Training prepares storm spotters to assist National Weather Service

COLUMBUS (WCMH)—The third week in March is designated Severe Weather Safety Awareness Week in Ohio. On Wednesday morning, tornado drills were conducted statewide, with siren tests and safety preparedness programs.

Franklin County offered its annual spotter training program Saturday at the OSU Fawcett Center, which attracted about 200 people from all walks of life, with an avid interest in learning about severe weather and potentially serving as an official weather spotter.

Franklin County Emergency Management and Homeland Security Director Jeff Young said, “In Franklin County, we have 1.2, almost 1.3 million people,” adding that “weather is constantly changing on a daily basis, and now we’re learning that in the urban setting, particularly, the weather has a significant impact on the community.”

Young said that with the uptick in urban tornadoes in recent years, “You never want to assume your safe. You always want to be prepared.

National Weather Service Warning Coordination meteorologist Brandon Peloquin, who travels from the Wilmington NWS office to counties throughout the forecasting region to train storm spotters, said, “Over the years, our Doppler radar has received several upgrades, so we’re seeing more products,” noting that “we might be able to issue tornado warnings a little bit sooner.”

Additional new high-resolution technology will soon be available to forecasters. In November 2016, the first of two GOES-R weather satellites was launched into space. “Even the satellite is going to help us with our severe thunderstorm warnings and tornado warnings,” Peloquin said.

The National Weather Service and county emergency management team recommends having multiple means to instantly receive weather warnings, because tornado sirens are mainly designed for outdoor use. One such program available on your mobile device is the Storm Team 4 Weather app, which is a free download on Google play and the App Store.

There are currently 122 National Weather Service offices across the country, which includes the SKYWARN program that enlists volunteers currently numbering more than 350,000 to provide eyes on the ground, since even the most advanced technology does not always “see” a tornado, especially at a significant distance from the radar site. That’s the primary reason trained spotters are essential to timely severe weather warnings.

Peloquin noted, “We go out to events like this and we train people, those who volunteer their time to relay reports to us at the National Weather Service.”

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