The United States is the most severe weather prone country in the world, one where each year people cope with an average of 10,000 thunderstorms, 5,000 floods, 1,200 tornadoes and two land-falling hurricanes.
According to additional information provided by Gary Garnet, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Cleveland, roughly 18,000 people within these United States make up Skywarn, a volunteer organization of weather spotters, trained on how to recognize approaching storms and tornadoes.
Offered annually here in the Mahoning Valley, Skywarn spotter training was conducted most recently on Wednesday, March 21 at Austintown Fitch High School Auditorium. Free and open to the public, the instructional course was widely attended by both existing members and new registrants.
Photo by Kathleen Palumbo, Town Crier correspondent
Amongst the 18,000 Skywarn members across the United States is Dotti Meleski, who, along with her husband George Meleski, became both an amateur radio operator and Skywarn member 10 years ago.
According to Garnet, Skywarn was initiated following the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak in the 1960's and really took hold in the '70s. His 30-county area accounts for a population of 5.4 million.
Once registered, spotters are required to attend the course once every three years, said Garnet, who went on to explain that when a trained individual sees certain criteria established by the National Weather Service, "We expect them to call us and report it."
Stating that the participation of spotters is always effective, Garnet added that the technology necessary for scientific approximations exists, but that "you still need eyes to work in conjunction with all our other tools."
"It's a diverse group," he said of Skywarn members, adding that amongst them exists police and fire personnel, as well as amateur radio operators, "But the vast majority are just everyday citizens interested in weather and interested in helping out."
Among them are George and Dotti Meleski, who became both amateur radio operators and Skywarn members in 2002. Both were in attendance at the recent Skywarn spotter training.
Sharing that reporting severe weather is an involved process with a three-tiered approach that includes outlook, watch, and warning," Garnet added that "Spotters provide ground truth."
Issuing weather warnings is a pretty big task, and we need your help," said Garnet, who went on to tell course attendees, "You're not only helping people in Mahoning County, but in surrounding counties as well."
To find a Skywarn session in your county, or for additional information on the program, visit www.weather.gov/cle.