Storm spotter training kicks off awareness week




As part of Severe Weather Awareness Week, the Finney County Emergency Management Department hosted storm spotter training sessions at the Finney County Fairgrounds Monday. Jeff Hutton, warning coordination specialist for the National Weather Service in Dodge City, shared severe weather statistics and safety tips and offered potential storm spotters information on how to spot severe weather.

"(Last year), there were no EF5 tornadoes, meaning there were no violent tornadoes (such as) Greensburg or Joplin. The year before that, I think there were seven," Hutton said, adding that they are very rare and that tornadoes in Kansas typically range from EF0 to EF2.

EF stands for the Enhanced Fujita scale and is essentially based on the degree of damage caused by wind speeds.

"We rate the intensity of a tornado by the damage it produces, not by the size or shape of the tornado," he said. "EF0 tornadoes have wind speeds up to about 85 mph, could take some shingles off the house, break some tree branches, take out the windows. EF1 tornadoes have wind speeds up to 110 mph and that's enough to move a vehicle ... An EF2 tornado has wind speeds up to 135 mph and that's capable of tossing vehicles, taking all the branches off a tree, taking most of the roof off and causing significant structural damage."

Hutton said EF3 tornadoes have wind speeds of 136 to 165 mph, EF4 twisters have wind speeds of 166 to 200 mph and EF5s have wind speeds greater than 200 mph.

"EF5 tornadoes are the most violent and those are enough to disintegrate vehicles and completely demolish a home," he said. Hutton said that regardless of a tornado's size, people should seek shelter, be aware and respond quickly.

Hutton said that lightning is the most common threat associated with severe weather.

In 2012, 28 people were killed and 213 were injured by lightning strikes nationwide.

Hutton said that there are some indications lightning is present, prior to it actually striking the ground.

"Your hair could easily stand up on end if lightning is about to strike. It doesn't necessarily mean on your head, it could be your arms, your back, your neck. If you have a radio, it may actually start to hum or crackle. Those are indications that lightning is about to strike," he said.

He also said there are certain places people should avoid if lightning is present, such as open water, hilltops and tall objects such as trees.

"Stay away from trees, because lightning striking a large object, those charges can go right down the tree into the ground and then start radiating away from that," he said. For potential storm spotters, Hutton said that there are certain things they look for when trying to determine whether or not a tornado is present.

"A tornado is a violently rotating column of air extending from a cloud to the ground. If you have rapid rotation in the cloud and you can see rapid rotation on the ground in the form of debris or dust, that is a tornado. Don't wait to see if the condensation forms because that doesn't always exist," he said.

He also said that the ideal spot for storm spotters to view a tornado is usually southeast of the storm, looking northeast, because this angle typically provides more contrast, making the tornado easier to see.

Michael A. Paz-Torres, Finney County emergency management coordinator, said the county currently uses 20 storm spotters, most of whom are county workers, volunteer firefighters and law enforcement personnel. The spotters contact the Finney County Emergency Management office to keep the staff abreast of any changes in the weather.

"When they issue a warning or a watch, then I'm in contact with the weather service on the phone, and then we'll go in and watch it. We watch two different radar sources, as well as television, and then we'll make a decision and then we an automated call out where it sends all of my storm spotters an automatic text message, an email, a phone call — all at the same time, and then they'll contact us on the radio and then we'll send them to where we need them to be," Paz-Torres said, adding that as they track the storm, they call local radio stations to have them broadcast the more severe weather conditions.

A number of activities are planned for Severe Weather Awareness week, he said.

"We will be out at local businesses handing out information on severe weather preparedness," Paz-Torres said. "(Tuesday), we will take part in the statewide tornado drill, which will be at 1:30. We'll sound our sirens again (today) to make sure they're functioning."

Anyone interested in becoming a storm spotter may call Finney County Emergency Management at 272-3746.

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