While extreme weather conditions can be beautiful to see they create many dangers to people.
What does it take to be a weather spotter? Emery County Local Emergency Planning Committee along with members of the local HAM radio club joined Kevin Barjenbruch of the National Weather Service to learn how they can be weather spotters and reporters.
Barjenbruch said part of the process is to learn definitions for weather events so you can provide weather information for the protection of life and property. The Utah Weather Service covers all of Utah except the eastern part of the state which is covered by the Grand Junction weather service. You can contact the weather service at all hours any day of the week. "Contact us, don't be shy. Utah has a variety of weather events each year. Snow, thunderstorms hail, floods, flash flooding and other types of severe weather. I have been with the weather service for 23 years. One significant weather event last year was the flooding in Washington County which caused $20 million in damages. Another was the Machine Gun Fire and the Twitchell fire. The Machine Gun fire started on a day with high winds and dry conditions and was sparked by a machine gun during testing. We are working with the city of Herriman to prevent flooding events in the upcoming season. Landscapes with recent fires can lead to severe flash flooding and debris flows. Seeding and barriers offer some protection. Already this year there have been some debris flows in Draper.
"With weather spotter training we now reach out to people to find out what and where their concerns are. From this area there were reports of high winds in February that caused damage this year. We like to have weather spotters call us with that information. If the wind is blowing hard enough to cause damage then we want to know. You don't have to know the speed of the wind, just that it's causing damage. With our Sky Warn system, it's high on the mountains so we don't get the radar coverage down low. So, it's a challenge to know what's going on at ground level," said Barjenbruch.
The information called in by weather spotters is passed along to the media so the general public can be warned of a significant weather event. The website to check for weather events is www.weather.gov/saltlakecity.
The trainees this evening signed up to be weather spotters and gave contact information so the weather service can contact them and they are also responsible to contact the weather service by phone or email.
Barjenbruch said their notices include watches, warnings and advisories all with different levels of urgency. Watchs are sounded two-six hours before an event. Warnings might not occur until 10-20 minutes before an event, you will be encouraged to take action at this point. Advisories are issued for low impact threats.
Barjenbruch encourages everyone to be aware of their environment and what's going on around them. The weather service puts all incoming information on its Web page. They also have a transmitter system that broadcasts the watches and warnings on radio. The weather service will also become involved if the nuclear plant near Green River becomes a reality.
Barjenbruch talked about tornadoes and what makes them severe; a tornado needs hail, high wind and an overshooting top in the cloud formation. The skies can also take on a greenish tint preceding a tornado.
Barjenbruch said all hail should be reported. Large hail stones are formed as warm air rises and freezes and gets bigger then drops back to the earth. Do not report that the hail is marble sized, because there is too much variation in the size of marbles. Be specific. Don't chase weather. Report from where you are at, the conditions in the area where you are located. "Always be safe and smart," said Barjenbruch. Don't think that tornadoes can't occur in Utah because they do. Super cell thunderstorms produce tornadoes and large hail. Lightning is outside of the storm and inside the storm cloud is the wind and hail. From the southwestern part of a storm is where the tornadoes will spin out. Funnel clouds extend from the storm, but don't reach the ground and don't contain debris. The tornadoes reach the ground and contain debris. Large hail stones will precede the storm. Storms create their own air flow. Debris can be dust in the air. Virga is when the rain evaporates before it reaches the ground.
Barjenbruch trained the class on radar imagery. He said the darker areas are where the weather is more intense.
Water must be respected during flooding instructed Barjenbruch. He said sometimes people underestimate the power of water and they are swept away in flood waters because they try to drive through rushing water. Do not do this. Some floods don't have much warning, spring flooding will start with snow melt in the mountains which fill the streams and rivers. Flash flooding events are caused by fast and furious thunderstorms. Rising water should be reported. An inch of rain or more in a short time should be reported.
Barjenbruch said high winds, dense fog, severe winter weather and wild fires should all be reported. They like to warn people at least two days ahead of an impending severe winter storm, but sometimes storms can be fast moving without much warning. Be ready to report snow totals said Barjenbruch. "If you hear thunder you are close enough to be struck by lightning," he said.
Bret Mills, HAM radio club president said we don't get much weather reporting from Salt Lake on the radios here. They decided to work together to get more communications from Salt Lake to Emery County and they will find out which frequencies the Salt Lake clubs are using.
Weather information should be called in to 800-882-1432 ext. 1.
The information gathered is sent back out to media outlets, it is put on the NOAA wire service, instant message systems are also activated. Reverse 911 calls with warnings can also be put out by the sheriff's office. Capt. Kyle Ekker said they used the Code Red system last spring when Green River was experiencing flooding and severe thunderstorms. Life threatening weather events must be acted upon to get the information into the hands of the public for their safety.
Barjenbrach said the weather service is trying to become more active in the communities. He would like to come down and participate in the emergency preparedness fair this year. The fair will be held in Carbon County this year at the fairgrounds on Sept. 30. There is also an advanced weather spotter course that interested people can complete online.