If a tornado watch were issued, would you know exactly what to look for in terms of cloud structure to spot a wall cloud or even a funnel?
Pretty much everyone who knows me knows that I am a National Weather Service-trained severe weather spotter. Before I took my first training class on March 3, 2008, I was pretty sure I knew what a wall cloud looked like. I soon learned, though, that I was wrong. What I thought was a wall cloud—or an isolated lowering of the cloud base—was actually a shelf cloud.
Now I know what to watch for. I can tell if an approaching storm could spawn a tornado, and I even put that training to use a couple of years ago. I watched from my old apartment in Waukegan as a strong storm formed over Lake Michigan. .
That's what a storm spotter does. According to the National Weather Service Office in Chicago, their meteorologists monitor Doppler Weather Radar but "also depend on real-time reports from trained spotters to know exactly what is occurring on the ground under a storm.
"The NWS trains people to identify severe storms and tornadoes and report them via organized communications networks," according to NWS Chicago Office website. "A storm spotter is a volunteer or paid county or municipal employee who is spotting as a community service."
At a typical class, which lasts about an hour and a half to two hours, students learn the basics from a NWS meteorologist and watch videos to help identify cloud structure and other severe weather features. Students also receive the Basic Spotters' Field Guide booklet. The classes are free.
Interested? The NWS recently released its preliminary class schedule for this year. Some planned locations include:
- McHenry College Auditorium, Crystal Lake, at 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Feb. 8
- Lake County Central Permit Facility, 500 W. Winchester Road, Libertyville, at 7 p.m. Feb. 19
- Palatine EOC, 200 W. Wood St., Palatine, at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. March 13
Check out the full list on the NWS Chicago website.