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Science and the Environment

Ozarks Gears Up For Tornado Season, Part I: Storm Spotter Training and Severe Weather Technology

Although it's only early March, tornado season is already upon us. The devastation of the Joplin and Duquesne tornado is still fresh in our minds, and now the Branson, Cassville, Kimberling City and Dallas County areas have been hit by twisters. In part 1 of a 2 part series on being prepared for tornado season, KSMU’s Samuel Crowe discusses the role that new and existing technology plays in locating tornados, as well as the effectiveness of volunteer storm spotters and their training.

Storm spotters are volunteers who are trained by the National Weather Service to pinpoint severe storms. Keith Stammer is the Director of the Jasper County Emergency Management Agency. He encourages all citizens who are interested to attend the storm spotter training; in his words, forewarned is forearmed.

“It’s a class on how to identify storms, how storms build, what to look for, how to keep yourself safe, how to communicate with authorities and each other. It’s quite an informative class. We hold one every year,” Stammer said.

Steve Runnels is a Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Springfield. He says the actual role of storm spotting should be left to those with the ability to communicate via radio, such as off-duty police officers, firefighters, or amateur radio operators.

“Storm spotters provide a crucial piece of information, and that is they confirm the presence of a tornado or size of hail or strength of the wind. So consequently, while weather service radar is good, spotters are even better,” Runnels said.

And yes, the weather service radar is good, says Stammer. He says the Weather Service in Springfield upgraded its radar no more than two weeks ago.

“It’s a bi-pole radio signal. Normally, when it sends out a radio signal, it just cuts through the clouds horizontally. Now, it will make one pass through the clouds horizontally, and one pass through the clouds vertically. That will be combined into the radar image, and it gives you a more accurate idea of what’s going on,” Stammer said.

Even the tornado sirens in Joplin will be upgraded by July. Stammer says improving the electronics of the sirens has two advantages.

“One is, for example, we have a storm come through at two o’clock at night and there’s a lot of lightning. I, or dispatch or somebody can get up and poll all the sirens and say, ‘Are you ok?’ They will check themselves and send back, and we’ll know whether or not we lost a siren due to lightning. The second thing it will let us do is establish zones within the city. This will allow us to set off sirens where they are most deemed appropriate,” Stammer said.

Technology plays a big role in staying safe during severe weather, but both men agree that half the battle is up to the citizen; being aware of the current and future weather conditions, and responding immediately with proper action when severe weather hits. In part two of the series, we’ll take a look at what both the city of Joplin and the Weather Service learned from the Joplin tornado, as well as changes in the Joplin storm siren policy. For KSMU News, I’m Samuel Crowe.

TAG: Tune in at 4:30 today (Tuesday) to hear part two in our series, heeding sirens and seeking shelter. For more information about upcoming storm spotter training sessions, visit our website: