WEST VIRGINIA (WVNS) — For our Stormtracker 59 weather team, communication between multiple agencies and even viewers like you are key to their forecasts.
Behind the scenes, your Stormtracker 59 team works 365 days a year to provide you with the most accurate forecasts possible. One way they do that is with state-of-the-art technology bringing all sorts of weather data into our studio.
The Stormtracker 59 HD Dual Live Doppler Radar can pick out the size of a raindrop 10,000 feet above our heads. The team has access to various weather models like the GFS, NAM, HRRR, and even global networks of weather sensors. All of these bring in even more data. At the end of that data stream, your Stormtracker 59 team has years of education and experience to decipher it all.
Even with all that power, all that data, the most important line of information we have is from folks on the ground in the form of local storm reports. LSR’s are vital to what they do for you every single day.
Skywarn Storm Spotters are a network of National Weather Service trained folks who relay up to the second information of what is going on with a storm. These storm reports are then simultaneously shared across the entire weather community, 911 centers, and emergency management offices.
Meteorologist Liam Healy said, “The radar can tell you a lot about what’s happening inside of a store, but sometimes it’s not always going to tell you exactly what’s happening on the ground. It’s usually picking up on the winds a few thousand feet above, but we don’t always know what the winds were right at the surface underneath that storm until we get those local storm reports, whether there’s a broken tree limb as a result of it. We can only just tell you that the storm moved over you and the radars there. But with that local storm report now we know what that storm did.”
The more information we have about ongoing active weather, the better we are as a community at responding to those in need or addressing issues like flooded roadways, power outages, or downed trees. For us in the broadcast industry, this information can be shared with us then reported out within minutes potentially saving lives in the process.
911 centers use weather information to dispatch rescue crews to storm damage, wildfires sparked by lightning, and can reroute emergency vehicles around flooded roadways. Knowing before an ambulance is dispatched that a road is flooded can save precious seconds on the response time.
The National Weather Service will use local storm reports to determine if a storm should be severe warned. Since our radar network can only estimate wind speeds and can’t see storm damage, having eyes on the ground giving live observations can be the determining factor in severe storm warnings. The less time it takes to issue a severe storm warning, tornado warning, or other weather alerts can save thousands of people or their property.
With our recent studio remodel, our weather team received an upgrade to their arsenal of weather tools. Our new ‘hand tracker’ system gives our meteorologists the power to turn their hand into a computer mouse. This allows our weather team to manipulate maps and pull up several different weather data graphics. Something they weren’t able to do in the past caused delays in getting useful information out to viewers about severe weather.
Healy said, “…the really great thing about our new hand tracking system is we can also have the radar, but at the same time, we can also easily access these storm reports. So information like this is something you can’t get from the radar all the time is the magnitude of hail, wind damage coming in, and even reports of flooding.”
While Certified Storm Spotters are one way the weather community gets these storm reports, anyone can post information about local storm damage and conditions through a phone app. NOAA, The National Weather Service, NASA, and others developed the app MPing. MPing allows users to send reports to the weather community about what they are seeing, storm damage in their area, and even snow and rain total reports. Information that can confirm what we in the weather lab are seeing on the radar is actually happening on the ground and help us confirm or improve our forecasts.
These reports consist of only the location and time of the report and what the observer sends. Anything from heavy rain, low visibility, storm damage, lightning strikes, snow, and rainfall can be reported. Information that can be vital to the community at large.
While supercomputers, weather models, satellites, or dual-pol radars are great tools, nothing beats looking out a window. Local storm reports from viewers across our region allow the weather team to have eyes in every county we cover. To a scientist, firefighter, paramedic, police officer, civil engineer, or dispatcher, the more information they have, the faster and more accurate their response will be. That goes for our meteorologist too.
If you’d like to become a Skywarn Storm Spotter, The National Weather Service in both Charleston, WV., and Blacksburg, VA., are offering virtual classes for free. For a schedule of Charleston, WV., classes, click here. For Blacksburg, VA., click here.
To download the MPing App or more information on this vital program, click here.