Has technology led people to believe storm spotters are no longer necessary?

Storm spotter capturing image of developing tornado with cell phonesIt’s amazing how much information I can get on my smartphone, especially weather information. The app stores have dozens — maybe hundreds — of weather apps. They offer much more than today’s forecast. Some even claim to tell users when it will start raining at their locations.

Regardless of how valid or accurate is the information such apps provide, I wonder if they’ve led people to (incorrectly) believe that technology has the weather covered — that there’s little need anymore for human input, such as that provided by trained, SKYWARN® storm spotters.

Do people assume that the same technology that tells them what time the rain will begin can also automatically sense such hazards as tornadoes and severe thunderstorms?

If so, that could help explain why registration is down this year for free National Weather Service storm spotter classes in northern Indiana, northwestern Ohio and southern Lower Michigan.

For example, as of Jan. 25, fewer than 10 people had registered for spotter classes scheduled in Columbia City, Ind. and Glandorf, Ohio. This, despite frequent promotion on social media and other channels by the northern Indiana NWS office and others.

The entire severe weather warning system continues to rely heavily on the first-hand reports of trained spotters.

The truth — as any meteorologist will tell you — is that the entire severe weather warning system continues to rely heavily on the first-hand reports of trained spotters. Why? Because they can see things that radar and other technology cannot.

Radar, for example, can detect rotation in a storm, hundreds to thousands of feet above the ground. But it cannot tell meteorologists whether a funnel cloud has formed or whether a tornado is on the ground. Also, technology cannot tell meteorologists what damage a storm is doing. The NWS needs eye-witness reports from trained spotters for that.

If you’ve ever looked up a scary-looking cloud and wondered if you should worry;

If you’d like a better understand of severe weather to help allay fears;

If you’re a weather enthusiast and would like to apply that interest in a way that provides a life-saving service to your community;

Consider taking the free storm spotter training. You can find a session near you on the website of your local NWS office (type in your ZIP code at www.weather.gov and then look for the link on the forecast page that follows the phrase, “Your local forecast office is”). Some sessions begin as early as next week, so don’t put it off until storm season begins!

As good as weather technology is, it has not replaced they eyes of trained, volunteer storm spotters. Your community needs you!

5 thoughts on “Has technology led people to believe storm spotters are no longer necessary?”

  1. W9LW, nice comments. The NWS in Hanford, CA makes a point of acknowledging spotters in their social media platforms. For example, when notable weather events occur there may be many “tweets”, but I’ve noticed they seem to recognize individual’s training when something is posted by a spotter. It’s encouraging to see, and I can hope that this might create some curiosity about the service/training spotters provide by others.

    1. Thanks for your comments, Richard. Yes, public recognition goes a long way, both to encourage existing spotters and to plant seeds in the minds of those who have not yet had the training. Unless they’re just too busy, I’ve noticed that the northern Indiana NWS office (WFO IWX) routinely sends reply tweets to thank spotters to tweet their reports. I’d love more detail about how the Hanford WFO recognizes spotters.

      1. W9LW – Here is a little more detail #hnx sent me to share with you. “Yes we do recognize our spotters on Twitter and Facebook. We also have our own twitter feed for the spotters and that feed . . . . . . . . . . . . . . we will normally retweet it while thanking the spotter. Also on facebook when weather breaks out, we may make a post stating that spotters have been reporting …….. etc. Also, if a spotter sends us a report with a picture, we’ll in-turn publish that on our facebook feed, with his/her permission and giving all right of the picture to the spotter of course.”
        W9LW, I have another friend in their office that may have something else to add. If so, I’ll send it your way – 73

  2. W9LW very good information. I unfortunately work the evening that the spotter training is in my area. I will however as I have done in the past take the Met-Ed online training and forward my information to the NWS and local EMA office. It is important has you have stated that we have ground truth about what is going on. No radar is as good as someone seeing it with the naked eye. Radar is a GREAT tool but it is just that a tool. Spotters can safe lives with true ground information to supplement the radars images. -KE8BTS

    1. Abbot, thanks for your comments. Sorry you can’t make the in-person training, but I’m glad you’ll refresh your knowledge with the online training. Perhaps you know others hams or not, who might be interested. If so, I hope you’ll encourage them to attend the training.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *