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Severe weather spotters prepare for the season

Taylor Hughlett, 27, of Arlington, recently attended one of the SKYWARN classes that are being conducted by the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth. The NWS will conduct 50 classes by the end of March to train volunteers on how to report severe weather.
Taylor Hughlett, 27, of Arlington, recently attended one of the SKYWARN classes that are being conducted by the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth. The NWS will conduct 50 classes by the end of March to train volunteers on how to report severe weather. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Everyone is tired of the weather after the gray, dreary and wet days lately — but severe weather season in North and Central Texas is on the way.

No one knows that better than the National Weather Service office in Fort Worth, which is in the midst of a push to conduct severe-weather spotter classes for volunteers in 46 counties as part of the SKYWARN program.

“Radars are great tools, but they don’t tell you everything,” said Mark Fox, warning and coordination meteorologist at the federal agency in Fort Worth. “You don’t see what is going on. Spotters help us make better warning decisions.”

Volunteers include teens, the elderly, police, firefighters, dispatchers, public utility workers, hospital workers, church and nursing home officials, amateur radio operators, emergency responders and students. They all learn the basics of thunderstorms and how to report severe weather information to meteorologists.

Volunteer spotters say radar is the air support while they are the ground troops for the weather service.

The SKYWARN program began in the 1970s. Teamed with Doppler radar and improved satellites, it enables the weather service to provide timely, accurate warnings of tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods.

Last year, the area reported seven tornadoes, compared with 24 in 2013. On average each year, there are more than 1,000 tornadoes, 5,000 floods and 10,000 severe thunderstorms in the U.S., according to the weather service.

The goal of the two-hour, free classes is to provide essential information for all types of weather hazards.

Meteorologists teach fundamentals of storm structure, identifying potential severe weather features, what information to report and basic severe weather safety for spotters. Words such as wall clouds, baseball-size hail and shelf clouds fill each class.

The interest in stormy North Texas weather is intense: More than 3,200 residents have attended SKYWARN classes so far. Dozens were at a class at Eastern Hills High School on a recent weekend.

Trey Fulbright of Fort Worth, 15, had his parents drop him off at the class.

“I’ve been fascinated with thunderstorms since I was 2,” said Fulbright, who is hoping for a career as a broadcast meteorologist.

Curiosity led University of Texas at Arlington student Taylor Hughlett of Arlington to the class.

“It was just personal interest,” Hughlett said. “I learned a lot, especially the structures of storms and trying to determine what side of the storm we were on.”

Robert Turpin of Arlington was at the weather spotter class for a refresher. He’s a member of Fort Worth/Tarrant County RACES, an amateur radio group that provides weather and emergency updates.

“There’s a lot of severe weather in this area and it just helps to be reminded of what to look for during these storms,” Turpin said.

Fox said the focus of the current classes is spring storms.

Gary Gregg, a Tarrant County RACES official and Euless’ technical services manager, said: “It’s the ground truth. A trained spotter can give meteorologists information on what’s happening on the ground, and that’s very important information.”

The federal agency also does some winter-weather training in fall classes.

Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763

Twitter: @mingoramirezjr

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