Although radars provide a look inside a storm, storm spotters are considered the meteorologists' eyes on the ground.
"Just because a radar detects something, doesn't mean it's happening on the ground," National Weather Service Indianapolis Meteorologist Logan Johnson told a crowd of more than 50 people at the storm spotter class held at the Brazil Public Library Thursday evening. "Spotters provide ground truth by delivering information about weather events occurring below the radar system, which in turn adds credibility to weather reports."
While maintaining a visual watch of the development/progression of weather events, a storm spotter actively relays accurate information to local weather and law enforcement agencies.
According to Johnson, Indiana is a good place for storm spotters.
"There's a lot of interesting weather events in Indiana," he said. "We're coming up on tornado season, from mid-April through June. However, a tornado can happen at any time. Although the humid air can make it difficult to see a tornado in Indiana."
Johnson said residents watching radar at home should pay close attention to the red and green images inside the storm. A green image is a sign that wind is blowing north, while the red image signals a south wind. These are areas where tornadoes could form due to revolving wind patterns.
"The brighter the colors in those images, the stronger the winds will be," he said.
During an extreme weather event like a tornado, Johnson said it is extremely important for people to stay calm, think clear and act quickly to get to safety.
"You want to get into a basement or interior area," he said. "Get as many walls between you and the storm as possible."
If that is not an option because a person is trapped outside, Johnson said a last ditch safety effort is to get to a low-lying area and cover your head.
"Contrary to what you might think, never go underneath a highway bridge," Johnson said, adding winds accelerate because of a funnel affect under the bridge."
Another tip Johnson provided about storms dealt with lightning.
"If you hear thunder, you're close enough to be struck by lightning," he said.
During the class, Johnson discussed various cloud formations, squall lines, flash flooding, straight-line winds and how debris patterns help determine what type of weather event has occurred.
"Preparedness is the goal of these spotter classes and the key to saving lives," Johnson said. "Severe weather affects everyone and it can happen at any time."
Severe thunderstorm info
According to the National Weather Service, an updated definition of a severe thunderstorm is one that produces wind gusts of at least 58 mph (50 knots), and/or has hail that is at least 1-inch diameter (quarter size) and/or has the potential to create a tornado.
Officials believe upgrading the severe hail criteria from penny-sized (3/4-inch) to quarter-sized (1-inch) hail will reduce the number of severe thunderstorm warnings issued and add credibility to those that are issued.