Storm spotter educates audience on tornadoes, storm chasers

Rachel Sinn

According to the National Weather Service, in 2011, Iowa was recorded as having 51 tornadoes, 16 injuries and 10 tornado days. While no one in Iowa was injured last year from tornadoes, nationally, more than 500 people were injured or killed.  

Jeff Johnson from the National Weather Service visited Iowa State on Monday to educate students, faculty and outdoor staff about a more in-depth approach to storm spotting. 

Johnson educated the audience in the basics of storm recognition for tornadoes, thunderstorms and other severe weather. The reason for storm spotting was answered immediately.

“Real-time observations help us be able to warn people ahead of time,” Johnson said. “A key in storm spotting is being able to identify your wall cloud, but also being able to tell if it’s rotating or not. Your probability of getting a tornado out of a rotating wall cloud is much larger.”

The 2008 Parkersburg, Iowa, tornado disaster was mentioned multiple times as a reference for how dangerous storms can be. The tornado was rated as a 5 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. The scale ranges from EF0 to EF5 and categorizes each tornado by intensity and area. Tornadoes of that magnitude are rare among Iowa storms.

“Less than a tenth of 1 percent of tornadoes in the state are EF4 or EF5,” Johnson said. “Most occur between 2 and 10 p.m.”

The National Weather Service asks individuals to report strong wind or wind damage, large hail, wall clouds or funnel clouds, tornadoes and flash flooding. In the winter, snowfall and ice accumulation reports are also appreciated.

There are more than 3,000 storm spotters in the state of Iowa. Anyone can sign up to be a storm spotter with the National Weather Service online or by sending in a printed registration form.

“Communication is huge. If we don’t get a report from a spotter, we can’t get that storm reported,” Johnson said. “Always spot in pairs; it’s hard to look at clouds and drive at the same time.”

Now that social media has become popular, there are multiple ways to report storms, including Twitter.

To attend a spotter training session or for more information on becoming a spotter, visit the National Weather Service, Des Moines website.