Roger Erickson, warning coordinator for the National Weather Service’s Lake Charles Office, speaks during a SKYWARN training class for weather spotters at the Port of Morgan City’s Emergency Operations Center.
By ZACHARY FITZGERALD
Meteorologists have full-time jobs watching and forecasting potentially hazardous weather. But they still need help from volunteers known as spotters.
The National Weather Service’s Lake Charles Office, Port of Morgan City and St. Mary Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness hosted a SKYWARN training class Monday to show people how to spot and report severe weather.
Roger Erickson, warning coordinator for the Lake Charles office, led the class. Erickson emphasized the importance of people reporting weather events they see, because there are some things, such as specific local damage, officials won’t know about unless they’re reported.
But Erickson also stressed the need for weather spotters to be safe and not put themselves in harm’s way.
“This is not a storm-chaser training class,” he said. “Stay where you’re at. Stay in a safe spot. When the storm’s passed, let us know what happened in your area.”
As a storm approaches, a wall cloud indicates possible tornadic development. A wall cloud can be identified as a cloud that rotates, has wind blowing toward it and rain following it. Conversely, a shelf cloud indicates possible strong, straight-line winds. This cloud doesn’t rotate, wind blows toward the viewer, and the cloud leads the rain, Erickson said.
The weather service issues a hazardous weather outlook twice a day with generic information on potentially severe weather to watch for during the next weeks. Forecasters then issue a watch for multiple parishes or counties three to six hours before severe weather is projected to occur.
When a severe event is occurring locally, the weather service is- sues a warning.
If a weather spotter reports seeing a tornado but doesn’t see debris flying off the ground, then that phenomenon is probably a funnel cloud, Erickson said. A tornado over water is called a water spout. Forecasters will often issue a tornado warning for the Morgan City area when a water spout
is spotted on Lake Palourde, because the lake is small enough that the spout could make landfall, he said.
Unlike hurricanes, the magnitude of a specific tornado is not known until after it hits.
Tornado intensities range from an EF0 with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph to an EF5 with winds of over 200 mph.
Winds of 95 to 110 mph are usually required to knock down trees, and those wind speeds fall in the range of an EF1 tornado. The recent devastating tornado in Alabama was an EF4, which has 166 to 200 mph winds. That magnitude tornado flattens buildings.
Published by Daily Review 03/26/19