two ways of receiving weather warnings.
Your plan of action should include know where your closest shelter is and how long it takes to get to your place of shelter. Have an emergency kit either in your shelter or ready to grab and take with you to your place of shelter. Everyone in your household and place of business should practice the plan and practice as often as you need to practice.
“There’s no real hard, fast rule as to how often you need to practice,” Skow said. “Maybe you do it every time they test the sirens in the summertime; maybe you do it once a month. It’s how ever long it takes you to become comfortable with your plan.”
For the two ways of receiving weather warnings, at least one of the two needs to be battery operated. The two ways should not include sirens. Sirens are usually not in rural areas and sirens are intended to be heard outdoors. A person indoors very well may not hear sirens, especially while asleep or in the summer when houses tend to be closed up because the air conditioner is running. Tried and true methods of receiving weather warnings include television, radio, NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) weather radio, weather apps (applications) with weather warnings, and social media, like Twitter and Facebook.
To aide in situational awarenewss, the Topeka National Weather office puts out situation reports on their website, http://www.weather.gov/top/, that provides more detailed information on the weather. The report provides information including the expected timing of the weather event and the risk factor. The information is also available on their Facebook and Twitter.
It is important to know the difference between a weather watch and a weather warning. Topeka National Weather Service issues three different types of watches, severe thunderstorm watch, tornado watch, and flash flood watch.
“We issue severe weather watches when conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather,” Skow said. “Usually the severe weather hasn’t moved to the area or developed yet. A watch simply means that you want to watch the skies because we may have severe weather development coming here shortly.”
Just like with watches, the Topeka National Weather Office issues three types of warnings, severe thunderstorm warning, tornado warning, and flash flood warning.
“A warning simply means that severe weather is either imminent or will be occurring very, very shortly, generally within the next 30-minutes,” Skow said. “If you have a severe thunderstorm warning or a tornado warning, that is the time to put your emergency action plan into place.”
It would be easy to think that the National Weather Service offices have everything under control. So, why does the National Weather Service need spotters? The National Weather Service offices rely on three major components, radar data, environmental data, and storm spotter reports. Radar data provides information on what is going on in the atmosphere, typically in the mid-level of the storms. Storm spotters provide reports on what is happening at the surface.
Storm spotters report funnel clouds, tornados, wall clouds, hail that is ono-inch in diameter or greater, wind damage and estimated speed of the wind, and flash flooding. Skow discussed and provided visual aides on the difference between funnel clouds and tornados, how to recognize a wall cloud, what is acceptable to use in reporting the diameter of hail, how to estimate the wind speed, and what to report for flash flooding. He also covered squall lines, supercells, the difference between the two, and falsenadoes (things that are commonly mistaken as tornados, but are not tornados).
The approximately one-hour class is just one component of becoming a storm spotter. There are also two online modules to complete, including a test for each module. The two online modules take approximately one-hour each to complete. The objective for the online modules are: to be able to describe the role of a storm spotter; to identify examples of proper safety while spotting during specific spotting scenarios; to identify reportable events and criteria for reporting; to be able to list the seven required pieces of information to communicate when making a spotter report; to demonstrate how to make clear and succinct spotter reports; and to be able to identify from photos and videos important visual features to report.
After successful completion of the storm spotter training, the storm spotter is assigned a storm spotter number to use when submitting his or her storm spotter report. Storm spotters then register with their local National Weather Service.
Storm spotters are encouraged to submit their severe weather reports as soon as it is safe to do so. The storm spotters may also be called by the National Weather Service following a severe weather event in the storm spotter’s area for information on things like size of hail and severe weather damage.
The National Weather Service is the sole government agency to issue watches and severe weather warnings across the entire United States, including summer and winter weather. They also issue weather forecasts for the public, including specific forecasts such as fire and river forecasts.
There are currently 122 National Weather Service offices in the United States, which covers ever county in the United States. The Topeka National Weather Service office covers 23 counties, including Osage County. The Topeka office has 18 meteorologists and is open 24-hours a day, 7-days a week, including all holidays.
Additional spotter training courses will be held March 30 in Wabaunsee County, April 4 in Clay County, April 5 in Cloud County and April 17 in Shawnee County. All of the listed storm spotter trainings will be held at 7 p.m. All storm spotter trainings, including the online modules, are free and open to the public. You must be 13-years old or older to become a storm spotter.