The Hidden Spotters

So, I think it was over 2 years ago when I followed Josh to "storm-chasing" classes at Ball State- a series of three consecutive Thursday nights taught by Dr. Arnold and put on by the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency. There weren't many other students in the room- mostly men or couples over the age of 40, but the lecture hall was packed. I learned lots of good fundamentals on storm formation and spotting, and theory that I wasn't sure when I would ever use, but it was good to go with Josh. He was excited about it- and he wasn't even a meteorology major yet!

Fast forward to this weekend. Josh spent a month last summer storm chasing in the Great Plains. He got his ham radio license and a new ham radio a few weeks ago. He got everything hooked up and ready to go in his car. And I still know a lot of weather theory. Well, the first proper storms of the year came along this weekend, and we were ready. What I was most fascinated with was not the weather outside but the behind-the-scenes community response I never knew existed.

When a storm warning is issued for the county, an army of ham radio operators call in on the SkyWarn frequency to get their marching orders. Typically, this means, march to a spot in the county, sit there, and tell the emergency management office what you see throughout the course of the storm. While this sounds somewhat unexciting, it is where many of the storm reports come from. When storm reports from other sources come in, the storm spotters can go immediately to the site and confirm the report. Trained spotters can confirm and giver earlier warning for tornadoes headed toward populated areas. Friday night, a spotter alerted that a certain underpass was flooded, and steps were taken to close it to protect the community. Accurate hail reports can be given in real time. Even if the power goes out or the cell network is jammed, the ham radio operators can still work and communicate through the emergency.

The experience of being in the midst of the storms both Friday and Sunday and hearing a play-by-play from all corners of the county, as well as seeing the cooperation, readiness, and willingness of these volunteers was fascinating.

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