At about 8:15 p.m. Tuesday in the auditorium of South Middle School, several smartphones buzzed with text alerts.
Jillian Rodrigue stood up, stopping a presentation, to let everyone know what many already did: Douglas County was entering a tornado watch. Many people already knew, of course, because this was “Weather 101,” an annual presentation on identifying storm systems and patterns. And the people in the audience? Most of them were spotters.
Rodrigue is the assistant director of the Douglas County Emergency Management office. When she interrupted the speaker, the National Weather Service’s Chad Omitt, it hadn’t been too long since he’d talked about the many ways to keep abreast of weather news, including the increasing number of resources available to smartphone users, and even slightly more old-fashioned text message alerts.
The crowd remained abuzz with the possibility of severe weather in the area as Omitt continued his talk, using pictures to point out how to identify the most dangerous parts of clouds.
“If you can imagine the storm is alive,” said Omitt, a warning coordination meteorologist, “it breathes in and out, there’s inflow bands and outflow ... there’s round updraft toward the center and striations show it’s rotating below the wall cloud.”
Omitt said spotters are important because radar, or “an X-ray for clouds,” can only see so low. Volunteer input helps the National Weather Service get a better sense on the ground. There aren’t enough properly trained people to help spot storm structure, he said, and he’d like to see more people learn the shapes and patterns of severe weather.
He says the National Weather Service out of central Oklahoma has great resources online for self-teaching about those wall clouds, intake striations and RFD.
Kelly and Brad Johnson are learning the ropes. They’ve studied weather before and now are registered as spotters for Douglas County, a process that includes taking a quiz.
“The point of volunteering is to help get the word out,” Kelly said. “Living in Kansas, nobody really takes it to heart, people run outside when they hear sirens, not to safety. We hope we can help them be more prepared.”