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Weather spotter classes offered on Whidbey

Green meteorologists hoping to dampen their feet often migrate to the Pacific Northwest to hone their skills. And receive a baptism by fire.

The greater the number of experienced sets of eyes trained on weather developments the better the chance of catching serious onslaughts before they hit. Recognizing the important role “weather spotters” play, the Island County Department of Emergency Management is again sponsoring Skywarn Weather Spotter classes.

Skywarn Weather Spotters, a valuable National Weather Service resource, are local volunteers trained to observe and report significant weather.

Meteorologists and weather specialists have impressive technology at their disposal, but getting “ground truth” is vital and in some cases, critical. Weather spotters support their local community as well as the emergency management community by providing the NWS with timely and accurate severe weather reports.

Specialists from the NWS Seattle Office often tagged with the moniker “weathermen,” will teach the classes. Given the region’s terrain-driven, erratic weather patterns, the demand for classes has been overwhelming. Island County, therefore, is only able to schedule the courses every two years.

This year’s Island County classes will be held April 30 on Whidbey Island.

“Since Island County often feels the hard edge of Puget Sound wind and weather, having a trained group of weather spotters in the county is very important to the emergency management office and the National Weather Service,” said Mike Simmons, Island County Emergency Planner.

The training will clarify for budding weather spotters the basics of accurately recognizing and reporting significant systems.

“We often find obtaining accurate and reliable weather reports from the general public is hit and miss. Weather spotters get the training that helps address that reliability issue,” said NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Ted Buehner. “The two-and-a-half hour training will cover what weather spotters do and who the event-driven hazardous weather reports support, as well as how to recognize winter weather and thunderstorm elements to report. A video presentation will augment the material. Everyone who attends finds it quite enjoyable and fun.”

Following the training, those who want to join the weather spotter team are registered and provided unique identification numbers. Weather spotters are not only responsible for reporting severely inclement weather to the NWS but may also field telephone inquiries if the agency needs specific information about unusual local weather in the spotter’s geographic area.

Skywarn weather spotter reports, the importance of which cannot be overstated, effectively provide “ground truth” for NWS technologies like Doppler weather radar and satellite imagery.

“Even in these high-tech times, there will always be a need for good eyes and trained observers,” Simmons reiterated.

The reports, when integrated with all available weather information sources, help forecasters detect and issue warnings about hazardous weather. The documents ultimately provide information that helps the NWS save lives and property.

Through the Skywarn program, the NWS works with other volunteer organizations, including Amateur Radio, the American Red Cross, and local emergency managers. Spotter reports are used by the NWS, media and emergency personnel to help encourage people to take the necessary safety measures to get everyone — animal, human and vegetable — out of harm’s way. Spotters’ information also reinforces the validity of NWS warning messages.

Anyone interested in the training should email the county DEM at dem@co.island.wa.us or call 679-7370 to reserve a seat. Prospective participants should provide their name and telephone number.

Additional information about Skywarn and other NWS programs can be found at www.wrh.noaa.gov/sew/spotter.php.

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