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Can you tell if that’s a funnel cloud? Yes, if you become a weather spotter.

Resident spotters are called upon to report significant weather events, during hurricane season and all year long. You can get certified this week.
Storm clouds roll into Clearwater Beach on Aug. 15 as Tropical Storm Fred brings rain to the Tampa Bay area. Hurricane season, June 1 to Nov. 30, is showtime for resident weather spotters but their work is in demand all year round.
Storm clouds roll into Clearwater Beach on Aug. 15 as Tropical Storm Fred brings rain to the Tampa Bay area. Hurricane season, June 1 to Nov. 30, is showtime for resident weather spotters but their work is in demand all year round. [ ARIELLE BADER | Times ]
Published Sep. 28
Updated Sep. 28

A virtual training session is scheduled for 1 p.m. Wednesday to certify the latest batch of resident weather spotters in the Tampa Bay area.

All are invited to attend, as long as you live in Tampa Bay or somewhere along Florida’s Gulf coast between Levy and DeSoto counties, the National Weather Service said. All that’s needed is an hour of your time and a willingness to learn.

Why bother? There’s no money or gifts in it, not even a free rain gauge. And the region already has more than 7,000 weather spotters.

Well, for one thing, weatherwise, it’s a big and busy region.

“You become the eyes and ears of the National Weather Service when you become a weather spotter,” said meteorologist Rodney Wynn of the Ruskin office. “In the most severe events, we rely on them because we can’t see everything.”

Tampa Bay is familiar with severe weather. When it comes, especially via the tropics, the National Weather Service calls upon official weather spotters to deliver accurate reports from the field to their office in Ruskin.

This was the case in November when Tropical Storm Eta brought a storm surge to Pinellas County and the Hillsborough River. With meteorologists tracking the storm from Ruskin, weather spotters reported surge levels, wind damage and more from the field — some of which made it into the storm’s post-tropical summary.

With two months still remaining in hurricane season, Wynn said, now is a great time to join up.

Hurricane season, June 1 to Nov. 30, is showtime for resident weather spotters, but they’re in demand all year long to relay reliable information about tornadoes, water spouts and storm damage. Spotters help confirm hazardous weather detected by weather radar, helping meteorologists issue precise warnings to the public.

Related: Florida is more prone to tornadoes than you think

And you don’t need a rain gauge. Official precipitation levels are measured at designated locations.

Severe weather spotters were first introduced by the Weather Service after a tornado killed 55 of the 610 residents of Udall, Ks., in 1955, according to its website. Before that, the military used weather spotters of its own during World War II to alert artillery plants of approaching lightning.

Weather spotters, also called weather watchers, now call in information to all 122 local forecast offices operated by the Weather Service nationwide.

Wednesday’s training will teach the basics of weather and drill down into the science of meteorology. In one exercise, spotters learn to distinguish the difference between funnel clouds and certain stratus or cumulus clouds — commonly reported incorrectly to the weather service by people not trained in weather spotting.

Those who participate in Wednesday’s training will receive digital spotter cards containing printable files. They’ll include a unique spotter identification number, home address and the numbers to call — and to expect a call from — when there is significant weather in your area.

Certification will be valid for three years. After that, retraining is required to remain a spotter.

Register for Wednesday’s training here, up until class begins if space is available. There is a cap of 500 trainees.

The same virtual training, with the same registration requirements, will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 20.