Weather spotters put ‘eyes to the sky’
by By GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer
Mar 18, 2013 | 1007 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The National Weather Service is ready for Thursday’s presentations which will put “more Bradley County eyes to the sky,” according to emergency managers.

Representatives of the Morristown NWS office will be at the Lee University campus to help local residents wishing to develop a better understanding of storms, how they form, and ways to protect yourself and family during threatening conditions, according to Bob Gault, a member of the Auxiliary Communications Service.

ACS is made up of licensed and trained communicators who utilize ham radios to relay information during severe weather or other emergencies.

“Bradley County was ravaged by tornadoes on April 27, 2011, that left behind millions of dollars in damage and claimed nine lives. Since then, less severe weather events have occurred, but we are entering a time of the year when atmospheric conditions favor development of supercell thunderstorms that can and have spawned tornadoes,” Gault said.

For the past few years, Bradley County has been designated a “Storm Ready” community through the NWS.

SkyWarn is one of the many tools used by NWS and the Cleveland-Bradley County Emergency Management Agency.

SkyWarn has been around since the 1970s and today has a membership of nearly 290,000 trained severe weather spotters.

The Weather Spotters class is sponsored by CBCEMA and the ACS.

“As we well know, for the past two years, Bradley County has been struck with storms, tornadoes, drought, flooding and other weather-related events. We constantly work to be prepared and the Weather Spotters class is just one way we hope can make our community more aware of what to look for and relay that information to us and the NWS,” said Troy Spence, director of CBCEMA and interim Bradley County Fire Chief.

For the past few weeks, Curtis Cline, administrative officer at CBCEMA has been making preparations for the class which will be held at the Lee University Math and Science Hall located on North Ocoee Street and Billy Graham Avenue.

“The past two years have brought capacity crowds. We suggest to arrive early for seating. If the trend continues, we may have to find a larger venue,” Cline said.

The class is free to the public and begins at 6:30 p,m.

Participants in the class receive two-year certification as a member of the NWS’s SkyWarn spotter network.

Why are these volunteers so important?

Spotters use their training to report tornadoes, cloud formations, wind speeds, hail, and torrential rain. They are a forecasters’ “eyes” in the field watching conditions at ground level beyond the view of Doppler radar that is somewhat limited by terrain and the earth’s curvature. Their reports have given communities in the path of dangerous weather systems additional seconds or minutes to seek shelter and lives have been saved as a result.

Forecasters use spotter reports, radar imagery and satellite data to issue timely and accurate forecasts and warnings.

The training material takes about two hours to present and includes the following:

- Basics of thunderstorm development;

- Fundamentals of storm structure;

- Identifying potential severe weather features;

- Information to report;

- How to report information; and

- Basic severe weather safety.

A large component of the spotter network involves individuals connected to amateur radio.

“Many of the 122 forecast offices are equipped with amateur radio gear that is operated by volunteer personnel during times of severe weather. Using amateur radio can speed delivery of reports to the nearest forecast office when normal modes of communication are disrupted. 

SkyWarn and amateur radio have been partners in gathering severe weather reports for a long time. It should be noted there is no requirement to possess an amateur radio license to become a spotter. Anyone from any background is welcome to join by attending a training session,” Gault said.

Amateur radio operators working with the local EMA have formed the Auxiliary Communications Service, or ACS.

Training meetings are normally held on the third Thursday of each month but may be rescheduled as needed. For more information about joining ACS, contact the local EMA at 728-7289. 

One very important fact to remember is SKYWARN spotters are not by definition “Storm Chasers,” according to Gault.

“While their functions and methods are similar, spotters stay close to home and many have ties to local agencies such as the EMA,” Gault said.

The EMA provides an early warning system called Nixle.

Anyone wishing to sign up for this service to receive emergency weather bulletins on mobile devices can text CBCEMA to 888777, according to Gault.

A link is also provided at www.bradleyco.net. Locate the EMA link and connect to Nixle.com.

For additional information regarding ACS or the NWS Weather Spotters class, contact Cline at 728-7289.