CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB-TV)--Weather spotting became popular and necessary following the tornado super outbreak in the south and Midwest in the mid 1970s. National Weather Service (NWS) officials could track storms to a certain degree, but they realized that wasn't enough.
"There needed to be trained folks out there," said Tim Troutman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service office in Morristown, Tennessee. "Volunteers who could provide reports of severe weather in real time."
Even though Doppler radar technology has improved since then, it does not detect weather happening right at the ground. So human observations grew more important through the years.
"Visual confirmation that there is a tornado on the ground, that there's large hail occurring, that there's wind damage occurring," said Troutman.
The observations are compared with what the radar shows and the information is used to warn residents upstream of the impending threat.
For those who want to combine their love of weather with community service, the SkyWarn program provides the training you need to begin your role as a spotter.
"We will basically go over all facets of storm spotting. What to look for, what not to look for," explained Troutman. You will also learn how to report what you see back to the NWS. All you need is a phone or a computer.
Lowell Bennington is an amateur radio operator in Harrison and is one of about a hundred storm spotters in Hamilton County. His interest in SkyWarn stems from past work with the Red Cross.
"I was interested in emergencies anyway," said Bennington. "And I found out they [NWS] did a lot of emergency communications, and kind of a fall out from that is the weather spotter program."
While some get involved due to a past close encounter with severe weather, Bennington became a spotter simply to help his neighbors.
"I just really wanted to get involved in helping the community. It's just something I feel comfortable doing and enjoy doing," explained Bennington.
Almost anyone can become a spotter. The next training class is in Chattanooga on Thursday, February 3 at 6:00 p.m. at the Red Cross building on McCallie Avenue. The class is free and all you have to do is show up.