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Storm Spotter Online Training
NWS Springfield, MO

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Spotter Safety

Training Objectives

This training was designed to provide SKYWARN spotters, dispatchers, emergency management and the public in general with an understanding of:

  • The dangers of storm spotting. 

  • Specific weather dangers to spotters. 

  • Actions to take to ensure safe spotting.

The Safe Spotter

A spotter equipped with information is more effective. Spotters should routinely monitor NWS forecasts and outlooks. This information can prepare you for the type, timing and magnitude of coming severe weather events.

Storm spotting can be thrilling but dangerous!  It is essential that spotters understand the risk involved and not take storm spotting casually. A thorough understanding of storm types, structure and dangers is essential to your safety. 


Storm Spotter Dangers

Dangers that spotters may encounter include:

  • Traffic and other chasers converging on the same storm

  • Flash Flooding

  • Lightning

  • Wind

  • Hail

  • Tornadoes

Graph: see 64 year list of severe fatalities

Before storm spotting, ask yourself:

  • What are the weather hazards expected?

  • Where are the hazards expected to be and come from?

  • When is hazardous weather expected to occur in my area?

  • Do NWS products, radar, and the environment match expectations?

Answering these questions will result in safer and more effective storm spotting.


Lightning Safety

Lightning ranks as the # 2 killer among weather phenomena but is often underestimated as a killer.

Spotters are often in prime strike locations in open fields or on hilltops.


If mobile spotting, the safest place is to remain inside your vehicle. 

Do not park along fence lines, or near overhead electric/phone lines.

Avoid being the tallest object and stay away from other tall objects such as isolated trees.

If you can hear thunder you are in danger of being struck by lightning.  Take shelter.

The safest place to remain is indoors and away from windows and electrical appliances.


Tornado Safety

Plan ahead and know what to do if caught near a tornado.

Debris is the greatest danger.  Spotters can be affected by debris blowing well away from the tornado.

If a tornado approaches...

  • Move away at a right angle to the tornado.

  •  If this is not possible, abandon your vehicle for a sturdy structure.

  • If no shelter is available, lay flat in a dry ravine or ditch away from your vehicle.

Avoid taking shelter under a highway overpass.

Extreme caution should be used in tracking tornadoes.  Tornadoes normally track along with the parent storm, but tracks can vary!

Keep a one to two mile safety buffer zone between you and the storm.

Have an escape route planned and available.

radar image

Instead of continuing to the east, the Pierce City to Battlefield tornado pictured above veered sharply to the north along the dotted line.

Communication is important between other spotters and the NWS so you know the path of the tornado and can stay out of harms way.


Flash Flood Safety

Floods kill more people than any other weather hazard and pose a serious threat to storm spotters.

Storm spotting will frequently take you to flooded crossings.  Seek a different route or higher ground when encountering flooding

Leave your vehicle if it stalls in rising water.

Never cross through water covering the road unless absolutely sure the...

  • water depth is very shallow (< 6")

  • water is not moving

  • roadway is still intact.

If the water covering a road is muddy (as it will be in the most cases), water depth and road conditions will be difficult to determine.  In this case, turn around and find an alternate route.

Water filled roadway dips are difficult to see at night.  Slow down!  Hydroplaning is a real threat.

Never underestimate the incredible power and force of fast moving water. Two feet of water can pick up and carrying most vehicles including trucks and SUVs.

If water levels are up to a bridge, do not cross it as it may be damaged and unable to support the weight of your vehicle.

Remember, Turn Around Don't Drown!


Hail Safety

Use common sense and stay inside or remain in your vehicle.

Remember, hail larger than golf balls indicates the dangerous updraft portion of the storm and possible tornado may be approaching.


Spotting at Night

Mobile spotting at night is especially dangerous. Flooded roads, debris on the highway, poor visibility, inability to see the storm, fatigue and traffic all pose a serious threat to storm spotters.

While always recommended, it is a must for two people to team up when mobile spotting at night.  The second spotter can act as navigator and provides an extra pair of eyes to watch the sky and the road.

If you are spotting at night..

  • Know your directional relationship to the storm.

  • Keep in close contact with someone watching storms on radar

  • Be aware of reports from other nearby spotters for proper positioning

  • Watch for ground based flashes by a tornado breaking power lines.

  • Listen for roaring sounds but beware that wind blowing through trees may roar on it own.

  • Note the wind direction and changes in wind direction.

  • Utilize lightning to note storm structure and possible lower cloud base.

  • Don't confuse shelf clouds with wall clouds.


Mobile Spotter Safety

Mobile spotting can be dangerous considering the potential of flooded roads, debris on the highway, poor visibility, inability to see the storm, fatigue and traffic.

If a mobile spotter...

  • Use two people for an extra pair of eyes to watch the sky and the road.

  • Do not speed.

  • Avoid dirt roads (they get extremely slick when wet).

  • Park well off of the road and not under electrical lines or trees.

  • Avoid taking shelter under a highway overpass.

  • Keep a one to two mile safety buffer zone between you and the storm.

  • Have an escape route planned and available.

  • If a tornado approaches, move away at a right angle to the tornado. If this is not possible abandon your vehicle for a sturdy structure.  If no shelter is available, lay flat in a dry ravine or ditch away from your vehicle.


 

Thank You!

The National Weather Service thanks all of those who volunteer their time and energy in providing crucial storm reports. 


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