Learn how to be a storm spotter

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If you're not the type of person to wait around for the weather forecast, how about actually giving our Valley meteorologists the heads up on the next big storm. 3TV shows you how to become a real-life storm chaser.
Gary Woodall is used to talking about the weather. He's a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Phoenix. But on this night, Woodall is sharing the ins and outs of his trade with people who want to chase storms.

“We have had storm spotters in the Valley for a number of years now and they really play an important role when we have severe weather in the area,” Woodall said.

In a two-hour seminar, volunteers will learn how thunderstorms work, how to identify what a cloud looks like and its association with microbursts and tornadoes. They'll also learn how their reports can play a role in the warnings and advisories issued by the National Weather Service. 

“Our most important mission in the National Weather Service is to protect life and property,” Woodall said. “We do that by issuing the warnings in advance of severe hazardous weather and the spotters are key part of the warning system, along with our meteorologists and our partners in the media.”

The storm spotters can make their reports in a variety of ways.
“The amateur radio operators will communicate directly over the amateur radio frequencies,” Woodall said. “The spotters can call in the information to us on an unlisted number that we give them. We'll also give them a spotter identification number.”

Woodall said even with all the high-tech equipment he uses from Doppler radar to satellites, it's those eyewitness reports coming from the scene that can give them another perspective.

“With radar we are really only cutting through about the cloud base of the storm,” Woodall said. “So the spotters are able to give us ground truth reports to what's actually happening on the ground underneath the storm.”
One recent example of the importance of storm spotters came last fall during the big hail storm.
“What we did not know is that they we're going to be record producing as far as hail sized were concerned,” Woodall said. “In fact, it was the storm spotters that gave us the 2 1/2-diameter hail report in Scottsdale and the 3-inch diameter hail report in northwest Phoenix heading to Glendale.”

While everyone has their own reasons for wanting to volunteer for the job, many told us safety is at the top of the list.

“If I can call in and let somebody know ahead of time, they perhaps can be better prepared to deal with it,” Ann Yates said.

“I spend a lot of time teaching and training to prepare people for a disaster and this is just one more tool I have to teach other citizens to be prepared,” Joe Rio said. “If I can save one life, I saved one life.”

For more information go to www.wrh.noaa.gov/psr/general/spotter/index.php.