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Inside Iowa State, a newspaper for faculty and staff, is published by the Office of University Relations.

April 27, 2007

Are you storm ready?

by Erin Rosacker


Lakeview, Texas, tornado on April 19, 1977.Photo courtesy of NOAA Library, National Severe Storms Laboratory.

In the last 26 years, Iowa witnessed most of its tornadic activity in the months of May (330 tornados) and June (359 tornados). But in the fall of 2005, Iowa State had a pair of tornado experiences, including a brief touchdown on campus in September and a near-miss just before the Iowa State-Colorado football game in November.

With the severe weather season upon us, a network of storm spotters keeps its eyes to the skies for signs of danger. Now you can count yourself among them, with just a bit of training.

Iowa State's environmental health and safety department has been organizing storm spotter training on campus for more than four years. In March, approximately 65 people attended a two-hour presentation by Jeff Johnson of the National Weather Service, Des Moines.

"Storm Ready" university

"Our university has worked toward the 'Storm Ready' designation with the National Weather Service (NWS) in Des Moines," said Angie Jewett, EHS emergency response preparedness coordinator. "We've worked closely with them on a number of our issues, including prompt campus warnings of severe weather."

In 2004, ISU was the first university in the state, and just the ninth nationally, to meet the criteria of the Storm Ready program. Part of that success is the training offered to campus employees.

"It shows the interest that people have, and that recent events have raised awareness on campus," Jewett said. "We've had good comments from people who really enjoyed it."

Johnson's presentation - the same one given to emergency personnel such as firefighters and police - includes weather fundamentals that help community spotters be a part of the NWS warning system.

Anyone can be a spotter, joining a network that provides the NWS with real-time information and confirmation of conditions. Johnson said the NWS in Des Moines covers 51 counties, training approximately 48 different agencies and gathering information from some 2,700 spotters in its network. Reports from registered spotters go into the NWS Severe Verification Database.

"Communication of real-time severe weather reports is essential for us at the National Weather Service to do our job, to protect life and property," Johnson said. "For us to fulfill that mission, we really rely on volunteer spotters."

Spotter training

Spotters get an overview of the NWS procedures and learn the basics of severe weather. They learn what to report and how to report it - such as determining hail size and wind speeds. Spotters also learn the best angles for viewing storms, and the safest methods to go about it.

"By providing a report, you might actually save somebody's life downstream, because they may be more prone to take action and to take cover from the impending tornado," Johnson said.


For more information on becoming a spotter, including a list of training dates and an online training program, go to: