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135 Attend Ft. Wayne SKYWARN storm spotter training

135 people attend SKYWARN storm spotter training presented Feb. 21, 2017 by meteorologists from the Northern Indiana National Weather Service office at the Public Safety Academy in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

This is a “reprint” of an article I submitted to the March issue of Allen County HamNews, the monthly newsletter of all three Fort Wayne-based ham radio clubs.

An unusually large crowd of 135 people attended SKYWARN storm spotter training at the Public Safety Academy on the south side of Fort Wayne Feb. 21. That compares to 87 in 2016 and 91 in 2015.

This year’s presentation included video and images from the Aug. 24, 2016 tornado outbreak. Some interesting tidbits from the presentation included:

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IU undergrad music degrees would become unavailable in Ft. Wayne under state agency’s proposal

But Purdue University promises to welcome all existing IPFW programs, including music … and that could be good for IPFW’s music students

IPFW's orchestra and choirs perform during their annual holiday concert. A proposal by a state agency could, in enacted, replace Indiana University's undergraduate music degree programs in Fort Wayne with Purdue University music degree programs..
IPFW’s orchestra and choirs perform during their annual holiday concert. (IPFW photo)

Editor’s note: Despite the fact that I’m a musician trained in the Ball State University School of Music, I don’t usually write about the arts in this blog. But recent news prompts me to do so. Also, edits to the original version of this article reflect subsequently received information that the music programs themselves are apparently in no jeopardy, while a state agency’s recommendations would eventually jeopardize the availability of IU music degrees in Fort Wayne. A Jan. 18 edit to this post represents some new thoughts.

Jan. 18, 2016 — Today, the Indiana Legislative Services Agency (LSA) issued a report and recommendations regarding the future of the Indiana University–Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW). If all its recommendations are implemented, it appears that students would no longer be able to receive undergraduate Indiana University (IU) music degrees in Fort Wayne.

There are scenarios in which a transition from IU to Purdue could be good for the Fort Wayne music department and its students.

A few hours after the LSA issued its recommendations, however, Purdue distributed a memo that contained the following statement:

“The Purdue University system welcomes all Indiana University programs currently offered on the Fort Wayne campus. Importantly, this welcome includes Indiana University mission programs on the Fort Wayne campus that are not currently offered elsewhere within the Purdue University system.”

That information comes from a memo to IPFW faculty from Deba Dutta, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs and diversity at Purdue.

Purdue University has never in its history conferred a music degree. One might wonder, therefore, about the sustainability of music programs that grant Purdue degrees, as I wrote in a subsequent blog post. It’s reasonable to wonder, “would fewer prospective music students enroll in a program that grants degrees from an institution that has no reputation in music, and if not, would falling enrollment eventually harm the local music programs?”

IPFW’s current music department chair, however, seems optimistic, as I also reported in a different blog post:

“I am very confident that, if we can be successful in this current strange collaboration of IU and Purdue, we can be just as successful if we are managed by someone else.” — Dr. Greg Jones, chair of the IPFW Music Department

That optimism could be founded in the belief that music students enroll at IPFW for reasons other than the IU degree they’d receive. In addition to proximity to home, for example, they might prefer smaller classes, greater opportunities to perform with top ensembles, and the ability to learn from primary faculty (vs. teaching graduate students), all advantages over larger programs such as those in Bloomington.

There’s reason to believe that IU doesn’t fully support all of its undergraduate degree programs at IPFW. Notice, for example, this comment, posted publicly on Facebook Jan. 17 by IPFW English and Linguistics Professor Steve Amidon: “IU seems to want nothing to do with us. In fact, I’ve been told that, six months before the current governance document expires, IU has already stopped approving or considering course or program change requests.

The fact that Purdue has no music degree program (and therefore no curricula to prescribe) might be very good for the Fort Wayne campus, if Purdue therefore allows Fort Wayne faculty to determine what the various curricula should look like. The local faculty could then design curricula that best meet the needs of students who come to the Fort Wayne campus.

