A Newsletter for EmergencyManagers & Storm Spotters
Summer Edition, 2001
Spotter Tips From the Field
A Day in the Life of a Warning Forecaster
Spring Spotter Training Summary
Spring 2001 More Fickle than Usual
Spotter Tips From the Field
by Dixie Delancy, Litchfield County SkyWarn EC
Greetings to all spotters and EC's. As SkyWarn Emergency Coordinator (EC) for Litchfield County in Connecticut, I see some of the most interesting weather in the state. We have some of the most violent thunderstorms and complex winter weather. We are in an area where it comes at us from 3 directions; southeast from the Atlantic, northwest from Canada, and southwest from the Gulf of Mexico. Oftentimes, our resulting weather will vary greatly depending on which system gets here first and which is stronger.
While we, as spotters, are do not to make forecasts, we are considered an extremely valuable resource by the National Weather Service. In some situations, our services may be crucial and life-saving. As such, it is essential that our reports be accurate and dependable. Here are a few tips to help us accomplish that.
When measuring snow, take several measurements from an open area and average the numbers, avoiding sheltered areas such as trees and fences where drifting can give inaccuracies.
For liquid precipitation, a rain gauge should be in an equally open area. If you have an open spot in view of a window, try adding a drop of blue food coloring to the gauge with strips of tape every inch. It can be read for approximations from indoors and you can go out to get a closer look for phone in reporting.
On the back of older spotter ID cards is the Beaufort scale for guesstimating wind speeds, if you don't have a working anemometer. Keep it handy for "gustimates" and if you are running a net you can use it to extract an accurate report from the most inexperienced HAM who calls in. Of course, if you know anyone who has an anemometer, look for their reports to help confirm or deny the estimates.
I'm told that scanner reports are acceptable. I like to add a few conditions to that before accepting them.
- First, I don't accept what I hear second hand from a dispatcher, as the crew often finds something different when they get to the scene. If the report is coming from a crew ON THE SCENE and you can hear clearly what is happening, it's probably reliable. But scanners are one of those "gray areas". I prefer to rely on direct spotter observations and confirmation.
- Second, if it is a spotter relay of a scanner report, take only those scanner relays from a trained spotter.
For EC's in particular, there are always those who check in to the nets who have NOT been through a SkyWarn class. These people should be welcomed and encouraged to go through the class to learn more about the program. At the height of the storm it is always a little frustrating to hear the enthusiast proclaim that the sun is shining and the wind is calm... just as you're trying the get a report on that golf ball hail three towns over, AND THE WALL CLOUD THAT'S SPAWING A FUNNEL AND YOU NEED TO GET THAT IN SO THEY CAN WARN THE PEOPLE IN THE NEXT TOWN...!!! But at least you know that in one town the sun is shining. Well,
patience, fellow spotters. I try to tactfully (and expeditiously) explain that "we need reports directly from the storm area at this point, but thank you for your participation, you are excused." The need may also arise to explain that we don't take weather watches and warnings from the weather channel or the media in our SkyWarn nets. Most of those are a result of our reports and we already know about it.
These are some of the tools we can use for the ultimate goal of a Skywarn observer; accuracy. And if we put that on the top priority, as much as we may occasionally be called on to dig for it, then sooner or later, someone's life may be saved from one of YOUR reports. It may be a family who made it to shelter before that tornado hit, property and life prepared before the hurricane, golfers or boaters who got in before the storm... maybe even someone you love. 73 and keep up the good work!
A Day in the Life of a Warning Forecaster
by Mike Cempa, Meteorologist
The severe weather season has arrived in New York and New England. This is the SkyWarn spotter's most active time, and during severe weather, the Weather Forecast Office(WFO) in Albany is also an extremely active place. So, what goes on in the WFO during a severe weather event? And, how do spotter reports fit into that picture?
Planning for severe weather begins 24-48 hours prior to the event. National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologists are always alert for clues to possible severe weather. Frequently, computer models and an understanding of the atmosphere allow us to spot the ingredients for severe weather development a day or two in advance. If severe weather is anticipated for the following day, the lead forecaster will arrange for additional staffing, and may issue a Severe Weather Outlook, depending on the expected severity of the storms, and the confidence level of the forecast.
On the day of the anticipated severe weather, forecasters on the midnight shift will begin to address the severe weather threat. They may include the possibility of severe storms in the zone forecast, or may issue or update the Severe Weather Outlook. Also, they will issue the daily Hazardous Weather Outlook, to alert Emergency Managers, SkyWarn Coordinators, and others to the severe weather potential.
