Seeking weather spotters

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By Carol A. Clark

The National Weather Service is holding a SKYWARN Spotter training session for the public from 9 a.m.-noon July 15 at the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management in Santa Fe. The class is free of charge and just one session is required to become a certified SKYWARN Spotter.

Los Alamos County Emergency Management Coordinator Philmont Taylor explained this morning that SKYWARN is a volunteer program with nearly 280,000 trained severe weather spotters.

“These volunteers help keep our local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service,” Taylor said. “The training includes the basics of thunderstorm development, severe thunderstorm structure, storm spotting techniques and procedures, hazardous weather safety, preparedness information, National Weather Service operations and procedures to include amateur radio nets.”

The training session isn’t heavy in science, Taylor said but has enough to it to allow people to learn to understand what it is they are seeing when they look at the sky.

“It provides local eyes on the ground who have the training to relay accurate information to folks at the National Weather Service and that’s a valuable thing,” he said. “White Rock and Los Alamos are close in miles but the weather patterns in each location can be very different and those differences can be observed and accurately communicated by trained local spotters.”

SKYWARN is a concept developed in the early 1970s to promote a cooperative effort between the National Weather Service and local communities. According to the organization’s Web site, the emphasis of the effort is often focused on the storm spotter, an individual who takes a position near their community and reports wind gusts, hail size, rainfall, and cloud formations that could signal a developing tornado.

Another part of SKYWARN is the receipt and effective distribution of National Weather Service information.

 The organization of spotters and the distribution of warning information may lie with the National Weather Service or with an emergency management agency within the community.

SKYWARN Spotters are not by definition “Storm Chasers.” While their functions and methods are similar, the spotter stays close to home and usually has ties to a local agency.

Storm Spotting and Storm Chasing is dangerous and should not be done without proper training, experience and equipment, according to the SKYWARN website at www.skywarn.org.

Taylor hopes to get the training class moved to Los Alamos, he said, if more than 10 people sign up from here. The only requirement for the training session is that participants under 16-years-old be accompanied by a parent.

To sign up, call Taylor at 663-3511.