Some Liberty County residents got a head start on Severe Weather Preparedness Week, which started Monday.
The Liberty County Emergency Management Agency hosted a National Weather Service storm spotting course on Friday with warning coordination meteorologist Ron Morales, who taught volunteers how to be storm spotters.
Roughly 20 people attended the two-hour course.
“This particular week we are focusing on severe weather, particularly strong wind events like a tornado, but also things like flooding and lightning,” Morales said.
Though tornadoes and severe thunderstorms can occur year round, the threat of high winds, hail and lightning from them increases in spring, according to the Georgia Emergency Management Agency, which urges residents to review their emergency procedures and prepare for bad weather.
Morales said teaching residents to stay safe is one component of the storm spotting course. The other is to open the lines of communication between the NWS and the public.
“Tonight is about establishing the relationships we would like to have between the NWS and the public and how we need their reports to verify the storms that are out there,” Morales said. “We put the warnings out, but we don’t really know what is happening on the ground until somebody reports it.”
Participants learned about the formations of clouds, micro-bursts, tornadoes, barometric pressures and how they all influence weather patterns. Then they learned what information a spotter should report to the NWS and why it needs their information.
"If we put out a warning … every warning that we put out has to be verified… We just don’t put a warning out and walk away. We have to verify it with a report or reports," Morales said. "Those verifications tend to come from people that sight things on the ground, like they report a tree down, house damage, car damage or they see hail coming down or a tornado. We get those real ground truth reports… Verification is important but it is not the most important. The most important thing is that we are doing a good service to the people."
Morales added the service needs storm spotter reports to check whether a storm system impacted the area in the manner that radar indicated.
"Yes we have radar, and we base our warnings off of radar, but that doesn’t guarantee that something actually happened," he explained. "There are many times we base a warning off our radar and then not get any reports. And there are many reasons for that. Maybe it was a desolate area or maybe nothing happened.
He said if the NWS puts out warnings, but never verified the reports it would not know if the warnings are keeping people safe during storms, and warning others in the storm’s path.
According to the GEMA press release the remainder of severe weather preparedness week includes the following:
Today – Tornado Safety. A statewide alarm test was postponed until Friday because of possible storms this morning. You should still learn to determine in advance where you will take shelter in case of a tornado warning.
Thursday – Lightning Safety. Learn the 30/30 rule. If after seeing lightning, you cannot count to 30 before hearing thunder, go indoors. Stay indoors for 30 minutes after hearing a thunderclap.
Friday – Flood Safety and statewide tornado warning test. The tornado alarm test will take place at 9:30 a.m. When protecting documents from flood waters you should copy important documents, seal them in a watertight container and add them to your emergency kit.
To help Georgians prepare for severe weather, GEMA/HS’s Ready Georgia campaign offers resources and information residents can use to be informed about potential threats, develop a communications plan and create an emergency supply kit.
An interactive website provides detailed information on Georgia-specific emergency preparedness and allows users to create a personal profile and receive a customized checklist and family communications plan. Employers can use the Ready Your Business guide to create custom contingency plans, and children can visit a page with age-appropriate information, videos and games. For preparedness and severe weather alerts on the go, families can also download Ready Georgia’s free mobile app.
Your county emergency management agency is also a resource for information or tips to help you and your family stay prepared.
For information on becoming a storm spotter go to www.weather.gov/chs/skywarn