Tag Archives: Storm Chasers

Why do some storm chasers call 911 vs NWS?

After a small tornado outbreak in Indiana and neighboring states yesterday, I’ve been looking at some tornado videos published by storm chasers. On at least two of them, one can hear on the audio track references to calling 911 to report the tornado. On one, you can hear a chaser instructing a public safety answering point (PSAP) operator to activate warning sirens.

Here’s my question: Why would storm chasers — who one would expect to be familiar with the National Weather Service (NWS) warning system — call 911 instead of the NWS?

Why would storm chasers — who one would expect to be familiar with the National Weather Service (NWS) warning system — call 911 instead of the NWS?

Sure, a call to the local PSAP might lead to activation of outdoor warning sirens, which might alert some nearby residents — especially ones who are outdoors — that something is going on. But it won’t lead to activation of NOAA weather radios, wireless emergency alerts on cellular phones, or alerts on broadcast channels until and unless the NWS knows about the tornado and issues an official tornado warning.

You might think that a call to 911 will get a report to the NWS. In reality, that’s not necessarily true. I’ve attended several meetings of an NWS integrated warning team, where PSAP representatives have repeatedly said that during periods of severe weather, they’re so busy answering phones, that they don’t have time to  call NWS. And an NWS warning coordination meteorologist has personally told me that his office yearns to know what citizens are reporting to 911, but can’t get the information.

Granted, calling 911 is easy, especially for chasers whose anxiety levels have reached a near panic stage as they stare down tornadoes. After all, calling 911 when something bad happens is almost a reflex. But a single call to the NWS would get life-saving information to a whole lot more people who are in the path of the storm.

There is a challenge, though, especially for chasers who are always moving from county to county (and for some, state to state) as they try to get in position to see tornadoes. They must always know exactly where they are and they must know which NWS office to call. Adjacent counties are not always served by the same NWS office.

The first part (knowing exactly where you are) is challenging enough, when you’re driving through unfamiliar territory. I’ve heard numerous spotters and chasers, who, while trying to make a report to NWS offices, were unable to say exactly where they were, much less where the funnel cloud or tornado was. Knowing what county your are in and knowing what NWS office serves that county is even more difficult. In truth, any NWS office will accept a tornado report from outside its area and get that information immediately to the correct office. So calling the “wrong” NWS office is probably still better than calling 911, when it comes to warning the most people.

But there’s an even better solution. Members of Spotter Network, Inc. can use a combination of location-reporting software on their smartphones and the Spotter Network website to learn immediately the phone number of the NWS office that covers whatever location they’re in at the moment.

University demonstrates questionable understanding of tornado warnings http://w9lw.farlowconsulting.com/2017/11/05/university-demonstrates-questionable-understanding-of-tornado-warnings/
The Spotter Network website can tell members where they are, which NWS office to call, and the phone number for that office.

By using the location-beaconing software, staying logged into the Spotter Network website and bookmarking the “Submit Severe Report” page above, chasers and spotters can learn the best NWS number to call with a couple touches of their smartphones. The result will be warning a lot more people a lot sooner than calling 911 can.

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.

What’s the #1 source for national weather?

Amateur-run Facebook pages should not mislead readers into believing that their information is better than that of the National Weather ServiceShould a Facebook page run by amateur storm chasers promote itself as the best source for weather information? I can’t help but wonder how many (if any) naïve Facebook users foolishly rely on such pages for time-critical safety information, in lieu of the National Weather Service (NWS).

Recently, a Facebook page distributed the graphic above. I’ve blurred out identifying information, because who it was doesn’t matter to the point of this article. But the headline, “The #1 Source for National Weather” certainly caught my eye.

I’ve tried multiple times to contact the owners of the Facebook page that published that graphic. I sent a Facebook message and sent an email message to the email address on their website. I’ve received no response. So, all I know about them is what I see online.

From what I see, both the Facebook page and associated website are published by a group of amateur storm chasers, none of whom appear to have a meteorology degree.

In the U.S., only one source of weather information has the authority to issue the official watches and warnings that trigger weather radios, etc.

Don’t read what I’m not writing! There’s nothing wrong with an amateur-run Facebook page or website distributing interesting or important weather information. I do it all the time on Facebook, this blog, Twitter, etc. What I don’t do, however, is claim that my information is any better than others’.

Why? Because I don’t want anyone to assume that my blog, Facebook page or Twitter feed (or anyone’s for that matter) is a safe and reliable way to get timely, live-saving weather alerts, especially NWS warnings. Not even the NWS’ own Facebook and Twitter feeds are timely enough for that (yet).

That’s also why I consistently encourage readers – for their safety – to maintain timely access to NWS products (e.g. via NOAA Weather Radio, smartphone apps triggered by NWS products, Wireless Emergency Alerts, etc.).

