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Skywarn weather program wants you to look up

By: Sherri Kolade | C&G Newspapers | Published March 7, 2018

OAKLAND COUNTY — How are storms formed? How do particular weather-related incidents take place? 

Get your questions answered by the experts during Skywarn training programs throughout Oakland County now through May 10.

Thomas Hardesty, manager of homeland security for the Oakland County Emergency Management Department, said that local homeland security personnel partner with the National Weather Service to host the training sessions.

“(It is) an opportunity for the public to take part in their own safety. One of the major factors that we deal with in Michigan are the storms that come through in the spring and summer,” Hardesty said. “(It is a) good educational opportunity.”

The Skywarn training sessions teach participants how to observe weather and how to report vital information.

The classes cover basic weather safety, significant cloud features and thunderstorm development, and participants will also learn about tornadoes, floods, hail, wind and other weather topics.

The first three sessions will be held 7-8:30 p.m. March 7, and 10-11:30 a.m. and 1-2:30 p.m. March 24 at the Oakland County Homeland Security Division’s Executive Office Building, 41W, 2100 Pontiac Lake Road in Waterford.

Other sessions will be held 7-8:30 p.m. March 26 at the Southfield Public Library, 26300 Evergreen Road in Southfield; 6:30-8 p.m. April 12 at Rochester Hills City Hall, 1000 Rochester Hills Drive; 7-8:30 p.m. April 18 at Commerce Township Hall, 2009 Township Drive; and 7-8:30 p.m. May 10 at Ortonville Old Town Hall, 476 Mill St.

Trained Skywarn spotters in the field can help the National Weather Service provide better, more accurate information to the public during a severe weather event.

Hardesty said that the program is a great opportunity for people to learn the intricacies of what really happens during storms.

Hardesty added that trained spotters are used during storms, and there are a multitude of spotters who are members of an amatuer radio club.

“They have radios — they can communicate with us and report … during (the) storm to us, and … they’re great partners for us,” he said. An electronic system shows the Oakland County Homeland Security Division if sirens are working.

“But (we) have some ... spotters that will go out and watch and listen to sirens; they’re trained through Skywarn as well, and report to us during a storm,” he said.

Tim Richards, emergency coordinator for the Oakland County Amateur Radio Public Service Corps, said that his group provides a “very valuable” service to the county in terms of weather reports.

Richards has been an emergency coordinator for nine years, and there are about 100 to 150 radio club members in the Pontiac-based group.

“Every county has an organization like this comprised of amateur radio operators,” he said. “We don’t go chasing storms.”

Richards said that when the county needs assistance, his group can provide it.

“When there is a severe weather watch, and particularly when there is a tornado warning or severe weather warning, we establish a net where the members of our group, wherever they are, check in by radio with our control station,” he said. 

The control station is typically staffed at the county’s emergency operations center.

“What we’re doing is getting various weather reports from people around the county at the same time,” he said, adding that the group monitors radar and has spotters in the field.

“In addition to the spotters we have in the county ... (we have) people stationed at the National Weather Service in White Lake,” he said.

Tim Tutak, the Farmington Hills/Farmington Emergency Preparedness Commission chairman, has attended past Skywarn events in Farmington Hills. 

The Emergency Preparedness Commission is a Farmington and Farmington Hills city councils-appointed commission that supports and improves local safety organizations’ efforts to help ensure that residents and business owners have the information, education and skills necessary to protect themselves, their families, their homes and their businesses during a local emergency.

Tutak said he found the Skywarn classes to be informative.

“(It) kind of talks about the basics of thunderstorm development,” he said, adding that the information is “very interesting” to him. 

“I never learned that in school, how the storms structure themselves, how to identify some of the severe weather features.”

He added that many people think of darkened skies foreboding a storm, but “there is more to it than that.”

“Some of the ways that the cloud forms is described in the Skywarn class, and also they get into information as to how to report your sightings,” Tutak said.

He said reporting sightings is important because while radar detection is great, a radar can’t always identify if a tornado is coming.

“The radar can come close to it (and) determine whether the winds are going in two different directions, which is what the Doppler radar looks at,” Tutak said.

He added that he tries to go to the classes every two years in Farmington Hills.

For more information, go to oakgov.com/homelandsecurity.

Advance registration is required. Go to www.oakgov.com/homelandsecurity and click on the Skywarn logo to register online, click the Citizen Register for Services tab on the Oakland County Services Registration page, or call (248) 858-5300.