As the day goes on, the forecasters monitor the weather for signs of storm development. They use satellite, radar, surface, and upper air observations to look for areas of potential severe storm development. If conditions are favorable for severe storms, the Severe Storms Prediction Center, in Oklahoma, will issue a watch.
When a watch is issued, the WFO goes into "severe weather mode." First, the watch must be sent to the public, including via NOAA Weather Radio (NWR). Next, the Hazardous Weather Outlook, will be updated to alert Emergency Managers, and SkyWarn coordinators, and to activate the SkyWarn spotters.
Once the watch is "on the street", the focus shifts to monitoring the weather situation, and issuing warnings, if necessary. Usually, there will be 5 or 6 forecasters on duty in the WFO during severe weather. All but two of them (responsible for keeping our routine aviation and public forecast current) will have specific severe weather responsibilities. One person will act as "coordinator", making sure warnings are properly issued, keeping track of the status of the warnings and watching the "big picture". Another person will continuously monitor the radar and make warning decisions. And, still another person will prepare and issue the warnings when they are needed. Last, but certainly not least, one person will be responsible for securing ground truth, and answering the phones.
Ground truth is just that, the truth of what's happening on the ground. All of the technology we use can give us a good idea of what's going on, but we're in Albany, we can't know for sure what's happening in Herkimer, NY or Litchfield, CT. That's why spotters are so important. We do issue many warnings based on the information we have here at the office, but we can issue a more precise warning, with a higher level of confidence, if we have a spotter report.
Once we decide to issue a warning, we act quickly. We have a software package called WarnGen, short for Warning Generation. WarnGen allows us to quickly plot the path of the storm as an overlay on the radar image. WarnGen will then determine the future path of the storm based on it's previous movement. With the click of a button, we can then generate the warning text, including: the storm's current location and movement, the projected path, and specific threats posed by this storm. The warning process, from warning decision until the alert tones are sent over NWR, takes around a minute.
Occasionally, a Severe Weather Statement is issued to update or cancel current warnings. Also, any spotter information on the edge of our county warning area, will be relayed to the appropriate adjacent WFO, where it will be used in warning decisions for that area. During the course of the event, the WFO also issues Local Storm Reports(LSR). They are lists of severe weather and damage reported to the WFO. The LSR is useful to emergency managers, the media, and adjacent WFOs during the severe weather event.
Once the threat of severe weather ends, our job is not finished. We must notify the public when a watch is cancelled, cleared, or has expired. We also update the Hazardous Weather Outlook, letting everyone know they can "stand down." Next, we create a composite LSR including all reports received, during and after the event. We also field calls from the media about to the event, and plan any damage surveys.
Severe weather events are a busy time at a WFO, but protecting life and property is the most important mission of the NWS. We are proud of our ability to achieve that mission, but we are indebted to the SkyWarn spotters, emergency managers, and public safety officials, who provide us with the vital information to make our warnings reflect reality.
by Gene Auciello, Meteorologist In Charge
Ninety percent of all presidentially declared disasters are weather related. Through the StormReady Program, the National Weather Service provides communities with the additional skills and education needed to survive severe weather--before and during the event. StormReady helps community leaders and emergency managers strengthen their local hazardous weather operations.
StormReady does not mean storm proof. However, StormReady communities are far better prepared to save lives from the onslaught of severe weather through better planning, education, and awareness. It has been shown that communities have fewer fatalities and property damage if they plan before dangerous weather arrives. No community is storm proof, but StormReady can help communities save lives.
The entire community--from the mayor and emergency managers, to school superintendents and business leaders--can take the lead in becoming StormReady. The Albany National Weather Service Office will work with communities to complete an application and be involved in the review process. To be recognized as StormReady, a community must:
The following counties in New York State have received the StormReady designation: Herkimer, Monroe, Saratoga, Steuben, and Suffolk. StormReady communities include the City of Norwich and the Village of Ballston Spa. In fact, Ballston Spa was the first village in the United States to receive a StormReady designation. StormReady applications from Albany and Schenectady counties, and the City of Albany, are pending.
