The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

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January 23, 2014

Storm spotters class breaks down formation of tornados

PALESTINE — Palestine resident Richard Keller will never forget the day in 1987 when he stepped outside his friendly little taco establishment to witness a tornado blazing through the area.

It was an “inordinately warm November day,” Kellar recalled. “I was on the phone with my wife and the phone went dead.”

Kellar jumped in the car and drove as fast as he could to his house, which at the time was located in Westwood.

“Of course, I was understandably pretty panicky until I got to the house,” he said.

Local law enforcement had blocked off the area, but Kellar, his family and his home had been spared. Others weren’t so fortunate. The storm — which garnered national news headlines — leveled churches and a school, knocked homes from hills to highway, claimed the life of one person and injured 36 others.

Kellar, who said he has always been fascinated by weather, remembered that day afresh during a storm spotters training class held Tuesday at the Anderson County Courthouse Annex. The program was offered free to the public, hosted jointly by the National Weather Service in Fort Worth and Anderson County Emergency Management.

NWS Warning Coordination Meteorologist Mark Fox spoke at the event and broke down for attendants exactly what happens in a tornado. Through vivid slides and illustrations, Fox demonstrated what to look for in the developmental stages of severe weather.

The NWS depends heavily on storm spotters to “spot” what their radars cannot detect, which is anything below 14,500 feet, according to Fox — “from Shreveport, Dallas-Fort Worth or Houston.”

“What we rely on is the extra information of what you’re seeing as a spotter,” Fox said. “So that’s why we’re here, to try to figure out exactly what’s going on.”

Spotters can see and report “one piece of the puzzle,” and the NWS can detect the other, Fox said.

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