That might mean using the existing, IU curricula, or the existing curricula with improvements that IU might not have permitted. Of course, a worst-case scenario would be a non-musical administrator in West Lafayette mandating what he or she believes is best for a music degree program. I hope that scenario is unlikely.

I originally used this blog post to encourage readers who value the the ability to earn an IU music degree in Fort Wayne,  or who doubt the sustainability of a Purdue music degree program, to consider contacting IU’s president.

I no longer recommend this, because IPFW’s music department might well be better off as a Purdue program.

In case you missed it above, here’s a link to the verbatim LSA report:

https://iga.in.gov/static-documents/0/e/5/7/0e57802c/evaluation_report_1.15.2016.pdf

I welcome you to share this blog with others.

91 attend Fort Wayne SKYWARN storm spotter training

For the first time in a couple years, meteorologists from the northern Indiana office of the National Weather Service (NWS) personally conducted training of SKYWARN storm spotters in Fort Wayne Feb. 17. Warning coordination meteorologist Michael Lewis, KG4KJQ and meteorologist Michael “Skip” Skipper presented the training to an official total of 91 attendees. Approximately half of audience members raised their hands when Lewis asked hams to identify themselves.

Audience at NWS SKYWARN storm spotter training, Fort Wayne, Indiana, Feb. 2015
Figure 1: Ninety-one people attended NWS SKYWARN training in Fort Wayne Feb. 17 (Photo by Whitley County emergency manager Charlie Heflin).

The session included the usual information on the role of the spotter, storm development, local severe weather climatology, recognition of various weather phenomena, spotter safety and reporting procedures. A detailed description of the training is beyond the scope of this article, which will instead touch on a few of the highlights, especially those portions that were new this year. If you missed the training, NWS plans two sessions near Fort Wayne this month:

  • March 16, 6 p.m. ET, Paulding, Ohio
  • March 19, 6 p.m. ET, Bluffton, Ind.

Detailed information about both sessions can be found at on the NWS Northern Indiana website.

One new feature of the training this year was audience participation via electronic polling. The presenters evaluated audience knowledge before and after the training by asking them to respond to questions via text message, Twitter or Web page form. Responses appeared on the projection screen in real time.

Thunderstorm spectrum discussed

One highlight of this year’s presentation was a discussion of the thunderstorm spectrum (see figure 2). It ranges from single-cell “pulse” storms, to two forms of multi-cell storms, to the classic supercell thunderstorm. Large, strong tornadoes originate from supercell storms, but such storms are rare in the 37-county warning area (CWA) of the northern Indiana NWS office. Multi-cell storms, especially “derecho”-type squall lines can produce winds as strong as weak tornadoes, which is why spotters and the general public should not ignore severe thunderstorm warnings. It’s important for spotters to understand that, especially in the northern Indiana CWA, storms can change type one or more times during their existence.

Thunderstorm spectrum slide from NWS SKYWARN storm spotter training. Single-cell pulse thunderstorm, multicell cluster storms and squall lines, and supercell
Figure 2: Slide from NWS spotter training presentation, used with permission.

When it comes to tornadoes, 82 percent of twisters in the northern Indiana CWA create damage at the EF0 or EF1 levels of the enhanced Fujita scale (see figure 3). Note that EF0 tornadoes can have winds as week as 65 mph. Severe thunderstorms can and often do produce much stronger winds. Also note that EF0 and EF1 tornadoes are very difficult for NWS Doppler radar to detect, sometimes developing and dissipating between radar scans. Less than one percent of storms in the northern Indiana office’s CWA reach the EF4 damage level, with wind speeds of 166 mph or greater.

Enhanced Fujita scale with probabilities in northern Indiana county warning area
Figure 3: Slide from NWS spotter training presentation, used with permission.

Convective outlooks change

Situational awareness is an important part of spotter preparation and safety. The NWS Storm Prediction Center’s (SPC) convective outlooks are important situational awareness resources. Those outlooks look different now (see Figure 4). The new day one through day three convective outlooks have three risk categories between “general (non-severe) thunderstorms” and “moderate risk,” instead of the former single “slight risk” category. A “marginal risk” category now falls between “general thunderstorms” and “slight risk” and new “enhanced risk” category falls between “slight risk” and “moderate risk.” An SPC video briefing that fully explains the change in convective outlooks is available on the SPC’s website.

