(TNS) - If you pay close attention to the extended weather reports prepared by the National Weather Service in Indianapolis, there's an interesting notation at the bottom about "spotters" and whether they might be activated.
In normal weather, the services of these men and women isn't needed.
But when bands of thunderstorms capable of producing tornadoes roll across the countryside, these spotters are dispatched to key locations across Madison and other counties to report what's happening on the ground.
You might ask, in this age of sophisticated Doppler radar and complex computer modeling, why human reports are needed.
It's a fair question, said Senior Meteorologist Mike Ryan, who led an annual two-hour storm spotter class at Hoosier Park Racing and Casino on Tuesday night.
And the answer is fairly straightforward.
Radar energy tells experts a lot about what's happening in the atmosphere over long distances. But radar energy moves in a straight line, and the ground curves. That means meteorologists have less ground information at longer distances.
Hence, the need for spotters.
"We provide what the NWS calls 'ground truth,'" said Steve Riley of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.
That information is vital to meteorologists. If they see indications of rotation in clouds on their radar, spotters can explain conditions on the ground.
Ryan calls it "forensic meteorology."
About 100 people attended Tuesday's training. Some were old hands; others were interested in becoming part of the team.
Among them were four Boy Scouts and their leaders from Madison County Troop 227.
Mike Flanders, a parent of one of the scouts, said the spotter concept is powerful.
"Anytime you isolate people, it makes it hard to share real information," Flanders said. "This is a collection of people all sharing information to a centralized organization that can then save lives."
Ryan showed pictures and described the atmospheric conditions that lead to the creation of thunderstorms and supercells that can create micro-bursts, tornadoes and severe wind shear.
He emphasized the importance of staying perpendicular to the movement of the storm.
He had special praise for Madison County's spotter program, calling it one of the best in Indiana.
"Our program has been around for more than 50 years," said Todd Harmeson, deputy director of the Madison County Emergency Management Agency.
When activated, Madison County spotters are dispatched to strategic locations along three lines running west to east.
Harmeson said each location was strategically selected to provide spotters with maximum visibility and mobility so they can make an emergency exit if a storm is coming right at them.
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Tornado test March 20
A statewide tornado test is set for March 20 as part of Severe Weather Preparedness Week, March 18-24.
The National Weather Service test of the statewide Emergency Alert System (EAS) will begin at 10:15 a.m. and will continue for 15 minutes.
• Stay indoors and postpone outdoor activities.
• Unplug unnecessary electrical devices.
• Avoid using appliances and telephones, except in emergencies.
• Seek shelter in sturdy building or hard-top vehicle.
• Avoid contact with metal objects.
• Stay away from tall trees, poles, wires and metal pipes.
• Stay away from windows, doors and outside doors
• Get under something sturdy or lie in the bathtub. Cover yourself with a blanket or small mattress.
• In homes or small buildings, take shelter in an interior part of lower level; basements, closets, hallways, bathrooms, or under a staircase.
• In vehicles or mobile homes, leave them and take shelter in a substantial building. If there is no structure, lie flat in the nearest ditch with your hands shielding your head and neck.
Source: Indiana Department of Homeland Security
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