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Volunteer storm spotters are needed to report severe weather

A tornado touching down near Middletown on February 27, 2023.
Ben Stevic, KE8MLX
A tornado touched down near Middletown on February 27, 2023. Storm spotters are vital in reporting severe weather to the National Weather Service.

April, May and June are peak months for severe weather in Ohio. We’ve already had a taste of severe weather in southwest Ohio this year with a few tornadoes in late February and early March.

The National Weather Service has the latest technology available for predicting and reporting dangerous weather, like the tornadoes we experienced in late February. But perhaps its most valuable tool are volunteers keeping an eye on the sky. These volunteers receive training from the National Weather Service and a group called Dayton Skywarn. WYSO's Mike Frazier asked Louis Long, the co-coordinator of the Dayton Skywarn storm spotting group, about the organization.

Lewis Long, Co-Coordinator Dayton Skywarn Amateur Radio storm spotting group: Skywarn is a nationwide program that was started in the 1970s to train the general public in recognizing and reporting severe weather as it's forming and as it's occurring and to report damage, tornadoes, funnel clouds, wall clouds, and other things that go along with severe weather. Here in the area, it started to form and get organized right after the 1974 Xenia tornado. And then it's just grown from there.

Mike Frazier: So, they’re trained to look for weather conditions that could potentially be dangerous or damaging for the general public and then report that?

Long: Right. And what they are doing is assisting the National Weather Service with their primary mission of protecting life and property. But what the spotters are providing, the information they provide, is what is called ground truth information. So if they're looking at a radar signature and it looks like it might be a hook echo, it might be forming a tornado, but they're not entirely sure, if somebody calls and says, 'Yes, I'm right here, I'm very nearby this storm and I do see a funnel cloud forming or I do see a very small tornado on the ground.' That's the ground truth information that they're looking for so that they're not over-warning and at the same time under-warning and missing a severe event, if you will. So that warning gets out to everyone so they can do what they need to do to protect their own family and their own property and be safe.

Frazier: Now, some people may think that with all the computerized high tech tools that the National Weather Service has, that they can just sit in their office, like you were saying earlier, and say, 'Oh, here comes a tornado.' But they need more information than what they can see on their screens.

Long: Right. And as part of the class, you'll learn that radar does have its limitations. Their radar in Wilmington is the newest generation of radars. But all radars have limitations.

Frazier: They're having training coming up, I believe, by this weekend and early next week?

Long: Yes. The Dayton Skywarn group, along with the National Weather Service Office in Wilmington, is hosting a basic spotter training class. It will be Saturday starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Carney Auditorium in the National Museum of the US Air Force over in Riverside. There is no pre-registration required. There is no cost to attend. The whole training will take about two and a half, three hours.

Frazier: There's training on Monday, March 13 for Darke and Preble County, and on Tuesday, March 14 for Greene and Clark County as well.

Long: So if you're not able to make it Saturday to ours, you can attend either the Preble and Darke, or the Greene/Clarke [event]. The training is going to be exactly the same. They're also doing two more virtual trainings, if none of the in-person trainings will fit for you. It’s exactly what they would do at the in-person training. It's just they do it over the virtual platform.

Frazier: Talk about safety. I assume the training talks about how to do this safely because severe weather can be dangerous, right?

Long: It can be life threatening and life-claiming. Safety is the number one thing. You are becoming a storm spotter, not a storm chaser.

Frazier: So we're not chasing tornadoes here?

Long: We are not chasing anything except the animals into the basement when the tornado sirens go off. It's very important to the weather service. Because as I said earlier, it helps with their mission. Their mission is to protect life and property. They need that ground truth information from you as a soon-to-be trained spotter, or if you already are the trained spotter, to verify and confirm what it is they've seen. And, by giving your report, you are helping them and helping others in your area and your community and even those further away to protect life and property.

More information on the storm spotter training is on the National Weather Service website. You can also visit Dayton Skywarn's website.

A chance meeting with a volunteer in a college computer lab in 1987 brought Mike to WYSO. He started filling in for various music shows, and performed various production, news, and on-air activities during the late 1980s and 90s, spinning vinyl and cutting tape before the digital evolution.