Newsletter Navigation – Spring 2015

The following links will open each blog post in a new window. All of the articles are also included below.

Office News & Events:


Weather & Forecasting:

Senior Service Hydrologist Wins U.S. Department of Commerce Bronze Medal Award

Post by Aubry Bhattarai – Journey Forecaster

The National Weather Service in Des Moines is pleased to recognize Senior Service Hydrologist Jeff Zogg as a recipient of the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bronze Medal Award. The Bronze Medal is the highest honor award that the Under Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere may bestow. The Bronze Medal recognizes outstanding and significant contributions which have increased the efficiency and effectiveness of the National Weather Service. Medals are awarded at a ceremony held near Washington D.C.

Jeff Zogg pictured with the Bronze Medal Award

Jeff Zogg pictured with the Bronze Medal Award

Jeff was a member of a team including Mike Callahan, Senior Service Hydrologist from Louisville, KY, and Richard Sloan, retired Service Hydrologist from Dodge City, KS. The team designed and implemented a new method for displaying river flood warnings. Previously, when a river flood warning was issued for a specific section of a river’s reach, the entire county (or counties) which were impacted were highlighted on the National Weather Service’s webpage, or other displays. However, only a small portion of the county may actually be under threat from the river flood. By highlighting the entire county, other hazards which may affect the county may be missed, or individuals outside of the threat area may believe they were affected by the hazard. The new method, developed by Jeff and his team, utilizes detailed geographic information to create a polygon of the specific threat area along the river. This new method significantly reduced the geographic area highlighted by warnings, by as much as 90% less, and allows for more accurate information and easier identification of the specific threat area. This new approach has been adopted by National Weather Service forecast offices across the country.

Congratulations to Jeff, Mike and Richard on their well earned award!

An example from the National Weather Service in Paducah, KY of the new River Flood Warning polygons in use.

An example from the National Weather Service in Paducah, KY of the new River Flood Warning polygons in use.

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.