published Monday, March 19th, 2012

Dealing with severe weather

There are many reminders of the waves of deadly tornadoes that struck here last spring and the similarly dangerous string of storms that pummeled the region earlier this month. There are the physical reminders in the form of damaged property, ravaged landscape and still-rebuilding infrastructure. There are emotional scars, as well, present in people who suffered the storms' fury first-hand and in those who witnessed the devastation following them. Another legacy is the increased desire by area residents to do something to help their communities prepare for future outbreaks of severe weather. The SkyWarn program provides that opportunity.

SkyWarn is the National Weather Service's volunteer network that trains individuals to identify and describe severe storms in their hometowns. It's a valuable program. Currently there are almost 290,000 trained spotters across the county. The group is an important adjunct of the Weather Service, providing meteorologists there with information that helps the service to issue timely warnings to those in the path of possibly death-dealing weather.

There's no doubt the services of the spotters are valuable. Weather Service officials say that the work of the volunteers enables the agency to issue more accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods. Area residents need no reminder that statement is true. Information gathered by storm spotters last spring and earlier this month provided details that allowed the Weather Service to issue detailed warnings that in many cases provided additional minutes needed for those in harm's way to seek life-saving shelter. What better way to assist friends and neighbors?

The opportunity to provide such assistance is not limited to current spotters. The NWS can always use more, according to agency officials. Indeed, the service offers severe weather spotter classes in many communities to train volunteers. In the wake of the area's recent storms, the two-hour classes have proved extraordinarily popular.

A large gathering attended the NWS-sponsored spotter class in Hamilton County last month. A class in Cleveland, Tenn., last week was so popular that people filled a 101-seat Lee University lecture hall, with an overflow of at least 100 more people standing in the room and even more listening from a hallway outside. The next class in the area is scheduled at 6 p.m. March 28 at the Meigs County Emergency Operations Center on Highway 58. If you plan to attend, arrive early. Officials predict another capacity crowd eager to learn about severe weather and, perhaps, to become a spotter.

Those who complete the class receive a two-year certificate, an identification number and NWS contact information. With that in hand, they become a part of the ever-expanding SkyWarn network. Members of the group say the classes are informative and useful. What they appreciate most, they agree, is the training that allows them to fulfill their desire to help others deal with severe weather. The willingness to perform that service is a testament to the unselfish community spirit that is a long and proud tradition of this region.

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