Categorical convective outlooks have new categories between "general thunderstorms" and "moderate risk"
Figure 4: Slide from NWS spotter training presentation, used with permission.

Also related to situational awareness is the announcement that the NWS office’s home page layout – and possibly navigation and URLs – will soon change. If you have bookmarked, for example, the severe weather briefing page on the northern Indiana office’s website, you might need to update your bookmarks after the change.

New spotter mnemonic: T.E.L.

This year’s training presentation uses a new mnemonic acronym to help spotters remember what the NWS needs to know (see Figure 5): “T.E.L. us.”

The “T” stands for “time.” Spotter reports should contain the clock time at which the spotter observed the event, even if it’s happening while the spotter sends the report. For example, rather than saying “now,” or “two minutes ago,” spotters should say “4:38 p.m.” or “1638 Eastern time.”

The “E” stands for “event.” This is the part of the report that contains detailed information about what the spotter saw, for example, hail (by size), a wall cloud, funnel cloud, tornado, wind or lightning damage (described), flooding, etc.

The “L” stands for “location.” This part of the report should contain a specific location, for example, “Allen County, Indiana, two miles northwest of Grabil,” or “In Fort Wayne, near the intersection of Coliseum Boulevard and Vance Avenue.”

Note that the reporting criteria are different than NWS warning criteria. For example, the NWS issues a severe thunderstorm warning for any storm that it expects to produce either winds of 58 mph or greater or hail of one inch or more in diameter. But the spotter reporting criteria are winds of 50 mph and hail of any size.

SKYWARN storm spotter reporting criteria from NWS Northern Indiana training presentation
Figure 5: Slide from NWS spotter training presentation, used with permission.

Finally, the NWS included in this year’s presentation a new reporting method matrix (see Figure 6). As in previous years, the meteorologists strongly recommended the use of the Twitter social media channel, while taking care to avoid discounting the importance of ham radio.

A primary advantage of reporting via ham radio is that others listening to the same frequency will simultaneously hear the report, aiding in the situational awareness of those who are monitoring. Another advantage is the resiliency of ham radio and the fact that it continues to work during Internet and cellular telephone failures. Disadvantages of reporting via ham radio include:

  • Inadequate volunteer staffing of the ham station at the NWS office often means that net control stations must re-file the reports by other means (e.g. telephone or an internal NWS Internet chat system).
  • When the ham station at the NWS office is staffed, the operator there must write down each report and then hand it off to a meteorologist, creating a certain amount of delay.
  • Until and unless the NWS issues a “local storm report” based on the spotter’s report, the information in the report is available only to those who are monitoring the frequency, which often includes few of the many spotters who are not hams and have no equipment with which to monitor.
  • Ham radio systems currently in use for SKYWARN provide no means of including photographic data with spotter reports.

Advantages of the Twitter social media channel include:

  • The channel does not rely on the limited availability of volunteer operators at the NWS.
  • Reports show up immediately on a computer in the NWS office, without relay or transcription.
  • Reports are visible immediately to anyone who has access to the Internet, including other spotters, emergency managers, members of the news media and the general public. As Lewis put it at one training session this year, “Call me and you and I know. Tweet me and the whole world knows.”
  • Reports can include photographs or video of events being reported, aiding in the NWS’ ability to validate the reports
  • The capacity of Internet channels is virtually unlimited, enabling the NWS to encourage sub-criteria reports.

Note that on the reporting methods matrix, the NWS encourages spotters to report winds of less than the normal reporting criteria of 50 mph (the approximate speed at which structural damage begins to occur) when using social media or the “mPing” app (more on that below). But for ham radio and telephone reports, the minimum wind is 50 mph. This is a sign that NWS really wants much more information from the field than it has received in the past but understands the limited capacities of channels such as ham radio and telephone.

