Importance of storm spotters during severe weather season

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – Spring has officially begun and we are now entering what is known as our main severe weather season across the Ohio Valley. When it comes to severe weather events and coverage, it’s not always the latest technology that saves the day; sometimes it’s those eyes on the skies known as severe weather spotters.

Caitlyn French with the Warren County Emergency Management tells us that the main importance is that storm spotters can reassure the weather community of what they are seeing on radar.

“I cannot stress how important it is to have that ground truth,” says French.

National Weather Service meteorologist Christine Wielgos agrees. “Nothing can ever really replace the eyes and ears out there in the field. They help to validate what we’re seeing on radar. And by working together with our spotters, the main goal is obviously the protection of life and property.”

Technology, such as Doppler radar and wind velocity data, has their limitations. A radar beam increases in height with distance, so the further away a storm is from the radar location, the less accuracy there is in terms of what’s happening closer to the ground. A spotter, however, is giving live, real-time information from ground-level and can either confirm or debunk what the radar is telling us.

“If there’s a tornado in the northern part of the county,” says French, “we here in the central part of the county are aware of it and know that it’s true. We know that the radar may say that it is, but ‘spotter public’ out there says hey, I see it from my house. We know it’s really out there, we can take the appropriate steps.”

French also wants the public to know that, yes, there is a difference between being a storm spotter and a storm chaser.

“We prefer, and we actually ask, our storm spotters to not go out after this. I mean yes, go step out on your porch or your yard to see it. Make sure that you are close enough and have enough time to get back into a safe location.”

From a National Weather Service standpoint, Wielgos tells us that history shows people will be more likely to take action in a severe weather situation if there is confirmation at the ground level versus if it is detected on radar. This makes the role of the storm spotter even more important and potentially life-saving.

“Many people may turn their nose up at a ‘Doppler radar-indicated tornado’ warning and say, oh it’s just another warning,” explains Wielgos. “But when the warning says a spotter has reported or confirmed a tornado or spotters have confirmed damage, then we’re able to integrate that into the warning.”

If you are interested in becoming a certified storm spotter but missed the recent classes in our area, there is no need to worry. You can become a spotter by taking online training any time of the year. Click here for more details on the online training.