Weather spotter training happening in a town near you

Posted at 6:57 PM, Apr 24, 2014
and last updated 2014-04-24 18:57:00-04

Wakefield, Va.  - Spotting severe weather might seem easy to some. But just because a storm looks severe doesn't mean it actually is.

"People providing us information about what is going on with storms is an invaluable resource.  We can't be everywhere," said Bill Sammler, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Wakefield.

Sammler says Hampton Roads needs more trained weather spotters through a program called SKYWARN. The program consists of volunteers, spread out across an area, who help keep their communities safe, by being trained to identify hail, different clouds and whether or not storms are severe.  Then they report that information to the National Weather Service. Volunteers also help gather information on snow and flooding events.

"The real benefits are getting accurate information in a timely fashion," said Sammler.

Doppler radar is an important tool during severe weather. But when storms are rolling through our area, Doppler radar cannot tell whether or not a tornado is actually touching the ground.  That's when SKYWARN is most important, having a network of people around the area to see what's really happening on the ground.

"Let's say for example we've issued a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Isle of Wight and Southampton counties. That storm's headed into the Southside portion of Hampton Roads. Getting feedback about whether that storm's producing hail one inch or greater or producing winds strong enough to do damage really reinforces to the forecaster that hey, this storm is severe," said Sammler.

The SKYWARN class takes a couple of hours to complete, which can be done in person or online - a vital network to have, especially as more storms fire up this spring and summer.

To find out when the next SKYWARN class will be offered in Hampton Roads, click here.