ANDERSON, Ind. (AP) — If you pay close attention to the extended weather reports prepared by the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, there's an interesting notation at the bottom about "spotters" and whether they might be activated.

In normal weather, the services of these men and women isn't needed.

But when bands of thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes roll across the countryside, these spotters are dispatched to key locations across Madison and other counties to report what's happening on the ground.

You might ask, in this age of sophisticated Doppler radar and complex computer modeling, why human reports are needed.

It's a fair question, said Senior Meteorologist Mike Ryan, who led an annual two-hour storm spotter class at Hoosier Park Racing and Casino on Tuesday night.

And the answer is fairly straightforward.

Radar energy tells experts a lot about what's happening in the atmosphere over long distances. But radar energy moves in a straight line, and the ground curves. That means meteorologists have less ground information at longer distances.

Hence, the need for spotters.

"We provide what the NWS calls 'ground truth,'" said Steve Riley of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

That information is vital to meteorologists. If they see indications of rotation in clouds on their radar, spotters can explain conditions on the ground.

Ryan calls it "forensic meteorology."

About 100 people attended Tuesday's training. Some were old hands; others were interested in becoming part of the team.

Among them were four Boy Scouts and their leaders from Madison County Troop 227

Mike Flanders, a parent of one of the scouts, said the spotter concept is powerful.

"Anytime you isolate people, it makes it hard to share real information," Flanders said. "This is a collection of people all sharing information to a centralized organization that can then save lives."

Ryan showed pictures and described the atmospheric conditions that lead to the creation of thunderstorms and supercells that can create micro-bursts, tornadoes and severe wind shear.

He emphasized the importance of staying perpendicular to the movement of the storm.

He had special praise for Madison County's spotter program, calling it one of the best in Indiana.

"Our program has been around for more than 50 years," said Todd Harmeson, deputy director of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.

When activated, Madison County spotters are dispatched to strategic locations along three lines running west to east.

Harmeson said each location was strategically selected to provide spotters with maximum visibility and mobility so they can make an emergency exit if a storm is coming right at them.


Source: The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin


Information from: The Herald Bulletin,

This is an Indiana Exchange story shared by The (Anderson) Herald Bulletin.