April 16, 2007

Weather spotters in our midst

With proper training, anyone can be a weather spotter

By Jennifer Gallus
Staff Writer

The National Weather Service eagerly trains local people of all backgrounds to be weather spotters.

Weather spotters are people in the community who choose to receive training on what to look for when the weather turns ugly. Essentially the job of a weather spotter is to observe local severe weather conditions and report them.

A couple hours of training every two years is all it takes to be in the know and to have the authority to call the National Weather Service with severe weather observations.

Likewise, for those who are willing, the weather service may call the spotter to inquire about conditions.

“Everyone can see a tornado when it’s on the ground. The job of a spotter is to see it before it gets to that point,” said Todd Krause of the National Weather Service at a class given in Glencoe Wednesday.

“Doppler Radar has helped make the forecaster’s job easier, but it’s not perfect. It does not see hail or tornadoes – it’s not geared to show them – never has been, never will be,” Krause said.

Krause explained that even when the weather service knows a tornado has touched down somewhere, they still need spotters to call and confirm if it is still on the ground or if it is moving in a certain direction.

“Spotters are so helpful and they can watch the weather from the safety of their backyards. We really value the job that spotters do,” Krause said.

The average number of tornadoes in Minnesota each year since 1992 is 35 - 40. In 2005, there were 68 tornadoes and in 2006, there were 25. Drought conditions, thus lack of rain in 2006, is thought to be a major factor for the lower number of tornadoes last year.

A Basic Spotters’ Field Guide is given to all participants at the conclusion of training.

Some definitions highlighted in the guide are as follows:

• Watch – Conditions are favorable for a severe weather event in or near the watch area. Watches are issued for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, and flash floods.

• Warning – The severe weather event is imminent or occurring in the warned area. Warnings are issued for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, flash floods, and river flooding.

• Severe thunderstorm – A storm that produces hail 3/4 inch in diameter or larger and/or wind gusts of 58 mph or more.

• Tornado – A violently rotating column of air attached to a thunderstorm and in contact with the ground.

• Funnel cloud – A rotating, funnel-shaped cloud extending downward from a thunderstorm base.

Downburst – A strong backdraft with an outrush of damaging wind on or near the ground.

Krause explained that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radios are like smoke detectors for storms.

“The radio will sound with a pretty load alarm so even if you’re doing tasks like running the vacuum, or are in the garage, or are sleeping, you’ll hear it. You can set it for just the county you’re in,” he said.

The theory behind a weather radio is that people aren’t always listening to a regular radio or television and “storms can sometimes sneak up you,” Krause explained.

Three informational web sites are: www.ready.gov, www.weather.gov/twincities, and www.hsem.state.mn.us.

These web sites detail severe weather precautions as well as home-land security measures people should be informed about.


Anyone can be a weather spotter, either by attending the annual training offered through various counties, or by unofficially calling in unusual weather patterns to the local sheriff office (dial 911), according to Kevin Mathews, director of McLeod County Emergency Management.

“You don’t have to be a fire fighter to be a weather spotter,” he said.

The weather spotter training for Wright, McLeod, Carver is done for the year, but there is a class coming up in St. Bonifacius Monday, May 21, he said.

Those interested in the St. Boni class must preregister by calling (612) 636-6432.

Anyone with questions may call Mathews at (320) 864-1339.

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