National Weather Service to hold storm spotter class

Published 10:28 pm Monday, April 16, 2018

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service (NWS) depend on more than just computers and fancy gadgets when it comes to severe weather.

They also depend the eyes and ears of storm spotters on the ground to know if a tornado has touched down or if a storm is doing damage.

“We have capabilities through radar and satellite and things like that to give an idea of what’s possible and what could be happening, but in the end, it really comes down to we can’t see what’s happening on the ground, “said Nathan Owen, a meteorologist with the NWS in Birmingham. “That’s where the storm spotters come into play.”

Email newsletter signup

The NWS is hosting a free SKYWARN spotter class Wednesday at Wallace Community College Selma from 5-7 p.m.

According to the NWS, SKYWARN is a program of volunteer spotters that have been trained to spot severe weather and provide reports to the NWS.

“It kind of just gives anyone who goes through this spotter class the tools and information they need to recognize severe weather when it occurs and relay any of that information to us here at the National Weather Service,” Owen said.

“Always knowing what’s happening on the ground is the most important thing, and it helps us perform our job and contribute to the mission for us to save lives. Knowing that tornado is on the ground can help us save lives, as that storm continues to track.”

Seeing a tornado on radar is different than seeing one on the ground. That’s why they depend on spotters to confirm a tornado or other severe weather.

“They’re vital. We can issue warnings, but we’d like to know if what we’re seeing on radar and what we’re warning on is actually occurring,” Owen said. “That gives us a lot better heads up and increases that awareness for the people downstream so we can better inform them of what’s been happening or if that storm has a history of producing damaging winds or large hail.”

The spotter class is open to anyone, young or old. The class teaches the basics of storm spotting, such as the types of storms to expect in Alabama and how to spot them, safety measures and the meaning of terms like outlook, warning, watch and advisory.

Registration will take place prior to the class.

For more information, go to