When the Belmont County Emergency Management center fills with a crowd, frightful weather comes to mind. On this occasion, frightful weather had not moved through the county, but people learned from the National Weather Service.
Jeannie Cross sits with a friend while waiting for a class to become a SkyWarn weather observer. She talks about what she hopes to get from the class. "A lot of new information, and to know about the storms -- to know when I see the skies -- what's actually transpiring," Jeannie said.
Jeannie and the other prospective SkyWarn observers at this class fill an important role with the National Weather Service. Once they learn how to observe, they fill in the gaps in the Weather Service's technology base, as NWS forecaster Bill Modzelewski explains.
"Spotter reports of tornados are really important," he said. "And even after storms, we get reports of downed trees that people have come up on later on that helps us verify our warnings, and know what we were actually looking at on the radar," Modzelewski continued.
He went on to give one example. While the NWS radars have improved greatly over the years, they still have limits which derive from the laws of physics. During severe weather, one storm can mask another storm cloud formation from the weather radar. Observers help to make a difference in public safety during that severe weather.
A prospective SkyWarn observer can either learn the necessary skills online, or in a class like this one. "We teach you what to look for, what to report, and how to report it back to the Weather Service office," Modzelewski said.
As people like Jeannie Cross demonstrate, SkyWarn observers don't have an age limit.
"You're never too old to learn," she said. "You learn something new every day."