About 40 people — mostly first responders from area volunteer fire departments and amateur ham radio operators — attended the annual National Weather Service’s SKYWARN severe weather training program Tuesday night at the Anderson County Courthouse Annex in Palestine.
SKYWARN is a network of trained storm spotters who make observations when storms threaten their communities. Spotters report visual and environmental clues, which suggest that the storm in their area may be a candidate to produce severe weather. Storm spotters also provide ground-truth reports of severe weather impacts and damage reports after a storm has struck.
Mark Fox, warning coordination meteorologist at the Fort Worth NWS office, spoke to the group about the important job of trained storm spotters.
“We really need spotters’ eyes on the ground. They are critical because anything under 14,000 feet we can’t see on radar,” Fox said.
By combining the radar data with the spotter reports and the meterologists’ analysis skills, the best possible warnings can emerge.
“Spotters can provide us with information about the storm that can help us make decisions on whether it’s needed to warn other people.”
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth has forecast and warning responsibilities for 46 counties across north and north-central Texas. The area contains 32,000 square miles and is home to 7 million. The area stretches from Paris to Palestine to Temple to Goldthwaite to Graham.
“We’ve had a fairly active year for our 46 counties. We have 21 tornadoes on average, but we had 44 last year,” Fox said. “That’s why we gather information — to keep everybody safe.”
Across the nation, 2011 will be forever known as the year of extreme weather. Joplin, Birmingham and Tuscaloosa all will be remembered for significant tornadoes.
Fox’s No. 1 advice to storm spotters and potential storm spotters was to always be safe and keep a safe distance from the storm.
“Don’t get too close,” Fox said, showing a handful of videos of people who were too close to the storm and actually in danger. “In case of a tornado, we want you to be at a safe distance — at least 2 to 3 miles away.”
A storm spotter’s most valuable information for the meteorologist is the cloud features and environmental clues. Those in attendance viewed photos and videos of various cloud characteristics as Fox explained how severe storms develop.
As far as wind speed estimation, there are visual clues:
• 32-38 mph, whole trees will be in motion and there will be some resistance when walking;
• 39-46 mph, twigs and small branches broken off trees;
• 47-54 mph, chimney covers and roof tiles blown off, TV antennas damaged, lots of twigs and small branches on the ground;
• 55-63 mph, roof damage begins to occur and small trees blown over or uprooted;
• 64-75 mph, widespread damage occurs, large trees uprooted or blown over;
• 75-112 mph, severe and extensive damage, roofs peeled off, windows broken, RVs and small mobile homes overturned, moving cars pushed off roads.
“This year will indeed be tricky. The first five storms having at least 30 to 35 mph winds will knock down all of the dead tree limbs thanks to the summer of 2011 versus normal wind speeds,” Fox said.
When reporting hail size estimations, storm spotters were encouraged to use everyday objects to compare to the hail (pea, M&M plain, penny, dime, nickel, quarter, golf ball, etc.). If possible, after the hail is over, photograph the hail with the everyday object used for the comparison.
“Don’t report marble-size hail — because marbles can be all sizes,” Fox said.
In general, Fox stressed safety and the importance of their jobs to the storm spotters.
“Everything you do as far as reports such as cloud features helps us save lives,” Fox said. “We are all on the same team.”
Source: www.palestineherald.com - Cheril Vernon