Jeff Johnson, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in metro Des Moines, says dozens of spotter training courses are being taught across Iowa over the next several weeks.
Johnson says, “What it takes is interest and a willingness to come out to a spotter training class and that entails about an hour and a half to two hours of meteorology training on how to identify severe weather, like severe thunderstorms, and then how to report that back to the authorities.”
Spotters are trained in a variety of weather lingo, from anvil clouds to squall lines, and they may also learn to report on things like rainfall, snowfall and ice accumulation. “Generally speaking, you don’t have any formal obligation, it’s strictly voluntary,” Johnson says. “You can spot when you want to, really. Of course, we encourage spotters who are trained to spot when there’s severe weather in their area to do it in a safe manner because it can be quite dangerous out there.”
There are already several thousand trained spotters in Iowa but Johnson says they always need more, as spotters fill a vital role in helping the National Weather Service and the general public. “Spotters are part of the warning team,” Johnson says.
“What I mean by that, our forecasters and meteorologists look at the radar and other data sets to come up with what they think is going on and then the spotters provide ground truth to what’s actually going on at the location of the storm. They’re the eyes in the field.”
The spotter training classes are free. Visit the website “weather.gov” and click on “SkyWarn” for more details. You can also download a free spotter’s field guide.