Community leaders and emergency managers interested in having their community become StormReady should contact Dick Westergard, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, at (518) 435-9568 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Spring Spotter Training Summary
by John Quinlan, Meteorologist
During Spring 2001 meteorologists from the National Weather Service in Albany, NY trained 370 Spotters during 18 sessions between April 11th and May 21st. Attendance at the sessions ranged from 8 to 50, with the breakdown of the 370 spotters trained as follows: 139 new spotters, 151 spotters who had not attended a session within the last 2 years, 59 spotters who had attended a session in the last 2 years, 21 spotters outside of NWFO Albany's County Warning Area and 154 spotters who are also amateur radio operators. We started internet registration for the first time this spring via our homepage and 57% of those who registered used this method compared to 43% for the phone registration. Spotter ID Cards will be mailed to all who attended the spring sessions by the middle of July.
Advanced SkyWarn Spotter Training Sessions will be offered this fall during October and November. The schedule will be available via NOAA Weather Radio and our homepage on the internet toward the end of September. The advanced sessions differ from the basic and refresher course offered in the spring, with much of the content focused on winter weather and hydrology.
Spring 2001 More Fickle than Usual
by Hugh Johnson, Meteorologist
After a relatively "normal" winter, March roared in like a cold lion. The biggest snowstorm since the Blizzard of 93 buried our region on March 4th through the 6th, with between one foot and more than two feet of snow. Whitehall, in Washington County, received the highest honors with 29.1 inches! On the heels of this storm, another more elevation dependent storm followed on the 9th and 10th. Although snowfall amounts were much less (on the order of 6 to12 inches) the snow was heavy and wet enough to bring a few roofs down across the region.
March delivered two more nor'easters, on the 21st through 23rd and the 30th of the month. These again were elevation dependent, with each storm bringing as much as a foot more wet snow to portions of the Catskills, Greens and Adirondacks. March 2001 was the 6th snowiest and 5th wettest in the Albany record books.
April opened with an unusually deep snowpack in place, ranging from 1 to 4 feet across the mountains, with the snow containing a high water equivalent. A thunderstorm complex brought an inch of rain, along with some small hail, early on the morning of the April 8th. This rain, along with rising temperatures, began melting the snow in a hurry. This resulted in numerous floods, the most noteworthy being the Schroon River in Warren County, which reached 3 feet above flood stage, the highest such flood in 50 years.
While the snow was melting, the rains suddenly stopped. After the storm on the 9th, very little rain fell during the remainder of the month. May opened with a record breaking warm spell and very dry conditions. No more than scattered showers or thunderstorms took place through the middle of month. In fact, during the period from April 9th through May 11th, only 0.07 inches of rain officially fell at Albany International Airport, making this one of the driest periods on record! Many brush fires erupted during this time frame.
However, the rains did return, just in time for the Memorial Day weekend. Rain fell from the 20th to the 30th, to virtually eliminate the May rainfall deficit. Besides being the first washed out Memorial Day in years, thunderstorms produced hailstones as large as golf balls. Many places between northern Columbia County and southern Saratoga county experienced enough hail to cover the ground. The hail produced crop damage, ruining apple orchards in southern Saratoga County. Blustery conditions at the conclusion of May made our weather feel more like the end of March again.
by Dick Westergard
This issue we welcome our first article from a spotter in a while. Dixie offers the field perspective on storm spotting, while Mike Cempa's article offers a Forecast Office perspective. I invite more of our readers to submit articles, or ideas for articles, for future issues. What would you like to see in your newsletter? Research? More climate information? Anecdotes from spotters who saw "the big one"? Drop us an e-mail or a snailmail.
As summer gets under way, here is a last minute reminder of what we'd like you to call us about, during the convective season (May through October). 1) Tornadoes, water spouts, funnel clouds, wall clouds. 2) Damaging Winds (58 mph or more). 3) Any hail. 4) Damaging lightning. 5) Flooding, including bankfull or near bankfull streams. 6) Measured rainfall - 1.5 inches or more in 4 hours. Please get your reports to the National Weather Service by the quickest means possible.
We are ready to accept your severe weather reports via the internet this year. Go to:
http://web.nws.cestm.albany.edu/Severe%20Wx/severereport.htm to open the reporting form.
As usual, please check your mailing label. It contains the date of your last training. If that date is more than 2 years ago, you should plan to attend another training session soon. Once that date is more than 5 years in the past, your name will be purged from our database.
StormBuster is a publication for Emergency Management Officials and Skywarn Spotters in the Albany, New York National Weather Service Forecast Office County Warning Area. For all of your weather information needs, visit our homepage at: http://web.nws.cestm.albany.edu