By Nick Austin, Meteorologist / Reporter - bio | email
CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) -- On average, about 25 tornadoes touch down in Tennessee each year. With the start of the peak severe weather season only a couple months away, local residents are training to be eyes for the community.
Around 30 weather fanatics from all walks of life gathered at UT-Chattanooga (UTC)Wednesday, all of them wanting to be among the hundreds of official active storm spotters in Hamilton county. It's a program called SkyWarn in which volunteers are trained to spot various of kinds of severe weather and how to report it to the national weather service.
"What constitutes severe weather. What are the definitions of a severe thunderstorm. What's the definition of a tornado. And then help report that information. Give us true ground truth of what's going on at the surface," says Anthony Cavallucci of the National Weather Service Forecast Office in Morristown, Tennessee.
Even with sophisticated radar to track severe storms, it's distance from a storm and the curvature of the earth sometimes limit what it can see. So having spotters on the ground helps meteorologists confirm what they see on the radar screen. Especially when it comes to tornado touchdowns.
"We at the weather service don't like to cry wolf. We want to be as accurate with our warnings and watches as we can," explains Cavallucci.
Other observations reported include hail sizes, wind gust speeds, and rain and snowfall amounts.
Spotter reports often lead directly to warnings from the weather service. UTC police officer Jason Maucere has been a spotter since 2009. He reported a first-hand account of one of the devastating twisters on March 2, 2012.
"I was one of the spotters that called in when it touched down right near the marina in the Ooltewah-Harrison area," recalls Maucere.
Spotters, both old and new, appreciate and embrace the crucial role they play.
"It's good to get your report out there so everybody can know. It makes a difference in the community," adds Maucere.
"The weather can be dangerous. The weather can kill. And if you can save one life by knowing what's going on out there then you've done something wonderful," says Rabbit Zielke, a first-year spotter.
Weather service officials emphasize safety throughout the training. After all, SkyWarn is about storm spotting, not storm chasing.
"I've seen videos. You've seen videos of tornadoes. I don't need another video," states Cavallucci. "I want those people to be safe."