For spotters who choose to use their Internet-connected mobile devices to file reports, a relatively new option is the Meteorological Phenomena Identification Near the Ground (mPing) app from the National Severe Storms Laboratory. The app is available for both the Andoid and iOS platforms and originally only accepted precipitation reports. The current version also allows users to send hail, wind damage, tornado, flood and other reports. Reports sent via mPing show up directly on Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System (AWIPS) terminals in NWS offices. A disadvantage of mPing is that all reports are anonymous and as such, users cannot identify reports as coming from trained spotters.

SKYWARN storm spotter guide to preferred reporting methods from NWS Northern Indiana trainnig
Figure 6: Slide from NWS spotter training presentation, used with permission.

In conclusion, I encourage all hams who are spotters to become familiar with Twitter, especially those who have Internet-connected mobile devices (e.g. smart phones). At the same time, I also encourage all hams to continue to make reports via ham radio, even if they’re also reporting via Twitter. This will assist in the situational awareness of spotters who are on the ham frequency as well as those who are only able to monitor Twitter.

I have become active on Twitter (@RadioW9LW, if you’d like to “follow” me) and will be happy to provide any assistance I can to any spotters who want to know more about Twitter. You can reach me via the “Contact W9LW” form in the right-hand column of this blog.

Slight risk of severe storms tomorrow

Day 2 convective outlook map
Yellow area: Slight risk (15% probability) of severe storms between 8 a.m. EDT Sat. (July 12) and 8 a.m. EDT Sun. Green: Non-severe thunderstorms. Unshaded: No thunder. Highlighted counties: Northern Indiana NWS county warning area. Source: SPC “Day 2 Convective Outlook” issued at 2:10 a.m. EDT July 11.

The northern third of Indiana, including Fort Wayne, has a slight risk of severe storms between 8 a.m. EDT tomorrow (July 12) and 8 a.m. EDT Sunday, according to a “Day 2 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service (NWS) Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued at 2:10 a.m.

People planning to attend outdoor events of the Fort Wayne Three Rivers Festival tomorrow should assure that they have a way to know about any weather warnings the NWS might issue tomorrow.  Possibilities include carrying a portable weather alert radio, installing a weather alert app on a smartphone and listening to a local radio station.

The timing of storms remains uncertain but the current outlook seems to indicate they are most likely Saturday night into early Sunday.

In addition to Fort Wayne, the slight risk area includes all of IMO SKYWARN quadrant two, except for the Ohio counties of Allen and Putnam and the southeastern half of Jay County, Indiana.

The SPC will issue an updated outlook for tomorrow by 1:30 p.m. EDT today. By 2 a.m. EDT tomorrow, an outlook for tomorrow will include probabilities of tornadoes, damaging thunderstorm winds and large hail.

Slight risk of severe weather on first day of Three Rivers Festival

"Day 3 Convective Outlook" map
Yellow area: Slight risk of severe thunderstorms between 8 a.m. Sat. and 8 a.m. Sun. Green area: General thunderstorms. Source: Storm Prediction Center “Day 3 Convective Outlook

The northern two thirds of Indiana and adjacent parts of Ohio, Lower Michigan and Illinois have a slight risk of severe weather between 8 a.m. EDT Saturday, July 12 and 8 a.m. EDT Sunday, according to the “Day 3 Convective Outlook” that the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issued at 3:30 a.m. today.

This means that as Fort Wayne’s annual Three Rivers Festival gets started Saturday, damaging straight-line thunderstorm winds of 58 mph or greater and/or hail of one inch or more in diameter could threaten the festival’s mostly outdoor activities.

As you can see on the map above right, the slight risk area includes all of IMO SKYWARN quadrant two, except the Ohio counties of Putnam and Allen.

We won’t know much more about Saturday’s severe weather risk until the SPC issues a “Day 2 Convective Outlook” at around 2 a.m. tomorrow (Friday). I’ll write about that outlook sometime tomorrow morning, so check back on w9lw.farlowconsulting.com then.