El Niño is still in full swing, and the sporadic heavy rains that have already deluged the state are expected to continue through the spring. With a heavy storm season on the horizon, the National Weather Service is looking for volunteers to help provide essential information on all types of weather situations – and they’ll train you to help out!  Classes are available for people living in the Brazos River basin.

The Skywarn program uses private citizens to serve as \weather spotters, who help keep their communities safe by providing timely and accurate information to the National Weather Service. These weather spotters help the weather service alert people to dangerous conditions more quickly, and when disasters threaten, every second is important.

Spotters are trained for all types of hazardous weather. According to the National Weather Service, since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by SKYWARN® spotters, along with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods. The National Weather Service reports that in an average year, there are 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and 1,000 tornadoes across the United States. With El Niño conditions lingering, precipitation should continue to be above normal.

This year, storm spotting knowledge could be especially helpful. NASA recently announced that El Niño shows no signs of tapering off, and the latest satellite imagery shows the weather phenomenon could very well surpass the largest El Niño ever recorded, which took place in 1997-98. 

With that in mind, anyone with an interest in public service and the weather is encouraged to participate. Those who have a responsibility for protecting others, whether in law enforcement, firefighting, the medical field, schools, churches or nursing homes can help people stay safe by being trained as a weather spotter. But anyone with an interest is welcome to attend a Skywarn class.

Even with advanced weather prediction technology, there are still gaps, and storm spotters can help make a big difference when it comes to warning people about threatening weather. 

The Texas Storm Chasers website (texasstormchasers.com) explains it this way: “Even with all of that amazing technology nothing can replace trained weather observers and spotters for a very good reason.

“Even the most advanced weather radar cannot overcome the fact that the surface of the earth is curved. A beam from weather radar emanates as a straight line out mile after mile but since the earth is curved it gains altitude as you add distance. About 10 miles away from the radar the lowest beam is looking at about 500 feet above the ground. At 40 miles that altitude increases to over 3,000 feet. At 100 miles from the radar it can only see above 10,500 feet. While a powerful thunderstorm can extend over 50,000 feet, a potential tornado is in the lowest few hundred feet of the thunderstorm. So what does that mean?

“Weather radars can detect rotation in a thunderstorm but under most circumstances only a set of eyes on the ground can observe what’s occurring under a thunderstorm. Without installing weather radars about every 20 miles there is no way to overcome that issue. In some parts of Texas the closest weather radar is over 120 miles away. In those cases the only way to observe low-level features of thunderstorms or to know what type of precipitation is falling is by those on the ground reporting it to their local National Weather Service office or by sharing information on social media.”

The classes are great not only for learning about weather and alerting others, but also for your own peace of mind.

Before a new round of classes began a few years ago, Thomas Vanderveer of Bell County told the Killeen Daily Herald that attending a Skywarn class is a something that can benefit almost anyone.

“Just to know, for yourself, that if you're looking at a storm and say, ‘Am I in danger, or can I go back to bed?' you'll know,” he said. “You don't want to be caught unaware at night with a tornado coming down on you.” 

Training is conducted at several locations throughout the state, and classes teach people about:

  •          Basics of thunderstorm development.
  •          Fundamentals of storm structure.
  •          Identifying potential severe weather features.
  •          What information to report and how to report it.
  •          Basic severe weather safety.

Skywarn classes usually last about two hours, and in some locations, the basic class for beginners, as well as a more advanced class, are available. The classes are free and open to the public, and advance registration is not required.  To find a Skywarn class in your area, visit http://skywarn.org/skywarn-training/