SKYWARN teaches how to track storms
When inclement weath-
er rolls through the county, emergency services and the National Weather Service rely on amateur storm spotters to track and diagnose the strength and aftermath of storms.
On Saturday, July 27 Steele County SKYWARN hosted a training session at the Owaton- na Fire Station for residents
who want to learn a thing or two about weather and see if they might be interested in trying their hand at helping SKY- WARN during storms.
“We normally offer this training session in the spring, but we chose to do it this time of year because of the interest, we have about 3,800 people following us on Facebook,” Dave Purscell of Steele County SKYWARN explained. “It got
very, very busy after Sept. 20 of last year, that tends to happen anytime we get severe weather.”
The busy season for SKY- WARN typically runs from March or April until late autumn, during which thunder- storms and tornados often rip through parts of the state. “You
can have tornados anytime of
the year,” Purscell said.
At the training session, Purscell ran through some of the techniques to spotting
and identifying severe weath-
er, including hail, thunder-
storms, and tornados. He also addressed how to track these and use location to give updates to SKYWARN
which then consolidates that
information for the National
Weather Service.The Forum also taught those in attendacne how to monitor severe weather in a safe and
responsible way, as well as how to properly report such cases as a spotter. Spotters operate in the field, usually in pairs or groups, and are
tasked with helping to deliver any information they can to SKYWARN, operating out
of the Owatonna Fireman’s Hall. They are required to attend a training session such as this one once every two years.
“We need lots of spotters, we
have 430 square miles in this county,” Purscell said of the importance of training classes such as this one. “Being able to cover that when we’re doubling people up, and when people work multiple shifts and may
or may not be available any given time, and the fact that I need four or five people to staff my weather operation center, I need plenty of spotters.”
Training sessions such as
these are open to the public, and SKYWARN holds regular meetings at the Owatonna Fire Station on the third Tuesday of every month. “Some time people will attend who have no intention of spot- ting, they just want to learn more about severe weather, and that’s fine, we’re happy
to share that information,” Purscell said.
“Our organization is pre-
dominately about having spot- ters so we can help make peo- ple aware, that’s our primary
responsibility, but we’re really
into education, severe weather education,” he explained. “We send out members of our group to go speak at service organi- zations or clubs, we’re more than happy to put on a 15- or
20-minute program.” Although it is not a nec-
essary skill, knowledge of ama- teur radio helps spotters in the field when cellphone coverage and reliability can get dicey. “Amateur radio is very helpful, most SKYWARN groups around the country are only amateur radio, but we chose a few years ago to allow cell- phone users because we want more people to participate.”
“A lot of people who choose to be spotters find out very quickly when they’re riding with somebody who does use amateur radio that it is much better,” Purscell said. “Be- cause you’re listening to all
of the communication that is going on.”
With years of experience, Purscell and his fellow SKYWARN spotters have
seen plenty of severe weather. “Sept. 20 of last year was cra- zy, there was a lot of interest after that one, but June 17,
2010 was the largest torna- do outbreak in the State of Minnesota,” he said. “We had five tornados in Steele County that day.”
He also has tips for mo- torists who may be out in inclement weather. The first
is to understand weather,
and to avoid traveling in it if possible. “Everybody should be aware of what’s going on, and plan their trips accord- ingly,” Purscell said. “If you are caught on the road, all the new warning systems actual- ly list the mile markers where the threats are between, so paying attention to where you’re at on the road helps.”
“You do not want to drive through flooded roadways, and definitely slow down
if the visibility is bad,” he continued. “If you’re going to pull off the road because of visibility or hail make sure you’re completely off the road- way, and flashers should be
on for that.” During a tornado stopping below an underpass is not a wise decision, due to the wind tunnel effect it cre- ates. “The air speeds increase within that wind tunnel that’s formed in there so it’s a very dangerous place to be.”
For those who want to get
involved or simply learn more, attending one of the meetings is a great start. “If you are
interested in spotting for Steele County SKYWARN the best thing that you can do is come
to our monthly meetings,” Purscell said.
Anyone who wishes to learn more about SKYWARN and the services they provide can visit their website at: http://www.steelecountyskywarn.org/.