Weather Spotters: The Eyes and Ears of the NWS
During a severe weather event, be it a tornado or a hurricane, a flash flood or a severe thunderstorm, many find themselves glued either visually or auditorily to a news station. There they eagerly await the latest weather update from their local meteorologist to be informed as to whether they and their possessions will be affected by the impending weather. In times like these, up to date and real-time information regarding a severe weather event is critical in helping to provide “warnings for the protection of life and property,” per the mission statement of the National Weather Service. Though, how is this real-time information relayed to the NWS who then disseminate it amongst TV and radio broadcast stations to inform the public?
One of the greatest resources the NWS has for garnering reports during a severe weather event is volunteers. These volunteers for the NWS are called “Weather Spotters,” and hold the important task of informing their local NWS branch of hazardous and severe weather conditions in their area. With these volunteer reports, the NWS may then warn and inform the surrounding public of dangerous conditions within the area, so that appropriate action may be taken to protect life and property.
As a weather spotter, these volunteers have the responsibility of reporting during severe weather conditions what they have seen, when and where they have seen it, and to identify themselves and their location. By providing this information, the NWS can then use this to help identify the severity of the threat to surrounding communities alongside radar and satellite reports. Many times, these weather spotters can be sources of real-time confirmation for certain weather phenomena indicated on radar. For example, in the event of radar-indicated rotation, weather spotters may be able to visually confirm this to the NWS if the storm rotation happens to be within their vicinity. Some examples of what kinds of weather phenomena spotters may report to their local NWS branch includes things of high priority such as tornadoes, flash flooding, and funnel clouds, to lower priority events such as winds in excess of 40mph or hail of ½ an inch in diameter or greater. Depending on ones geographic location, what is classified as high versus low priority may change depending on their locally-defined criteria.
As some of the front lines in reporting severe weather conditions, Weather Spotters alongside the excellent work of NWS meteorologists do help save lives. They are often the first to see and experience alarming or dangerous conditions out in the field that meteorologists in the office may only be seeing as radar and satellite reports. These volunteer reports help to convey the gravity of a situation and enable meteorologists and broadcasters to diffuse important data and information much more effectively to the public. Many NWS branches offer free online courses to the general public in order to become trained as a weather spotter, no experience needed. Simply a desire to help the community and an ability to communicate hazardous conditions is needed to become trained as a Weather Spotter!
To learn more about weather safety and preparedness be sure to click the link: https://www.globalweatherclimatecenter.com/weather-safety-educational-topics
© 2018 Weather Forecaster Alexis Clouser