Spotter Training Kicks Off for 2015

Post by Brad Small – Lead Forecaster

Spotter training is underway with around 30 in-person and online talks scheduled throughout central Iowa. All spotter talks are free of charge and open to the public on a first come, first served basis. Pre-registration is not required. The training sessions are often hosted by emergency management coordinators, fire departments, or amateur radio groups. Our Advanced Spotter Training class will also be brought to northeast Iowa for the first time, taking place on the University of Northern Iowa Campus April 23.  The training will be at Latham Hall, Room 125 at 7:00 pm. Attendance at a previous basic spotter training session is recommended. A complete list of class locations and dates can be found here.

Spotters play a critical role in the warning process. Meteorologists typically consider three things when making warning decisions: 1) radar information, 2) spotter reports and 3) atmospheric conditions. The lack of spotter reports removes almost a third of the information available to the warning meteorologist. This missing piece would be similar to a doctor trying to diagnose a patient based on tests and his or her history, but not being able to talk to them and receive real-time feedback. Recent advances in technology have certainly improved our radar information, but nothing replaces actual ground-truth reports which are critical, can help people take action and save lives.

Meteorologist Rod Donavon presents spotter training in Arcadia, IA on March 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of Tom Reis.

Meteorologist Rod Donavon presents spotter training in Arcadia, IA on March 16, 2015. Photo courtesy of Tom Reis.

The National Weather Service (NWS) in Des Moines currently has over 4,400 spotters but more are still needed, especially in rural areas, as most of our spotters are clustered in cities. The need is greatest in northern and southern Iowa. Our spotters are not chasers but rather points of contact that call the NWS with severe weather reports, or are available for inquiries from NWS staff regarding conditions in their area. All participants are volunteers and are never asked to go mobile or alter their plans on any given day. Being a spotter is a great way to help your community. The report you submit may make the difference in a severe weather situation and save lives. Reports also help document past events for research and insurance purposes.

The public is encouraged to submit severe weather reports even if you have never attended a training session. The National Weather Service actively monitors Twitter and Facebook via social media. Anybody can use the #nwsdmx or #iawx hashtags to submit reports and hail or wind damage photos via Twitter (@NWSDesMoines). Similarly, Facebook (NWSDesMoines) can also be used to submit weather reports.

Additional information on the spotter program and training resources can be found here.