Naturally, National Weather Service, Wilmington, Ohio, forecaster Andy Hatzos is always thinking about that universal topic. “There’s nothing so far tonight, but I’m kind of keeping an eye on it,” he told about 70 who attended a severe weather spotters training program April 7 for surrounding first responders, police, dispatchers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and Margaret Mary Health and school personnel. It was hosted by the Hillenbrand Inc., Batesville, Global Security Team.
A video showed clouds shifting, weeds blowing and a wall of clouds advancing with a spike of lightning in the middle accompanied by, of course, suspenseful music. Next was rain splattering on a windshield with lightning ahead. And what could be more dramatic than rotating clouds with a tornado in the middle?
A 30-foot-wide Doppler radar device atop a 100-foot-tall tower at the NWS office spins day and night, sending out pulses of energy that hit targets in the sky – clouds, wind turbines, rain, hail and birds. It measures velocity to determine motion in the atmosphere.
The system isn’t perfect. The earth is curved, but the radar beam is not. Southeastern Indiana is far from radar sites in Wilmington, Indianapolis and Louisville.
“The lowest I can see in the atmosphere is about a mile,” Hatzos reported. He emphasized, “We really need people on the ground who are able to see things we can’t” and that’s where volunteer spotters, who relay real-time information to NWS, come in.
The speaker pointed out, “If we can tell people, ‘This storm is confirmed to be producing a tornado’ … that instantly gives our message more urgency … and hopefully helps us get more people to safety.”
Most folks know the terminology. A watch, issued by the NWS Storm Prediction Center, Norman, Okla., “means that conditions are favorable for hazardous weather in and near the watch area .... A warning means that the expected weather event is imminent or occurring.”