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Thursday, May 26, 2016

Storm spotters gain tips, insights in training session

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Barry County Office of Emergency Management and the National Weather Service (NWS) conducted the annual Severe Weather Spotter class in Feb., in the commons area at the Southwest Area Career Center. Steve Reynolds with the NWS was the instructor for the class.

Safety awareness for spotters was a new addition to this years class as attendees were reminded of the tornado that took the life of a weather spotter in May of 2008.

According to Reynolds, a major goal of the NWS is to fully prepare certified weather spotters to safely position themselves to report severe weather. "Our mission is to protect property and person. In order to spot effectively you have to consider safety. Whether you are a stationary spotter at a specific location, or mobile spotter in a vehicle driving, always have safety in mind," said Reynolds.
Situational awareness is an important factor during severe weather for spotters. Weather spotters need to look at facts around them to project what could happen.

For a stationary spotter, location and a plan for shelter needs to be in place to spot safely. This would be based on the location of the storm and the expected size of the storm.

Mobile spotters need to be a minimum of two to three miles from the storm, remain in the vehicle, and always be alert for flooding.

According to Reynolds, flooding and lightening are the number one killers during severe weather.

As part of his presentation, Reynolds showed amateur videos to the class that had been taken during severe weather to help put things in perspective for storm spotters on the "do's and dont's" during bad weather.

The first video showed a man being lifted into the air during excessive high winds and thenthrown several feet before landing on the grounds hard surface.
The second video showed a large tornado heading directly toward the person videotaping the event. As the tornado drew closer, viewers were able to see a large amount of debris within the twister and roofs being peeled off homes.

A visual of the recorder dropping to the ground showed the person had realized the necessity to take shelter from the spiraling force of destruction before it was too late.

In both scenarios these people placed themselves at high risk of possible injury or death simply by not following proper safety measures during severe weather. Unfortunately many people do this.

The NWS has a Warning Decision System that is utilized when the possibility for severe weather exists. The four steps of this system include forecast, detection, dissemination, and response.

"There are two things that determine the necessity to take shelter: if a television meterologist says to take shelter or if power has went out," said Reynolds.

Tornadoes generally move toward the northeast, but can travel in any direction, Reynolds continued. Spotters are generally sent to the south and north of storms, and look for visual conditions in the sky as well as other indicators like hail, plus changes occurring.

Providing detailed reports are important, Reynolds continued. Spotters need to know exactly where they are and the distance of nearby land sites from which they can estimate the proximity of an approaching storm.

David Compton, emergency management director for Barry County, observed the goal of posting spotters in the field is to get warnings 15 minutes prior to the arrival of a tornado. To do that, fire department personnel, emergency responders and citizens put their own lives at risk to report severe weather conditions to authorities in an attempt to protect communities.

Radio and television station personnel are also among those known to go out in severe weather to keep communities updated in addition to broadcasting severe weather received by the NWS.

In 2008, 64 tornadoes were reported in Missouri. Reynolds said 37 counties, including Barry and Lawrence, get more than the others.

The biggest challenge to emergency planners, Compton said, is that sometimes information gets relayed as it comes in, and other times it doesn't. The more precise the report, the better chance it will have of carrying the right message to those who receive it, he added.

Approximately 75 certified weather spotters attended the class, with the majority having also attended in previous years.



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