September 22, 2018
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Weather Wise

Learning the trade of NWS spotters
NWS Warning coordination meteorologist Rick Shanklin leads the weather spotter training courses in Vanderburgh County.

As the tail end of winter leaves the Ohio River Valley, cool air often wrestles with warmer temperatures. For residents of the Tri-State, this means March begins a typical spurt of weather phenomenon — the potential for severe thunderstorms and flooding.

Covering 60 counties stretching from southern Indiana, to western Kentucky, and into southern Illinois, the National Weather Service in Paducah, Kentucky, conducts annual weather spotter classes to help train residents of the area to not only properly identify weather events, but also help report them. Currently there are around 3,300 active spotters in the region.

“Our hope is that everyone who comes out takes weather spotting seriously and is active in spotting,” says Rick Shanklin, warning coordination meteorologist at the NWS Paducah office. “Or you can come strictly for the information; there’s no commitment.”

Not much is needed to attend the starter courses (most often held in February and early March as many tornados occur in the region during April and May); a notebook and pen for writing down information is all that’s required. Materials, including information to report weather events and key terms, are provided.

Over two hours, Shanklin leads students through the information all weather spotters need, including determining wind speeds, detecting the different in-cloud formations, spotting funnel clouds, and much more.

“Sometimes it is tricky. Sometimes it is easy. Every situation looks different,” says Shanklin. “On-the-job experience is the best.”

At the end, Shanklin passes out weather spotting cards as well as official certificates; anyone who completes the course is considered an official Skywarn Weather Spotter.

For more information on the NWS Paducah office, call 270-744-6440 or visit weather.gov/pah.

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