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Eye on the storm NWS teaches residents how to spot bad weather

Sunday, April 7, 2019
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Leader photo by NANCY BERGERON

Mario Valverde, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Shreveport office, uses a severe weather fact sheet to make a point during Thursday’s NWS Storm Spotter training.

Lincoln Parish Sheriff’s Office Reserve Deputy Troy Heiden grew up in Nebraska where changing weather patterns are common.

Today he knows more about rainstorms, tornados and other severe weather threats and how to watch the skies for potentially bad weather events. Heiden was among approximately 30 area residents, many of them parish firefighters, who participated in Thursday’s National Weather Service Skywarn Storm Spotter training here.

Heiden said his real-world experience plus his new knowledge will help him keep parish residents safe.

“It will help me look for many of the conditions (class instructor Mario Valverde) was talking about,” Heiden said.

The NWS and the Lincoln Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness teamed up to offer Thursday’s two-hour training.

“We want you guys to be active spotters,” Valverde, meteorologist in charge at the NWS Shreveport office, told the group.

He said storm spotters are the “eyes on the ground” for the NWS.

“Ground truth information is critical as to how we conduct operations,” Valverde said.

Because storm spotters relay what’s actually happening on the ground, meteorologists can issue more accurate information and warnings to the public, he said.

Participants learned the basics of thunderstorm development, fundamentals of storm structure, how to identify severe weather features, the information to report to the NWS and how to do it.

“Watching and seeing which way things are moving and how persistent they are are key factors,” Valverde said. “Look at the ground. If things are coming up off the ground, you actually have a tornado.”

April and May are the peak tornado months in the region, Valverde said.

On April 14 last year, an EF2 tornado cut through Lincoln Parish damaging more than 100 homes in south Ruston. The storm hit the city about 2 a.m. that morning.

An NWS team was able to determine the strength of the tornado because of how it broke trees, Kip Franklin, Lincoln Parish Homeland Security director, said. An EF2 tornado has winds of up to 135 mph.

Franklin said the NWS training gives citizens, as well as first responders, the opportunity to learn about weather and weather patterns.

The NWS Shreveport office trains about 1,000 people per year to be storm spotters, Valverde said. Between 10 to 15 percent of those people report back to the NWS in any given year, he said.