Spann discusses 2011 tornado deaths at Nashville Severe Weather Awareness Day

Conference room at Nashville Severe Weather Awareness Day 2016Editor’s Note: The Nashville, Tenn. National Weather Service office and other organizations hosted an annual “Severe Weather Awareness Day” at Trevecca Nazarene University Feb. 27, 2016. What follows is a guest post from Ken Helms, AB9ZD, who attended the event.

I enjoyed the Severe Weather Awareness Day 2016 in Nashville yesterday.

Alabama broadcast meteorologist James Spann
Spann

The keynote speaker was James Spann, chief meteorologist for ABC in Birmingham. He discussed the 2011 super outbreak that killed 252 people in Alabama and he focused on what happened, why people died, and what needs to be done differently. Among the reasons he gave for the high number of deaths:

  1. Low income families didn’t get the warnings (can’t afford weather radios, smart phones, etc).
  2. Each local station had its own way of categorizing the severity of a storm causing confusion.
  3. Too many false alarms over the years so some people didn’t take the warning seriously (crying wolf).
  4. Warnings by the news media were given by county and not localized enough for people to know if they were really at risk or not.
  5. Many people didn’t have an effective place to shelter from a tornado (very few basements in southern houses).

Spann is a very passionate speaker on the subject.

There was also a panel discussion with five of the local TV stations’ meteorologists which was interesting.

Representatives from the NWS and the county EMA discussed area tornadoes including one that hit Gallatin (a city not far from Nashville) in 2006 that killed eight people.

Basic and advanced storm spotter training was included as well.

The event was held in a large room and was well attended. It was nearly standing-room-only for Spann’s presentation — there were no empty seats around me. Quite a few students were there. A group of meteorology majors from another Tennessee college sat in front of me. Attendance thinned out as the day went on.

ARRL booth at 2016 Nashville Severe Weather Awareness DayThey had an area set up for representatives from the local TV stations, colleges, and the NWS outside the conference room. Most were handing out brochures along with things like pens, pencils, ice scrapers, and stickers. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) had a table as well.

Learn what it’s like at NWS during severe weather

Warning Coordination Meteorologist Rick Smith of the Norman, Oklahoma National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office speaks at the 2016 national storm chaser conference.
Warning Coordination Meteorologist Rick Smith of the Norman, Oklahoma National Weather Service Weather Forecast Office speaks at the 2016 national storm chaser conference.

The warning coordination meteorologist of the Norman, Oklahoma NWS office did a very interesting presentation at a national storm chaser convention earlier this year. Rick Smith spoke about what goes on at his office during severe weather events and how chasers and spotters can be of greatest assistance. While some of the information was specific to his local office and does not apply to the northern Indiana office, it was nonetheless a fascinating presentation. You can watch it on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t1CNFSkcagw or on the embedded video below.

Where thunderstorms go to die

SKYWARN storm spotters and future spotters prepare for training Feb. 16, 2016 at the Public Safety Academy of Northeast Indiana, Fort Wayne
SKYWARN storm spotters and future spotters prepare for training Feb. 16, 2016 at the Public Safety Academy of Northeast Indiana, Fort Wayne

The husband-and-wife team of Amos and Megan Dodson, both meteorologists at the northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service (NWS), conducted the annual SKYWARN storm spotter training Feb. 16 at the Public Safety Academy of Northeast Indiana.

The content of the training didn’t change much from last year’s presentation. It focused on the differences between truly threatening weather phenomena and scary-looking, but harmless (and unreportable) conditions.

Here are some highlights:

  • Spotter reports add credibility. When the NWS issues a warning that includes a reference to a spotter report, members of the general public are more likely to take action than when the warning does not include a spotter reference.
  • Don’t wait for activation. Although our NWS office issues hazardous weather outlooks that indicate whether spotter activation is likely, the office does not “activate” or “deploy” spotters. It welcomes spotters to make reports anytime they see anything reportable.
  • Clouds with ragged edges aren’t spinning. Scary-looking SCUD clouds that are shaped like funnel clouds generate a lot of well-intended but false reports from untrained observers. True funnel clouds and tornadoes spin, giving them sharper, smoother edges.
  • When unsure, send a photo. NWS encourages spotters who see something that might be reportable (like a possible wall cloud or funnel cloud), to photograph it and send the photo via Twitter (@NWSIWX) or the NWS office’s Facebook page. The office monitors both social networks closely during severe weather events.
  • T.E.L. NWS. When spotters make reports, they should provide the Time of the observation, a description of the Event, and the Location of the event. The actual time of day is more valuable than “right now” or “two minutes ago.” And because the local NWS office does not issue spotter credentials, formatting reports in that specific order is one way spotters can demonstrate they attended the training.
  • Thunderstorms come here to die! Spotters provide a valuable service to their communities even if they don’t see anything reportable. And climatology data shows that spotters in Indiana are about half as likely to see something as are spotters in Illinois. Megan Dodson shared that this leads meteorologists to joke that Indiana is where thunderstorms come to die.

