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National Weather Service Spotter Program Tactical Vision 2010 Through 2020
1. Why are your spotter reports important? These reports help the forecasters to understand what is ACTUALLY happening beneath the storms. The WSR-88D is a great piece of technology and I remember what it was like before the 88D. We have made phenomenal strides in the warning process because of the radar. Unfortunately, NO radar can tell us what is happening on the ground; it just is NOT possible, and that means NO radar. NWS forecasters undergo extensive and nearly continuous training on the radar and radar interpretation. This amounts to 30+ hours per year spent on radar training and interpretation. We have access to an unbelievable amount of radar and atmospheric data, but the one thing we are missing is ground truth; reports and visuals of WHAT is happening (or not happening) beneath the radar beam. We need reports. Flat out, we need reports of everything that is or is not happening beneath the storm. That being said, there must be a way to get that information to us in a timely manner, without tying up a lot of time, and resources. NWSChat is one tool, WebEOC is another tool, ETeam is another tool, e-Spotter, Ham Radio, MI 800 MHz (we do not have access to the Ohio or Indiana 800 MHz systems) and the phone are all viable options. The key to any of these is keeping the report short, direct and accurate. o Now for some stark reality. We get a lot of our reports from a variety of websites, especially media websites.
o We scan local newspaper websites for reports.
o We often discover events from newspaper clippings up to two months after an event.
o We routinely and quite regularly utilize non-NWS spotter sources.
This can change, and this is where the off year counties can make a big difference. The spotters, untrained or seasoned, must be made aware of the need for their reports. You have more opportunities to regularly interact with your county residents and spotters. The NWS is in your county once, for two hours. We need you to re-emphasize the need for observations, reports, and data.
2. But is my spotter report really that important? Did you know that the reports are used for more than just verification and ground truth? These reports are used as a basis for generating the Monthly Storm Data publication. Why is that important? If you have an Emergency Action Plan that identifies the greatest risk, more than likely it will have weather related events in the top five.
Most of the Emergency Action Plans that have been developed extract the damages associated with weather from the Monthly Storm Data publications. See the connection? This is another reason we need spotter reports; your EAP is directly related to the amount of damage reported in your county. If we don't know about an event, it is possible that the extent of damage will be undervalued. This has long reaching consequences when pursuing mitigation funding, and may have other economic implications. This is part of the BIG picture, spotter reports are significant contributors to the BIG picture.
3. How can spotter reports become more important? Reporting Processes must be reinforced. The method of reporting is unique for each event, for each community and for each county. While I would like to have direct reports to the NWS, the reality is that with over 4000 trained spotters, we could not handle several hundred calls per hour. Technology can and must be exploited to our advantage. Each county has a number of trained spotters and there are even more untrained spotters. The general public take and post pictures and videos to the local television stations all the time. There are immense call loads during severe events at the local 911 and dispatch centers. How can we get these reports in a timely manner that will benefit ALL of us? There must be a process in place to gather intelligence and SHARE the information quickly. I am not sure what each county has in place. This is where the off-year training can benefit the entire spotter program. The reporting process must be reinforced and methods of sharing these reports into, through and beyond the entire warning system MUST be established.
4. How can the spotter reports improve? Practice makes perfect. I am by no means an expert in NIMS, nor am I an expert in the entire Emergency Management Cycle, but I do know that practice is critical to succeed in the event of an actual event. o What is YOUR county plan and where do the spotters fit into YOUR program?
o Do they know the big picture?
o Do they exercise and drill in the BIG PICTURE with ALL of the partners involved? § Does it function?
§ Can it function better?
o How does your plan integrate the other agencies that need these reports (the county next door, DHS, FEMA, NWS, Health and Human Services, State Police, Media, Public?)
