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Community Safety

Improving Severe Weather Notifications: What Storm Spotters Can do That Radars Cannot

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Kathryn Eutsler/KSMU
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The National Weather Service says Missouri ranks eighth in frequency of tornadoes. But the technology that detects these severe storms is not the only line of defense, and in fact can be taken for granted. KSMU’s Kathryn Eutsler attended a recent Storm Spotter Training Course to learn the value of this boots on the ground approach.

When the tornado sirens begin to wail, many don’t seem to take the warning seriously. That’s according to Pleasant Hope volunteer firefighter Tyler McClean, one of roughly 100 attendees of last Tuesday’s training held in Springfield.

“It’s just something that we’ve come to expect—over the years we’ve gotten comfortable with it,” McClean says.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Doug Cramer shares the same fears, and says the agency is hoping to better educate the public on safe storm spotting.

While the radars, satellites, and surface weather stations used by the National Weather Service prove accurate, technology can miss essential information, Cramer explained. Trained storm spotters can help alleviate this problem.

“If we have a network of spotters we can trust, we can lower our FAR, our False Alarm Rate, and increase our probability of detection by hitting those tornadoes and performing well with our warnings,” Cramer said.

The class continued with an explanation of thorough weather situational awareness and a section on how to accurately classify funnel clouds. Cramer identified areas in the Ozarks that are known as “radar holes.”

“By the time our radar beam gets over there, it’s about 11,000-12,000 feet above the earth’s surface. Well guess what? Tornadoes develop underneath that level sometimes, and we just don’t see them,” Cramer says.

By knowing how to accurately identify that developing tornado, trained storm spotters can assist the National Weather Service in providing faster and more accurate watches and warnings.

Among those in attendance included amateur radio operators and emergency officials.

Some, however, like 14-year-old Spencer Allan, were simply members of the public, interested in increasing their weather knowledge.

“[This area] can be interesting weather wise—[we can] have four seasons in one week…I’m in scouts, and so it’s good to know stuff for the weather merit badge, and to be aware of what’s happening around me naturally,” Allan says.

Jerry Rowland agrees. She is the first-aid coordinator with the Green County Community Emergency Response Team, or CERT.

“I need the knowledge so I can share it with my team members…because we are in Tornado Alley, and as CERT members we need to know when weather’s happening, because a lot of what we do is after the storm. And we have to keep our own families safe, as well, too,” Rowland explains

Safety is the ultimate goal, Cramer concludes. He hopes that when people in the Ozarks hear that all-too-familiar tornado siren, they will know the correct response.

“That’s what the national weather service strives for, getting people to take action to inform people so they can take action and save lives,” Cramer says.

Recently, the National Weather Service, along with several regional emergency officials, came together to announce new outdoor warning siren activation procedures that offer more consistency for area citizens.

More information about becoming a trained storm spotter can be found here.

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