Between instruments measuring atmospheric data and advancements in satellite and radar technology, the amount of information available to meteorologists has exploded in recent years.
However, according to Audra Hennecke, National Weather Service (NWS) of Topeka senior forecaster, there is no substitute for feet on the ground and eyes to the sky.
“In the weather world, it’s amazing just how much the technology has grown,” Hennecke said. “Some people might think ‘OK with all of that information at their fingertips, why would they need spotters?’ The reality is that environment information and radar information — that is only telling part of the story. There really is no substitute for accurate ground truth reports.”
Thursday night, Hennecke taught this year’s annual free storm spotter class in the Ottawa Memorial Auditorium, 301 S. Hickory St., Ottawa. The class — hosted in partnership with the Franklin County Emergency Management — was attended by more than 100 residents. After participating in the class, all attendees are now able to consider themselves “trained spotters;” individuals qualified to report severe weather to the NWS.
Hennecke opened and closed the class by emphasizing the importance of “situational awareness,” for all storm spotters, and encouraged residents to actively and continuously seek out severe weather information in the days, hours, and minutes leading up to any weather event.
“Situational awareness leading up to severe weather is so important,” Hennecke said.
From there, Hennecke explained radar technology and how the NWS leverages it — along with a database of trained storm spotters — to compile real-time weather reports for the general public. She then gave advice for how to clearly and concisely report severe weather phenomenon.
“Share the hazard that you are reporting, along with the, ‘when’ and the ‘where,’” Hennecke said, encouraging residents to share the time and location the weather impact occurred. Whether can be reported by calling the NWS 1-800-432-3929, or by reaching out to the organization’s Facebook and Twitter accounts.
The rest of the evening was devoted to learning the types, stages and severities of different weather phenomenon, including pulse storms, microbursts, line storms, tornadoes, hail, flooding and more.
“You don’t want to be losing situational awareness,” Hennecke said while wrapping up the evening. “If you are spotting storms, your conditions and location are constantly changing. So you have to be constantly evaluating where you’re at in relation to the storm.”