How did we know there would be a tornado cutting its jagged swath across our neighborhood last year on Sunday, May 22, 2011? Of course, nobody knew soon enough ahead to avoid the massive destruction they themselves suffered, and thank goodness no more lives were lost. These are such vicious storms. There were terrible, and mostly unannounced, tornadoes through the Northside of Minneapolis in the mid-1960s, and again in 1987.
I was told at a storm spotting class I attended early this June, that the May 2011 tornado was first reported on the ground by a local Skywarn spotter, just minutes before it hit. That is how fast severe weather can strike!
The Metro Skywarn consists of over a thousand amateur radio operators in the Twin Cities area who are trained storm spotters. To participate in Skywarn, we must hold an amateur radio license, own our own equipment, and take the storm spotter training at least once every two years. Having met these preparation requirements, our reports of very specific storm events are sent immediately by our network control radio station to the National Weather Service, for evaluating the local storm’s intensity, direction, etc. Very specific events are reported such as, tornado on the ground, funnel cloud, wall cloud, 3-inch or larger tree limbs down, hail, flooding, and whatever else the net control operator asks for.
First of all, I must caution you that Skywarn does not train storm chasers. Storm chasing, though their reports are helpful, even enlightening, requires much more intensive training and must be done completely at the chaser’s own risk. Skywarn storm spotting, however, is carried on with the utmost in safety to the spotters. For an extreme example, where was this trained storm spotter (namely, I myself) on May 22, 2011? Answer: 220 miles north of here, the safest place to be during that storm!
By now, I hope you are asking, “But how can I (namely, you) become a trained storm spotter, if I don’t have an amateur radio license?” There are ways to do that, as well as to get the necessary training and make official reports to the National Weather Service. Readers of the Camden News may have answers, how to get involved in storm spotting. Please share your information in a letter to our editor, Laurel Parrott; email email@example.com, or write to the Camden Community News, PO Box 11492, Minneapolis, MN 55411.
I believe there are more links to storm spotting on the web; let me give you a couple pages to take a look at. Skywarn deserves a good look, at www.metroskywarn.org. Emergency “9-1-1” should not, in general, be used for storm reporting—except only for damage which poses an immediate threat to life or property, such as fires, gas leaks, medical emergencies, blocked roads, downed wires, or significant flooding. The state and city police have other emergencies to tend to, other than storm monitoring.
The National Weather Service has two sites that are very interesting: http://espotter.weather.gov/, for online weather reporting. Again, for the eSpotter Service, you must take training. And on top of that, any training we can get will help us as individuals to better understand how and what the weather in our environment does. Take a look also at www.crh.noaa. gov/mpx/ for Minneapolis area weather predictions and information.
Finally, for you who are more technically inclined and interested in combining storm spotting with the exact Global Positioning System (GPS) location for each and every spotter reporting on a local storm system, check out http://www.spotternetwork.org.