Mysteriously, far fewer people attended the training than registered for it, even though weather did not hinder travel that night. Those in attendance, however, included TV meteorologist Hannah Strong, who indicated that the presentation included information not provided in meteorology school.

People who missed the training can get via the Web most of the information they need to be effective spotters. Two options include

Indiana man’s car shows unusual commitment to storm spotting

Dunkirk, Ind. volunteer SKYWARN storm spotter Gary Wesley paid a sign company to decorate his primary vehicle with weather-related graphics to promote his avocation.
Dunkirk volunteer storm spotter Gary Wesley paid a sign company to decorate his primary vehicle with weather-related graphics to promote his avocation.

An east-central Indiana man has gone to unusual lengths to promote the National Weather Service’s SKYWARN program, which recruits and trains volunteer storm spotters. Gary Wesley, Dunkirk, bought a decommissioned, 2005 Chevrolet Impala police car and paid a sign company $2,000 to design, create and wrap the vehicle with weather-related graphics. Wesley also installed an amber light bar and ham radio antennas.

Having gotten involved in storm spotting as a teen, Wesley was disappointed by the level of interest he discovered when he settled in Dunkirk after a medical retirement from a military career that included time as a recruiter for the Indiana Army National Guard. His work as a recruiter gave him an idea to promote the SKYWARN program.

“We had a Humvee that we called, ‘The Super Hummer,’ that was all decked out with images on it to help with recruiting at events,” Wesley said.

He decided to create his own rolling billboard for storm spotting.

“I figured, with my passion for being involved in storm spotting and volunteer work, it would just be an easy way to promote it,” Wesley explained. He believed that if nothing else, people who saw the car would ask questions about it, giving him a chance to talk about storm spotting.

Wesley uses the car for more than storm spotting. It’s one of two cars in the family (his wife drives a Jeep) and his primary form of transportation.

“The only thing that I’m hoping for … is to be able to increase the number of spotters.”

He says the car has attracted attention and provided a few opportunities to explain storm spotting to strangers. But he’s gotten a few negative reactions, too.

Dunkirk, Ind. volunteer SKYWARN storm spotter Gary Wesley paid a sign company to decorate his primary vehicle with weather-related graphics to promote his avocation.“Everyone at the VA hospital thinks it’s nuts,” Wesley commented. “There has been a few people,” Wesley continued, “that, when they see the car, just because of the light bar and antennas … feel that I’m trying to impersonate a police officer.” After he explained the car and storm spotting, he said, the same people expressed their continued (misguided) beliefs that storm spotters are not needed, because of radar and the Internet.

And his wife? Her first reaction, Wesley said, was “I am not driving something like that around.” Unfortunately for her, it’s sometimes necessary for the two to trade cars, for example, when Wesley needs to pick up something that won’t fit in the Impala. Her attitude softened with time and Wesley says she has no problem with it anymore, although she still thinks it’s “kind of loud and obnoxious-looking.”

Wesley does not deny that he intended for the car to attract attention, but he said he doesn’t want that attention for himself.

“The only thing that I’m hoping for with this vehicle,” Wesley said, “is to be able to increase the number of spotters that are out there and to make people more aware of weather issues.”

Twitter feeds to follow for official NWS info in Indiana

Indiana map showing NWS office coverage areas in Indiana and their Twitter account names
NWS office coverage areas in Indiana and their Twitter account names

With the first severe weather of the year forecast in parts of Indiana tomorrow, this would be a good time to make sure you’re following the most helpful National Weather Service Twitter feeds.

The map above shows all Indiana counties and the county warning areas (CWAs) of the six NWS weather forecast offices (WFO) that serve various parts of Indiana. Superimposed on each CWA is the Twitter account name of the corresponding office.

Here’s a clickable list, for easy reference. You can use these links to monitor the tweets of each WFO, even if you don’t have a Twitter account:

You can identify the appropriate WFO and social media feeds for any location in the U.S., by ZIP code or city and state name by entering them on the NWS “Social Media” page.

Twitter hash tags can also yield helpful information. Commonly used for posts about the weather in Indiana is #INwx.