2012-12-21 / In the Know

Weather spotter information is vital

By B. Michael Thurlow Special contributor

Last August I wrote a column about how the town of Scarborough was working to become certified as a Storm Ready community by the National Weather Service.

Earlier this week, I visited the National Weather Service office in Gray to help tape a video segment intended to train public safety dispatchers about the information that weather forecasters want to gather from the field through our public safety officials. The information includes data first responders can obtain for detailed information directly from the local forecasters during a significant weather event.

To help obtain critical local weather information the weather service established SKYWARN.

SKYWARN is a volunteer program with nearly 290,000 trained severe weather spotters across the country. The volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the weather service.

In an average year, 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes occur across the United States.

The events threatened lives and property. Since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by SKYWARN spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled the weather service to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods.

SKYWARN weather spotter training covers the basics of thunderstorm development, fundamentals of storm structure, identifying potential severe weather features, what information to report, how to report the information and basic severe weather safety. Anyone with an interest in public service is encouraged to join the SKYWARN program.

Volunteers include police and fire personnel, dispatchers, emergency medical workers, public utility workers and other concerned private citizens. Individuals affiliated with hospitals, schools, churches, nursing homes or who have a responsibility for protecting others are also encouraged to become a spotter.

One of the requirements to become a Storm Ready community is to provide weather spotter training which is generally done in the spring before thunderstorm season. Scarborough plans to host a class and we will publish the date once it is scheduled. In the meantime, anyone can become a snow spotter for the National Weather Service without the formal training program.

For more information about the program or to register as a volunteer, the National Weather Service in Gray’s website at http://www.erh.noaa.gov/gyx/spotters_ skywarn/precip.shtml.

Understanding the impacts of and being prepared for severe weather events is everyone’s responsibility.

For more information about this column or any fire department issue, contact me at mthurl@ci.scarborough.me.us or 730- 4201.

B. Michael Thurlow is fire chief for Scarborough.

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