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Neighbors Growing Together | Sep 26, 2018

Eyes to the skies

Henry County residents pour into New London for a storm spotters class
Mar 21, 2018
Photo by: file photo The National Weather Service held a storm spotter training session on Tuesday, March 20, at the New London High School auditorium. After the training, attendees will be able to help the National Weather Service track severe weather in the area, much like the series of supercells that passed through Henry County last spring.

By Gretchen Teske, Mt. Pleasant News


NEW LONDON —Henry County residents poured into the New London High School auditorium, Tuesday night as the National Weather Service hosted a storm spotter class.

Nearly 80 people attended the free event, which lasted from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., and trained guests to become certified weather spotters.

Emergency Management Coordinator Walt Jackson said he was very pleased with the turnout. “We have about 75-80 registered spotters in Henry County. We’ll obviously get more,” he said about the packed event.

Rich Kinney and John Haase, of the National Weather Service, reigned over the event, “A day in the life of a storm spotter” and took guests step by step through what they would need to know to become certified weather spotters.

Haase introduced the class by explaining that anyone could be a trained spotter. Just take his cohort, Kinney. He began his career as a radio announcer. “I was in radio, I wanted to be a play by play sports announcer,” he says. However, he began giving weather reports on the radio and found his calling, leading him to go back to school at Western Illinois University to study meteorology. He’s been with the National Weather Service for 20 years.

Haase, on the other hand, grew up on a farm in Davenport and has been infatuated with the weather since he was a child. When he was in first grade, his teacher wrote on a progress report, “John likes weather.” “I still have that paper,” he says. He has been with the National Weather Service for 35 years.

Hasse told the crowded auditorium that weather can be unpredictable and even with a Doppler radar, sometimes the best tools are people on the ground.

“(The radar) cannot detect perfect details on everything so spotters are on the ground to report,” he explained. “Everyone here will be a trained spotter when we are finished and the bottom line is we’re all here to protect life and property.”



Safety and Knowledge

To be a storm spotter, there are five expectations: be safe, be responsible, report weather that meets criteria, expect a call if you are a registered spotter, and stay current in training. He encouraged spotters not to follow storms but instead monitor them and call in if the storm meets the following criteria: heavy winds, hail, or spotting suspicious clouds.

Having the right equipment is also a part of being safe. Haase encourages spotters to carry a reference sheet, a way to communicate, binoculars, radar, a ruler for measuring hail, and an anemometer for wind speed.

However, before stepping outside, Haase encourages people to look at the hazardous weather outlook, which he says is essential for all storm spotters. “To me, this is the most important thing you want to read; the first thing when you get up, when you’re a spotter,” he explains.

The hazardous weather outlook is issued around 4 a.m. every day and can be found on the National Weather Service website. It gives a detailed description of what is happening for that day and evening as well as a general description for the next five days.

“The biggest thing is you want to be proactive. You want to know where the severe weather is way before it reaches your location.”

Types of storms was the next objective on Haase’s list. For a thunderstorm to classify as severe, it must have winds of 58 mph and/or hail an inch or larger. Lightning is not a predictor because it is found in every storm.

The Storm Prediction Center is located in Norman, Okla. They issue storm watches for the area which alert local authorities to the potential for a storm.

“Usually these watches are in effect for six to eight hours,” Haase says. Warnings are issued by the local office. “The warning would be the size of the thunderstorm,” he explains. “Our lead time for severe thunderstorms is about 15 minutes and for tornadoes is about 12 minutes.”


Parts of a Storm

There are two main parts of a storm to be aware of — the updraft and the downdraft. The updraft is where the air rises and creates cauliflower shaped clouds. The stronger the updraft, the stronger the storm.

The downdraft is the air and rain that sinks and is located in the back of the storm. The large gust of wind that happens before a storm occurs is called the outflow. This happens because the air is changing temperature from hot to cold and needs to escape.

When spotting a storm, Haase once again encourages safety.

“As a spotter, you always want to be thinking safety and there are a lot of risks for spotters,” Haase says.

Some of those risks include lightning, wind, visibility, and even storms changing directions.

“As a spotter, you want to be making sure you are looking all around, be aware of what’s happening in all directions. It always helps to have a partner out there with you.”

The most common type of storm, Kinney said, is the supercell. These are sometimes known as a “mezzo cyclone” and are the most intense.

“All the severe weather threats are on the table with supercells,” he explains.

Kinney says the easiest way to tell the direction of a storm is to look for the precipitation because it leads the way. The darkest part of the cloud will show you the direction the storm is traveling in. Kinney stressed that ground truth is the most important tool they have.

“We have to have that information from you folks out in the field. It’s vital to the information process.”

John Canterbury, of Burlington, attended the meeting with his son Jeremye. This was John’s first meeting while his son has been a storm spotter since 2001.

“He used to lay there awake waiting for the storm because he heard it on the news,” Canterbury says of his son.

Jeremeye says his favorite experience as a storm spotter was when he once saw five tornadoes in one day. “That was incredible, I was so excited,” he recalls.

The storm spotter class comes to Henry County every two years. “It’s roughly the same information,” Jackson says. “They just upgrade it every time they do it.”

The storm spotters class now covers 36 counties and has over 3,000 active members.

For more information on how to become a storm spotter or report suspicious weather, visit their website or call: or 800-803-9537.

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