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.
“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.”