Storm spotters help warn people of tornados
The recent tornados in Moore, Okla., and warning sirens here in Barry County brought the terms "storm spotters" and "storm chasers" to the public's attention. While often used synonymously, there are differences, according to David Compton, director of the Barry County Office of Emergency Management.
"There is huge difference between storm spotters and storm chasers," Compton said. "Storm chasers, generally speaking, are the people you see on TV looking for photographic opportunities or for the thrill of the hunt or to satisfy some curiosity they may have."
Conversely, Compton said that spotters are individuals whose primary function is to identify storms as they approach and provide information of threats. They do not try and intercept tornados.
"They are there to give as much opportunity as we can get to warn the public." Compton said.
Spotters in the Cassville area are affiliated with the Cassville Fire Department or the local amateur radio community. According to Cassville District Administrator and Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Miner, there are 22 individuals on the fire department, and all them have received training on storm spotting and can be dispatched by Barry County 911 if needed.
"We try to send three to four rigs out with two people per rig," Miner said. Normally individuals come to the station and take the fire trucks; however, there are times when individuals drive their own vehicles to save time.
Miner said that the department has a safety policy for spotters, which states, "if the spotter feels unsafe they are permitted to leave. After giving a final report they should seek safety."
Cassville Fire Chief Millard Andrews said that Cassville's geographical area makes it difficult to see very far. "If we see one, it's going to be on us pretty quick," Andrews said.
Andrews and Miner said the difficult part of storm spotting is locating dangers at night in the rain. Often, spotters are looking for signs of tornados in between flashes of lightning.
While there is no state or federal regulations to be a storm spotter, Compton said, he recommends that individuals be sanctioned through the amateur radio community or through a fire, law enforcement or E.M.S. agency. Additionally, spotters should receive training from the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service training is held bi-annually and consists of a three hour evening class where students learn what to look for during a storm and how to be safe.
"They [spotters] are extremely beneficial to us," Compton said. "Today, the best information we get comes from that spotter, the trained individual who's watching the weather."
It is recommended that all individuals own a NOAA weather radio and program it for their area. During a storm, people should take shelter, preferably in a basement and avoid mobile homes and vehicles.
Compton said that the outdoor warning sirens are not intended for individuals in a home or building that have access to a radio or television.
"As long as the siren is being sounded, the threat exists," Compton said.
The sirens are only used for tornado warnings, and there is no all-clear sound. The sirens sound for three minutes, and if the threat still exists, the sirens will continue to re-sound until the threat is over, Compton explained.