Residents learn fundamentals of storm spotting

Published 10:19 am Tuesday, March 22, 2016

What’s the difference between a funnel cloud and fracto cloud?

How can you tell the difference between damage from a straight line wind and a tornado?

About 20 people learned the answers to those questions and others Monday night during a storm spotter class at Goldie’s Trail Barbeque hosted by Vicksburg Amateur Radio Club.

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“This is part of our public outreach program,” said member Malcolm Keown. “We do this every year to help the public be safer.”

“We want people to be safe in bad weather, and to help out the National Weather Service by being able to report bad weather,” club president Reba Causey said.

Eric Carpenter, senior meteorologist with the National Weather Service Jackson office, said the storm spotters provide an important service to the weather bureau by observing and providing information weather service radar cannot see.

“Because of the direction of our radar beam, we can only see the top half of the storm,” he said. “We can’t see what’s going on below that. The storm spotters can see what’s happening on the ground and give us that information.”

While many people tend to equate the “Tornado Alley” section of the U.S., which runs through central Texas, Oklahoma and other Midwestern states as a hot spot for tornadoes, Mississippi has a reputation as a place that experiences its own problems with the storm systems, averaging 29 per year. With Alabama, it shares a tornado alley called the “Dixie Alley,” which runs from about south central Mississippi into Northeast Alabama.

What makes tornadoes so dangerous in Mississippi, Carpenter said, is most occur at night, the state has a lot of trees, which can hide or restrict the view of the storms, and a lot of mobile homes, which can get tossed about and demolished in a tornado.

“The tornadoes and severe weather that pass through the state are fast moving storms,” he said.

During the spotter program, Carpenter discussed identifying various storm and cloud formations, presented videos and radar signatures of different tornadoes in Mississippi like the Hattiesburg tornado of 2013, the 2011 Clinton and Philadelphia twisters and the Quad tornado, which hit Neshoba, Kemper, Winston and Noxubee counties in 2011.

The program also looked at the difference between microbursts, quick hitting bursts of rain and wind, and tornadoes, with video and pictures showing the difference in the damage (wind damage from a microburst goes in one direction). Straight-line winds, which like tornadoes can be produced from a super cell were also discussed.

Safety was also discussed, including the best position to observe a tornado and precautions to take during a thunderstorm. “A lot of what you should do is common sense,” Carpenter said.

The participants were also tested in their ability to identify storm and cloud formations.

Keown said the radio club has sponsored spotter’s class since 1978, “and every year I go, I learn something new.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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