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Storm season upon us

May 19, 2014

MARSHALL COUNTY — Rain is essential to the growth of spring flowers and green grass. Thunder and lightning are also common sounds and sights during the spring season. Sometimes the storms become severe and lead to threatening high winds and tornadoes. During those dangerous weather times it is important for everyone to be prepared.

The Marshall County Emergency Management Agency, law enforcement agencies and Skywarn Storm Spotters work together with the National Weather Service (NWS) to deliver accurate updated information to citizens.

It all starts with the Doppler radar from the NWS or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Individuals at the NWS monitor the radar and report to the public when severe weather is possible.
Director of the Marshall County Emergency Management Agency Clyde Avery is responsible for keeping a close eye on the radar to make local reports.

When a severe thunderstorm or tornado warning or watch is issued by the NWS it can be confusing what to do.

Avery explains, “A watch means watch the sky dangerous weather is possible. A warning means dangerous weather is happening and people should seek shelter immediately.”

The radar is the first indication of weather issues but it is only effective at determining the weather above the ground. That is where the Skywarn Weather Spotters become vitally important to the NWS and the general public.

“The volunteer spotters are able to see things the radar cannot. They are the ones that go out into the area a storm is brewing and report their findings back to the NWS,” Avery said.

Skywarn spotters work on a volunteer basis. They do training both online and in a classroom setting to learn the most up to date weather information. Most spotters have some type of weather instruments on their vehicles to get accurate information about wind speeds, barometric pressure, rain fall and other data to report back to the NWS.

Matt McFarland of Bremen decided to go through the training after he witnessed the devastation of the Oct. 18, 2007 tornado that hit Nappanee.

“I have always been interested in the weather. After I saw the devastation in Nappanee, I knew that I wanted to be more involved and try to help people be prepared,” McFarland explained.

That is when he went to www.skywarn.org to learn more about severe weather.

John Sellers, of Plymouth, is also a volunteer spotter through Skywarn since the early 1990s. For Sellers studying the weather has been a part of his interest since an early childhood experience.

“My friends and I used to drive around and watch storms when we were teenagers,” Sellers admitted. “It wasn’t the smartest thing we did but it piqued my interest to learn more.”

As spotters both McFarland and Sellers have weather equipment on the top of their vehicles. The devices are used to collect data that they can report to the NWS.

“I have an anemometer on my jeep that measures wind speeds,” said McFarland. “Any wind speeds over 55 miles per hour I report. I plan on buying a weather station in the future for more data collection.”

The weather station that McFarland referenced is what Sellers uses. It not only has the anemometer but also a thermometer to record the temperature, a barometer to record the barometric pressure and a hygrometer to measure the relative humidity (the percentage of water vapor in the air). These devices are purchased by the spotter at their own expense. The information that they can provide can be priceless to the NWS and the public.

“We report the wind speed and direction, dew point, amount of rain fall and barometric pressure of the location we are in to the NWS so that they have accurate and specific information for that area,” Sellers explained. “They can use that information and compare it with other information they have received to get a more clear picture of what the weather is doing. That allows them to predict more accurately what the weather will do next.”

For the complete story, including tips on how to stay safe and a history of tornadoes in Marshall County, check out the weekend edition of the Pilot News. Single copies available in e-edition.

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