EDITORIAL: Storm spotters provide crucial weather services

Apr. 30—With the recent bout of severe storms and flooding, many Oklahomans no doubt lost sleep monitoring overnight weather situations.

With the possibility of a tornado outbreak in the forecast, plenty of our fellow Oklahomans opted to forgo going to bed in order to listen to ongoing weather reports — whether by television or radio broadcasts, over the internet, through phone apps, listening for storm sirens or by some other means.

They weren't the only ones losing sleep.

The National Weather Service depends on more than radar to keep abreast of developing or already-rampaging storms during severe weather events.

While radar is a major factor in issuing emergency warnings it's not the only one, because sometimes there's nothing better that having some eyes on the sky — literally.

That's when the NWS depends on trained storm spotters who are chasing and sometimes even intercepting storms in their efforts to keep us informed during severe weather events.

The NWS operates two Weather Forecast Offices in Oklahoma — one in Norman and another in Tulsa, which also serves Northwestern Arkansas.

Information storm spotters provide to the NWS and emergency management officials is crucial to the Weather Forecast Offices. Their firsthand observations are often used to make what the NWS calls "critical warning decisions."

These weather spotters come from our own communities.

Twice yearly, each winter and spring, the NWS Weather Forecast Office in Tulsa offers storm spotter training for local emergency responders. All training sessions are free and open to the public.

Storm spotter trainees typically include emergency management officials, members of fire and police departments, amateur radio operators and community volunteers, all of whom are trained in the latest storm-spotting techniques.

The goal of the NWS is to train weather spotters to do more than recognize tornadoes; they should also understand storm structure. By doing so, a trained storm spotter should be better prepared when presented with any unusual or extreme situations.

As previously noted, sometimes these storm spotters are volunteers. That proved to be the case Sunday when local storm spotters tracked a storm all the way from the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant to Longtown, observing the visible tornado/waterspout over Lake Eufaula. When another tornado warning sounded, they headed north to watch another cell traverse the far parts of the county.

With their valuable contributions, NWS officials had firsthand, on-the-scene observation of the tornado/waterspout as it lowered from the clouds, hit Lake Eufaula and briefly made it to shore.

In cases like this, to turn a phrase of Bob Dylan's, you do need a weatherman — or at least a storm spotter — to know which way the wind blows.

Storm spotters brave storms and potentially may put themselves in harms way to help protect the rest of us. Like our military and emergency responders, they deserve our thanks for their service.