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Fish like a girl

The integral role of weather spotters

Although most of us are not fully dug out from this past week's snowfall, severe weather awareness week is in April. It is time for people to start thinking about severe weather and how to stay safe during summer outings should severe weather strike.

Volunteer weather spotters remain an integral part of protecting all of us in severe weather situations. We might think there would be little use for weather spotters with all of today's radar technology, but the fact is there is no replacement for the human eye.

A weather spotter training class was held in Oneida County at the Law Enforcement Center this week. I was unable to attend the class, but the instruction for volunteers is also available online.

I would never want to be a "storm chaser," but being a weather spotter is something I have thought about in the past. So, I completed the training last weekend. It took only a few hours,,and I can see the benefit of the classroom training, but for those who are interested and cannot attend a classroom session, the online instruction is a great alternative.

I have always been fascinated by the power Mother Nature can wield over us.

Winds from a tornado are capable of incredible things. The power of flooded rivers can wipe away entire neighborhoods. With that said, I decided to do my part and take the training. Who knows, a storm that I see and report may help someone or maybe even save a life some day.

Of course, there was a great deal of safety information in the course, which is very important. A weather spotter would not do anyone any good if they were swept up in a tornado or washed away in a flood. Staying away from a storm is just as important for a spotter as for anyone else. In the way of safety, the coursework stressed the acronym ACES. It stands for Awareness, Communication, Escape routes and Safe zones.

Obviously, in severe weather situations, awareness is paramount. A spotter needs to know what is going on around him or her and be able to pick out what may or may not turn into a problem situation.

Communication is also key. The coursework mentioned letting others know where you are and what your plans are, but also communicating with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and other local emergency personnel in a severe weather situation.

Escape routes are another important element. A spotter needs to know how they will get away should a potentially life-threatening storm develop.

Safe zones are the places a spotter can go to get out of the storm. A sturdy building with rooms away from windows is best. Escape routes, whenever possible, should lead to a safe zone.

A good deal of the information given here is much like what is preached during every severe storm. However, I think it warranted the time to go over again for weather spotters. I think spotters may be tempted to stay out in the weather longer, or try to get closer than they should. So reviewing this information, and adding different scenarios to practice, is very important.

The most interesting part of the coursework, to me, were the actual storms themselves. Learning the different parts of a cloud, not jut the names but why they are there and what they might indicate, was very interesting.

How the clouds are formed and what it takes to form a severe storm is important information for weather spotters and, actually, all outdoorsmen and women. We are out in the weather much more than many people and are therefore more likely to find ourselves in a situation where the weather turns ugly.

For that reason, I think this is good training for any outdoor-type person. Those of us who spend a lot of time are outdoors usually do not have access to the traditional warning systems such as radio, TV or sometimes even cellphone alerts. Given that, knowing how to read the sky can be very helpful indeed.

It is something I have thought about while out in the woods or on the water.

I think it is better to be prepared in those types of situations. Now, not only do I have the information I need to help keep myself safe and be able to recognize what has the potential to turn into a severe storm, but I also may have the ability to provide information someone simply looking at a radar cannot provide.

Weather spotters can provide important information such as what types of storm damage have happened or are happening in an area. For instance, they would have more information about how much hail has fallen and the size of it.

This information may help someone down the line,who is in the path of the storm. While all of the advances in technology have helped a great deal in giving advance warnings and to protect people, weather spotters still play a vital role in providing the details of the storm only people on the ground, in that location, can provide.

I would recommend weather spotter training to any outdoors enthusiast.

Other learning modules are available as well such as weather radar interpretation and a section on severe weather basics. These are not required to become a storm spotter, but are available to anyone who is interested. All of these learning opportunities can be found on the National Weather Service website www.weather.gov.

Beckie Gaskill may be reached via email at bgaskill@lakelandtimes.com.


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