“Then we have to put everything together. Our goal is to help save lives.”
The meteorologist then outlined a thorough list of factors that potentially could cause a tornado. A variety of topics were discussed, including severe weather formation, storm behavior and characteristics, cloud appearances, environmental clues, tornadoes and their devious look-alikes.
Fox underscored four main questions the storm spotter should answer when scanning the skies:
· Is the storm persistent, lasting longer than 30 minutes?
· Is the storm structure organized, dominating the local area?
· Are strong updrafts and downdrafts visible?
· Does the storm appear to be rotating?
If the answer is “yes” to any of these questions, the spotter may indeed be spotting a tornado, or its beginnings. However, the the most important question to answer is: Am I safe? Storm spotting should only be carried out if the participant is in a safe location relative to the storm.
Fox then outlined a number of safety points for storm spotters to keep in mind, per the acronym ACES: Awareness, Communication, Escape routes, Safety zones.
· Awareness – Be aware of your surroundings, where you are relative to the storm.
· Communication – Constantly communicate with professional sources and persons beyond you.
· Escape routes – Assess and reassess your location.
· Safety areas – Your escape routes should lead to a safe area if you’re mobile, and point spotters should have easy access to a safe area.
Two people always should be in mobile spotter vehicles, equipment such as radios should be ready to go, only paved roads should be taken and an escape route must be accessible. Typically, the storm spotter takes a position near their community to report wind gusts, hail size, rainfall and cloud formations, which could signal a developing tornado.
Fox also disclosed during the meeting that the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) plans to broaden its days-in-advance warning system for severe weather — which includes “Slight,” “Moderate” and “High” risk levels — after finding that days labeled with a “Slight” risk in certain U.S. regions turned out to be riskier than originally predicted. The new terminology, set possibly to go into effect in April, frames the “Slight Risk” with new levels of “Enhanced” and “Marginal.” Upon confirmation this spring, the new order will go as follows: “Marginal; Slight; Enhanced; Moderate; and High.”