During the off-year spotter training cycle, you have a great opportunity to reinforce your reporting program in your county, and to PRACTICE the plan. While a formal drill is not easy to execute, a simple policy review and table-top exercise may be just the ticket to identify the strengths and weaknesses of your entire reporting program. When was the last time you engaged the entire spotter network in a reporting program? Did you include the general public in the plan? How do you get reports out of the 911 center and into the
mainstream flow of information? What about pictures, videos, audio? Can this be shared and provided to the warning decision makers, response and recovery personnel?
5. Who can improve as a spotter? Being a spotter is not about meteorology. As I stated in the first bullet, NWS forecasters undergo nearly continuous meteorological training. While understanding atmospheric dynamics and kinematics can be visualized by watching a storm develop and evolve, understanding these atmospheric complexities is not a requirement to observe and report what you see. We need spotters to watch, look, and listen to what is going on around them. We need them to be observers and reporters of the weather where they stand. We need them to report what they SEE where they live. We cannot train spotters to be meteorologists, nor do we need spotters to become expert radar operators and interpreters. We need everyday folk who will just tell us what is happening, what just happened, and the impact of the event in their back yards. It needs to be short, sweet and to the point. The off year training should focus on the basics of reporting: o Who
o Which way did it go?
The tools we have available are too numerous to list (a few are listed in item 1 above.) Regardless of the method, the best tools will fail if the reporting process fails. The KISS principle is our friend and must be followed at all times. This is an optimal time for the off year counties to discuss reporting techniques and content for all the spotters (new and seasoned) in the county. The focus of expanding the meteorological content should be the focus of the advance spotter training programs throughout the region, and specifically in Northern Indiana during odd numbered years.
The spotter program is one example of our partnership. As an Emergency Managers you are in a better position to work with and improve our spotter network and procedures throughout the community. The program is dependent upon regular refresher training. Your procedures need to feed into the big picture to serve a broad base of user needs. The spotter reports are critical and we need everybody to participate in the process or observing and reporting before, during and after events occur. Data is useless until converted to usable information. We cannot process what we don't have, and that can result in uninformed decisions, misinformed actions, and dangerous situations. How does your county contribute to a successful spotter program? What can you do to make it the best source of data and information? How are you going to get that information to the folks that need it? Where does the report fit into the BIG picture? I appreciate all the work that has been done to date during this transition to the biennial training program. To use a term from one of my favorite video games, it's time to LEVEL UP! Let's take it to the next level and make the Northern Indiana Spotter network the premiere network in the nation.
What is SKYWARN®?
The effects of severe weather are felt every year by many Americans. To obtain critical weather information, NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS), part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, established SKYWARN® with partner organizations. SKYWARN® is a volunteer program with nearly 290,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the National Weather Service.
Although SKYWARN® spotters provide essential information for all types of weather hazards, the main responsibility of a SKYWARN® spotter is to identify and describe severe local storms. In the average year, 10,000 severe thunderstorms, 5,000 floods and more than 1,000 tornadoes occur across the United States. These events threatened lives and property.
Since the program started in the 1970s, the information provided by SKYWARN® spotters, coupled with Doppler radar technology, improved satellite and other data, has enabled NWS to issue more timely and accurate warnings for tornadoes, severe thunderstorms and flash floods.
SKYWARN® storm spotters are part of the ranks of citizens who form the Nation's first line of defense against severe weather. There can be no finer reward than to know that their efforts have given communities the precious gift of time--seconds and minutes that can help save lives.
Who is Eligible?
NWS encourages anyone with an interest in public service and access to communication, such HAM radio, to join the SKYWARN® program. Volunteers include police and fire personnel, dispatchers, EMS workers, public utility workers and other concerned private citizens. Individuals affiliated with hospitals, schools, churches, nursing homes or who have a responsibility for protecting others are also encouraged to become a spotter.
How Can I Get Involved?
NWS has 122 local Weather Forecast Offices, each with a Warning Coordination Meteorologist, who is responsible for administering the SKYWARN® program in their local area. Training is conducted at these local offices and covers:
•Basics of thunderstorm development
•Fundamentals of storm structure
•Identifying potential severe weather features
•Information to report
•How to report information
•Basic severe weather safety