Severe weather grips me. As a volunteer severe weather spotter for the National Weather Service office in Cleveland, I pay close attention to the weather forecasts. When the potential for severe weather is a possibility, I go on a personal high alert.
I watch radars. I read online weather maps. And I scan the sky. I also take my camera with me.
When the season’s first strong thunderstorms approached Monday evening, I was ready. An active weather system had produced a tornado in southwestern Ohio. The cold front weakened a bit as it approached eastern Ohio. But that didn’t keep it from producing some impressive clouds, particularly in the front of the storm system.
The western sky turned dark. I went to the back porch to see what was coming, and this is what I saw looking north. The clouds looked fierce and angry. But fortunately, we only received torrential rains and a few strikes of lightning.
I can’t exactly tell you when the weather bug hit me. All I know is that the weather just fascinates me.
Maybe it started when I was a youngster. A summer thunderstorm would force the neighborhood gang of kids onto our front porch. Rained out of our outdoor mischief, we passed the time oohing and ahhing at the vivid streaks of lightning dancing across the sky.
College invigorated my interests all the more. Geography courses answered questions I didn’t even know to ask. My weather appetite intensified.
After I had graduated, I took a teaching position at Killbuck Elementary School and joined the volunteer fire department after moving to the village in the valley. When I learned that the National Weather Service depended on first responders as severe weather spotters, I was elated. I took the required course to become a trained spotter. Doing so enabled me to combine two interests into one, firefighting and weather.
Both my school days and my volunteer firefighting days ended years ago. However, my obsession with the weather continues.
I keep an eye on weather forecasts for good reasons. The lives of others might depend on it. In today’s electronically connected world, I get the word out about potential severe weather through posts on social media just in case a few people don’t hear about the impending storm.
I likely won’t ever outgrow the desire to watch the weather. When the National Weather Service posts a storm watch near where I happen to be, I go into proactive mode watching various radar and severe weather pages on the Internet.
Thanks to technology, a spotter’s approach to watching for severe weather has significantly changed over the decades. Instead of going to the highest hilltop with the best vantage point and viewing from a vehicle, I can stay in the safety of my home. There I track the storm on my computer and by watching out the windows for rotating clouds, hail, and any flooding I can see.
It’s a little different story in the winter. Spotters help out the National Weather Service by measuring the snow the old-fashioned way, using a ruler. Of course, the measurement has to follow protocol. Spotters measure snow depths that accumulate on a board elevated above the ground.
Morning and evening, the local weather service office receives reports of new snow totals from dozens of snow spotters across the coverage areas. Doing so helps the professionals in evaluating their forecasts and even in issuing weather advisories. After all, frozen precipitation is the hardest type for career meteorologists to predict accurately.
Like many of the other community activities I’ve done in my life, being a weather spotter is a voluntary position. Knowing I am only one of many who help the weather service get the weather word out to citizens is all the pay I need.
Between tornadoes, blizzards, flash floods, damaging straight-line winds, and lightning strikes, I’ve seen a lot of wild weather in my lifetime. It may sound a little strange to say this, but I enjoy reporting what I find.
I suppose I do it both for the thrill and the necessity to relay what I have observed. Helping the official weather forecasters, even in some small ways, gives me great satisfaction.
I guess I’m just a weather geek at heart. I’ll gladly wear that badge of honor as I forge into the next snowdrift.