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Islanders prepare for summer storm season, receive training

By Staff | Apr 29, 2009

Daniel Noah, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service, offered instruction to approximately 40 island residents last Thursday morning at MacKenzie Hall, completing a portion of the City of Sanibel’s efforts to become an official StormReady community.

Noah, who is based out of the NWS Tampa area office in Ruskin, Fla., conducted two sessions – Basic Skywarn Training, which focuses on weather safety, thunderstorm formation, severe weather cloud identification and reporting procedures, and Advanced Skywarn Training, featuring discussions about sea breeze fronts, lighting patterns, visualizing instability and hurricanes – in preparation for the upcoming 2009 Atlantic hurricane season, which begins on June 1.

“All of us can become the eyes and ears for the National Weather Service,” City Manager Judie Zimomra said in introducing Noah. “Just to let you know how serious we are about the (Skywarn) program, we now have about 30 city employees who are trained ham radio operators.”

During the training session, which included a PowerPoint presentation showing diagrams on how tornadoes are formed, how to identify potential thunderstorm clouds and the process of becoming a Storm Spotter for the NWS, Noah explained the importance of public assistance.

“Radar is not perfect. It’s just a tool, because it cannot tell us about the weather that’s already on the ground,” he said. “A lot of times when we’re in a weather event, if you call our headquarters you’re gonna get a busy signal. Sometimes the only way to get through to us is on e-Spotter.”

A NWS-sponsored Web site called e-Spotter – available at http://espotter.weather.gov – allows registered Skywarn Storm Spotter volunteers to submit weather reports directly to NWS officials, who can post those reports on the site in a more timely manner. Reports may also be submitted by phone at 1-800-282-1228.

Skywarn Storm Spotters are requested to notify the NWS if they witness:

Tornadoes

Waterspouts

Funnel clouds

Any size hail (severe hail is the size of a penny or larger)

Damaging winds (or winds approaching 45 mph)

Heavy rain (two inches in one hour or four inches in one day)

Significant urban or small stream flooding

Any damage that appears to be weather related, even of a day or two later)

“When people call us to report hail, they often tell us that they’re seeing marble size hail,” said Noah. “But that doesn’t help us because we don’t know what size marbles you have.”

Skywarn’s hail size chart ranges from “pea” (one-quarter of an inch in diameter) and “penny” (three-quarters of an inch) to “golf ball” (one and three-quarters of an inch) and “grapefruit” (four inches).

Estimating wind speeds, based on the Beaufort Wind Scale, ranges from 30 mph (large branches in motion; umbrellas used with difficulty) and 40 mph (breaks twigs off trees; hard to walk) to 60 mph (small trees uprooted; some signs blown down) and 74-95 mph (Hurricane Category I; mobile homes overturned; large trees and branches downed).

During the sessions’ question-and-answer period, one participant asked about the myth of whether you should open or close your windows if a tornado is threatening.

“It doesn’t really matter, because that tornado is gonna open those windows for you,” said Noah, who noted that the west/central area of the state is known as the tornado capital of Florida, with an average of 54 per year.

He also mentioned that the Sunshine State is the leader among fatal lightning strikes in the country, averaging 10 deaths annually.

For additional information about the Skywarn Storm Spotter program, call the NWS office in Ruskin at 813-645-2323 or visit http://weather.gov/tampabay .