Sunday, May 8, 2011

Storm Spotter Report Questioned in Indiana

As a storm spotter, I have mixed emotions about this news story. I have to believe there is more to it than the media reported. Maybe there is a history of false reports, either by this spotter or others. But this brought two things to mind that I wanted to write about.

First, during every severe weather event, reports come in and reports are scrutinized. That's just how it works. There is a reason it is suggested that spotters pair up and get multiple views of storms. Different views of a storm can reveal different aspects.

A great example of this is the April 22, 2011 severe weather that came through the area. Jeff Kerr (KC0VGC) and I (KB0WVT) were on the south side of a tornado warned storm in Christian County. Between Nixa and Highlandville, we were right under the storm. At one point, there appeared to be a funnel. Jeff and I pulled over to give it a closer look and it was gone. We did not report a funnel, because we couldn't verify it. From our view, it was dark on dark, so it was hard to confirm. On the south side of the same storm, with the benefit of back lighting, Ron Hearst (KC0TCD), Chief Meteorologist at KY3, and his wife recorded video of the same storm. It is fairly clear in the video there is a funnel. Different eyes with a different perspective saw things in different light. Again, this is just how the system works.

Secondly, SkyWarn net control operators, and NWS, know many of the spotters. I think it's fair to say that the experience level of SkyWarn spotters and interactions with them tend to give those folks an idea of the credibility of the report. That's not meant to be a dig on new spotters at all, it's just with experience comes more accurate and meaningful reports.

With all of that being said, I think that this is far from news. What this TV station made into a news story happens all the time. Most of the time it's not intentional, it's just what may appear to be one thing to one person, may not be the case from a different view. I think there is a harmful side effect here if it means spotters are afraid to report what they are seeing until a building is being destroyed.

To any spotters out there, my best advice is just do what you are trained to do. Report what you see, and report what you don't see. Don't assume anything. If you think you see a funnel, but can't confirm rotation, then say that. If it looks like it's on the ground, but you don't debris, then say that. I personally like to have verification of my reports if at all possible.

What's more important than any of this, spotters, be safe and thank you for volunteering to help save life and property.

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