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Weather Spotters Gain Skills at Workshop

By Staff | Feb 17, 2016

Photo by Miles Layton National Weather Service Meteorologist Dylan Cooper (left) and Tyler County Office of Emergency Management Director Tom Cooper talk about the weather at a recent workshop for weather spotters. The class taught volunteers the basics of what to look for and how to report weather happenings to the NWS.

MIDDLEBOURNE – There was snow on the ground and icy temperatures, but that did not stop future weather spotters’ enthusiasm early Saturday morning at the Senior Center.

Organized by the Tyler County Office of Emergency Management, more than 20 people attended the training that taught them more about how to report weather events to the National Weather Service.

“Our goal is to have our citizens a little better prepared – to make hobby meteorologists out of you,” said Tom Cooper, director of Tyler OEM.

SKYWARN is a volunteer program with nearly 290,000 trained severe weather spotters. These volunteers help keep their local communities safe by providing timely and accurate reports of severe weather to the NWS, according to Skywarn.org.

Tyler County is on the fringe of NWS stations in Charleston and Pittsburgh, so reporting weather events from floods to snowfall is essential, Cooper said. He recalled the importance of reporting during the derecho in 2012 – a powerful thunderstorm ushered in by strong winds that felled trees. Each of the state’s 55 counties were affected and nearly 675,000 people didn’t have power.

NWS Meteorologist Dylan Cooper said spotters have saved lived by quick accurate reporting of events such as when a tornado topped down in the small town in Michigan. An advance warning was sent out, he said, so no one was seriously hurt.

“If someone is there to see weather event, you call and let us know – and boom – a warning goes out. Every report that we receive is important,” said Cooper, an NWS meteorologist based in Charleston who led the weather spotting workshop.

Dylan Cooper said Charleston’s NWS station is responsible for more than 2,200 square miles of territory that includes a few counties in Kentucky and Virginia. He said radar has limitations, so on-the-ground weather spotters are essential not only to forecasting, but issuing NWS warnings.

Weather spotters are on the front lines of these phenomenon through there reports to the NWS.

“We forecast for a wide variety of weather across a large terrain,” he said. “If we don’t know what’s going on there, we have a hard time predicting what is next.”

No weather story would be complete without mentioning that Cooper, the meteorologist leading this spotter’s workshop, is from the Deep South. West Virginia’s winter weather is not something Cooper experienced growing up in Louisiana.

“Snow is completely new to me,” he said. “I never saw a plow truck until I got to West Virginia.”

Among the tidbits gathered by the training: Don’t compare hail to marbles. Dylan Cooper said there are at least four different sizes of marbles, so this comparison drives meteorologists nuts. So as to be more accurate, spotters were advised to compare hail to coins or sporting balls golf, baseball, etc. Also, report the largest size of hail along with the average size pieces so meteorologists can get a better picture of what’s happening. And, just because it is raining outside doesn’t mean the NWS will issue a warning or watch. A severe thunderstorm is not the same as a spring shower. Finally, tornadoes are rare in West Virginia.

Speaking of wind, air currents are essential to K-9 units in search and rescue operations.

“On an active search, we need to know what kind of conditions we are going to run into,” said Wanda Yeater of Vienna, an experienced K-9 handler who attended the weather workshop.

Yeater has assisted with multiple search and rescue operations in places near and far including Tyler County. She said a windy day can make it more difficult for man’s best friend to pick up a scent needed to locate a missing person. Yeater said the dogs can do it, but sometimes the wind moves things around that can affect the scent trail. And no one wants dogs or searchers out in bad weather.

“Weather is a very critical factor in these searches,” she said. “It’s harder to work a dog in the wind because sometimes certain things we want are harder to pinpoint.”

Chris Hoke of Middebourne, an active resident in civic affairs who owns/manages a farm by Middlebourne, gave high marks to Tyler OEM Director Cooper for organizing the workshop.

“This was a good workshop,” she said. “We really appreciate all Cooper does and thank all the volunteers who attended.”