All of us who publish weather information on social media and other Internet channels have a responsibility to inform and remind readers that in the U.S., only one source of weather information has the authority to issue the official watches and warnings that trigger weather radios, etc.: The National Weather Service. Likewise, we must not publish anything that could potentially mislead readers into believing that our social media feeds can keep them as safe as do directly received NWS warnings.

Our readers’ lives could depend on it!

What do you think? Use this blog’s comment function to let us know.

A weather safety tip you might not have thought of: Footwear

Photo of feet wearing flip-flops with red X superimposed. Flip-flops are poor footwear for severe weather days. Indiana Severe Weather Preparedness Week. #INWxReady #WRNSandals, especially flip-flops, which are so popular when the weather is warm, are poor choices for severe weather days.

My feet get warm easily. I have a pair of Chacos brand sandals that I wear almost every day during warm weather. But not on days that I might need to serve as a storm spotter.

If severe weather is coming our way, I usually change into a sturdy pair of ankle-supporting hunting boots I bought on sale at Cabela’s, even if I’ll be staying home during the storm.

Why? On word: debris.

National Weather Service photo

After a storm passes, I might have to walk through storm debris, which can include pieces of trees and pieces of buildings. The walking surface might be uneven. Some of the debris might have sharp edges.

I choose to protect my feet from all that, a practice I learned back in the 90s when I served as an emergency medical technician and communications technician on a Disaster Medical Assistance Team. It’s how I dressed my feet every day, even in tropical weather when assisting the victims of Hurricanes Andrew and Marilyn.

My advice: If you’re a storm spotter or storm chaser, get yourself a good pair of boots to wear anytime you’re in the field, even on hot, humid days. And no matter who you are, if you ever have to take shelter in your house from a coming storm, take the most protective footwear you have with you to the basement, interior room, etc. Put them on after the storm, before you step outside to survey the damage. Your feet will be much safer.

Significant outbreak forecast in tornado alley today

The Storm Prediction Center’s initial “Day One Convective Outlook” for today forecast “a significant severe weather event” from late this afternoon into this evening in parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

You can bet the roads in that area will be filled with storm chasers and spotters. Many will be broadcasting live video from their vehicles, so we can watch the action here in Indiana. You can find most of those video feeds on any of these sites: www.chasertv.com, www.severestudios.com or tvnweather.com.

This event also provides an opportunity to gain some early-season experience looking at the various weather and radar data as the storms develop.


Respect for Storm Chaser Reed Timmer

Storm Chaser Reed Timmer
Some of my readers know that I serve in a leadership position for IMO SKYWARN, the ham radio SKYWARN organization in northern Indiana. As a SKYWARN storm spotter, I’ve enjoyed watching the Discovery Channel’s reality show, “Storm Chasers,” even through there are considerable differences between storm chasing and storm spotting.  When I heard that one of the stars of that show, meteorologist and storm chaser Reed Timmer (Twitter: @reedtimmerTVN, Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/ReedTimmerTVNWeb: www.tornadovideos.net) would speak here in Fort Wayne, Indiana I was certainly interested but I admit that I was skeptical about the value of attending. Ivy Tech Community College brought Reed in as the inaugural speaker in its new Inspire Academy lecture series.
I’ve worked in television and I know how editing can create an inaccurate perception of people and events. So I knew that even though Reed sometimes comes off as a thrill seeker on the TV show, he might be very different in real life. Still, I expected that his presentation would be more about TV and less about meteorology, to appeal to a general audience, so I didn’t expect much.
Boy, was I wrong and boy, am I glad I attended Reed’s talk.
He gave an excellent presentation that focused on the science he does when he’s chasing. Yes, he does real science; he doesn’t just pay it lip service. I’ve attended several symposiums to further my education beyond what the NWS provides in basic spotter training but I still learned some things from Reed’s talk. His discussion of suction vortices in tornadoes was particularly interesting. So was his data plot that showed wind speeds during a tornado intercept dropping to 8 MPH and then increasing to 138 MPH (or was it knots … I don’t remember) in a second or less.
I was also impressed that Reed did his best to fight warning desensitization (about which I’ve written previously). He also encouraged people to have alarm-style NOAA weather radios in their homes. And this really impressed me: he encouraged audience members to attend NWS spotter training classes.
After the talk, a throng hung out for a chance to meet and speak personally with Reed. I didn’t have time to await a chance to do that, or I would have told him personally how impressed I was. Maybe he’ll see this blog post. Let me just say that I now have great respect for Reed Timmer. He’s much more impressive in person than on TV. If you ever have a chance to see him speak, don’t miss it.