The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 29, 2013

Resident storm spotters help National Weather service

By Carra Higgins
Register-Herald Reporter

— During the past year, the region, state and country have experienced just how devastating weather can be and residents knowing how to “spot” weather can be a valuable tool for the National Weather Service and local emergency agencies.

The Beckley Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) hosted a “virtual storm spotter class” Thursday for the Skywarn volunteer program by the NWS in Charleston for approximately 10 area residents and some online participants from as far  away as Ohio.

Even with plenty of advanced technology to track weather, the NWS has some limitations and therefore needs to rely on individuals to compensate. A “spotter” can also provide weather hazard information to area agencies, including the NWS, emergency management agents and media.

Beckley Director of Emergency Services Kevin Taylor explained that local weather spotters who share information with the NWS in Charleston provide firsthand observations of severe weather, including tornadoes, severe thunderstorms, snow storms and flooding. With the spotter information and observations, the NWS can issue appropriate warnings and watches, which enable communities and individuals to prepare for impending or potential hazardous weather, Taylor said.

For example, if a spotter observes heavy rain and rising streams in Charleston, they can call the information into the NWS and meteorologists can compare what is and has occurred to what is on radar and moving toward another area.

Even if trained spotters are driving or visiting another area, they can report any information, such as damaging hail, strong winds and downed trees or poor visibility conditions to the NWS as soon as they are able.

The NWS in Charleston observes weather for most of West Virginia, southeast Ohio, northeast Kentucky and parts of southwest Virginia and it is very difficult to keep tabs on what is going on in this large area during a severe weather event, the NWS says.

There is no charge to be a Skywarn volunteer and observations can be reported from anywhere. The only requirement to be part of Skywarn is completing the training session, which lasts approximately two hours.

— E-mail: chiggins@register-herald.com