As most Nebraskans know, tornadoes are some of the most deadly storms on earth. Known to form in every month of the year, here in the Heartland, springtime proves to be the most prevalent. As warm moist air from the Gulf of Mexico moves north across the Great Plains, cool dry air makes its way south from Canada. When and where the two meet and mix it up determines the potential for a dangerous tempest. There’s really no stopping the formation of twisters, but there is a way to warn people of impending danger. Nearly every town that sits in tornado alley, a swath that runs through the middle of the United States, has warning sirens and storm spotters to make the public aware of oncoming storms.
Recently, storm spotter training requirements became more refined with the passage of legislative bill #573. Part of the bill is requiring more complete training for storm spotters including online tests and proof of passage. Prior requirements generally meant attending an annual meeting sponsored through emergency management. The meeting is still required although spotters will only need to attend once every three years, but now they must complete two online classes and pass an assessment.
Thayer County Emergency Manager Bill McPherson said release of the change is a little early in that he understands the assessment has not been made available yet. “Right now all spotter duties in Thayer County are conducted by local law enforcement and fire department personnel; experienced people who have been trained,” he said. “I have a lot of faith in them.”
Passage of the bill is to allow for more accurate information. There have been times in the past when tornadoes were incorrectly identified, or locations were scrambled. More in-depth education is thought to bring more accurate information to the National Weather Service and emergency management thereby improving the ability to pass warnings on to the general public.
One class provides practice in relaying information properly and succinctly through multiple storm scenarios. It also teaches what constitutes a storm and how to maintain safety during spotting conditions.
The second class teaches storm identification and each of the parts of a severe storm, in other words, the class goes into depth about the make-up of storms and what the spotter needs to look for in order to relay information about the storm.
Lists of those filling the spotter requirements will be made available to emergency management and local law enforcement.
Emergency responders, such as law enforcement and volunteer firefighters are currently considered to be storm spotters and will not have to take the classes.
The county saw a milder than usual winter with dry conditions and somewhat warm temperatures, which in no way indicates a potentially stormy spring. Unfortunately for some, the tornado season has already begun; two people were killed by separate twisters in Alabama in January. And although Thayer County continues to have severe weather each spring, there has not been a tornado touch down in the last three seasons.
Severe weather awareness is set to begin as usual in March. This year, McPherson said, the annual weather awareness presentation will be held Thursday, March 1 at the Bruning Opera House in Bruning, at 6:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend. Nebraska Severe Weather Week is March 19-23.