Virtual Storm Spotting

National Weather Service offers online SkyWarn training programs to replace cancelled classes due to COVID-19

MERIDIAN – Weather in general is more often than not a main topic of conversation in agricultural central Texas. Severe weather conditions and flash flooding tops any topic any day.

Severe weather threatens the 10-county Heart of Texas region on a regular basis, and particularly during April and May, when the most thunderstorms are reported in Texas.

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Recognizing different cloud types – like these mammatus clouds (top) – are part of the upcoming SkyWarn online classes offered.

Due to the COVID-19 precautionary measures, the National Weather Service's SkyWarn workshop offering citizens the opportunity to become a community storm spotter scheduled for March 19 at the Meridian Civic Center was cancelled by the organizer out of Fort Worth.

Instead, the NWS is offering online workshops, giving residents the opportunity to learn more about recognizing inclement weather, help report it and how to be prepared.

The classes are open to all North and Central Texas residents. But due to participant limitations, please register for only one class.

Although the first online class offered Wednesday, March 18 quickly filled to capacity, two more classes will be offered next week. The registration links are as follows:

Thursday March 26 @ 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.: https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/4814944342564560909

Saturday March 28 @ 9:30 a.m. - 11:30 a.m.: http://atendee.gotowebinar.com/register/8294606174382619405

The NWS can only see so much on radar, so on-the-ground information from spotters is very important. Spotter information helps the service predict whether the storm is intensifying or lessening.

A road sign “We are StormReady – be prepared,” is proof of a big achievement in Bosque County’s StormReady designation. About a third of the counties under the Fort Worth office qualify as StormReady.

Bosque County was the first rural county to get the designation showing they are an integrated warning team, tracking the weather, being prepared for it and then offering adequate warning to the population. The first responders, Community Emergency Response Teams, the weather service, Emergency Management and spotters are all part of that inclusive effort serving one goal – the protection of life and property.

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National Weather Service diagram demonstrating a thunder cloud becoming a storm.

Understanding a thunderstorm is understanding the conditions in which they are created and grow – air moisture, lift, instability and wind shear all contribute to thunderstorms. The NWS program offers general information on atmospheric conditions also with specific threat analysis. The Storm Prediction Center website offers information regarding high risk areas – areas where there is a higher probability of severe weather.

For those already a spotter, the SkyWarn program offers new video footage, new photo’s and up-to-date information on recent severe weather events and a chance to revise their knowledge.

For the newbies, the program teaches how to differentiate between scattered thunderstorms, a squall line and a super-cell. A thunderstorm that rotates is a super-cell. And a rotating wall cloud with a funnel cloud with debris in the air indicates a tornado. A thunderstorm for example is not severe unless there are winds over 58 miles per hour accompanied with hail bigger than one inch – penny size.

Radar images of the different types of thunderstorm formations will be shown.

Also important for storm spotters to recognize are the “tornado imposters” like gustnados, a dust devil, a smoke or steam column, a precipitation shaft or scud – funnel like appendages in clouds without rotation.

Accurate and concise reporting by people “on the ground” is vital for the NWS. Location, time, wind speed estimation, hail size estimation and visual observation are all important. Several ways of sending reports will be discussed at SkyWarn including using mPING – a web app.

Receiving information about severe weather conditions is important to the NWS, they always stress that the need of taking safety during storm spotting is vitally important. A video of enthusiastic storm spotters driving into a severe thunderstorm, with ultimately their windshield shattered by softball-sized hail bears proof of the dangers when out in the elements.

The Bosque County severe weather program is one of over 60 training sessions that the Fort Worth NWS Office conducts between January and March – prior to “tornado season.” The Fort Worth office provides forecasts, warnings, and weather services for 46 counties in north and north-central Texas.

For more information on severe weather, visit their website at http://www.weather.gov/fortworth, on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/NWSDallasFortWorth and on Twitter: @NWSFortWorth.

The Bosque County Office of Emergency Management strives to serve the citizens of Bosque County by directing and coordinating emergency management programs to prevent/mitigate, prepare for, respond to, and recover from emergencies and disasters.

For more information on their programs, visit their website at www.bosquecounty.us, on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/BosqueOEM and on Twitter: @bosqueemc.

Photos by SIMONE WICHERS-VOSS

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