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Community Prepares for severe weather with storm spotter training

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WXOW) – Severe weather forecasting has come leaps and bounds over the last 50 years, but one aspect has stayed the same; the importance of storm spotters.

“Spotters give us the ground truth information about what is actually occurring with the storms out there,” said Todd Shea, Warning Coordination Meteorologist with the National Weather Service in La Crosse. “And when you combine that, with what we are seeing on the radar at the National Weather Service, that just makes the warnings that we put out more timely, more accurate.”

This is because like with any technology, radar has limitations. It can tell us the storm’s location, intensity, even if it’s rotating. But despite advances like dual pol radar, most of the time it still can’t tell if a tornado has actually touched down or even how big hail is. That’s where storm spotters come in.

“Giving us those eyes and the ground truth information of what is occurring with the storms,” said Shea. “That’s what a storm spotter is about.”

Storm spotting is not the same thing as storm chasing. Storm spotters generally stay close to home and observe storms with the purpose of reporting back to the National Weather Service or other emergency officials.

However, similar to storm chasing, storm spotting requires weather knowledge and can be dangerous without training.

On Tuesday the La Crosse National Weather Service hosted storm spotter training.

“We try to get all the training done ahead of time before severe weather actually ramps up,” said Shea.

Tom O’Brien was one of the attendees to Tuesday’s training.

“Radar shows what happens up here,” said O’Brien, “where as we’re looking at what’s happening down here on the ground. And therefore, going out and seeing what’s happening on the ground is just as important sometimes as what the radar is showing us.”

O’Brien has been volunteering as a storm spotter since the mid-90s and uses amateur radio to communicate with spotters when severe weather hits.

“I’ve been involved with working at the office taking in calls from amateur radio operators who are out in the field during the storms reporting, wall clouds, thunder and lightning, what have you, and passing that information on to the meteorologists.”

But you don’t have to use amateur radio to be a storm spotter. All you need is an interest in the weather and the desire to learn. Your first step is attending storm spotter training.

If you’re interested in becoming a storm spotter there are six more training sessions scheduled around the Coulee Region through the end of April. More information can be found at the La Crosse National Weather Service Skywarn page at
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