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Posted at 11:43 AM ET, 10/12/2011

Capital Weather Watchers spotter training recap

NOTE: Want to be a Capital Weather Watcher? Sign up to be notified of National Weather Service classes in the D.C.-area. Or if you are already a NWS Skywarn Spotter — let us know.


A wide view of the Capital Weather Watchers training at the Washington Post auditorium on October 11, 2011
Braving a difficult Tuesday evening commute (including an unfortunate orange metro line incident that prevented some from attending), over 200 weather enthusiasts from across the D.C. metro region packed the Washington Post auditorium for the first ever Capital Weather Watchers training.

Convened by the Capital Weather Gang (CWG), attendees took the National Weather Service Basics I Skywarn class gaining official weather spotter credentials. This group is now certified to report significant weather conditions such as damaging winds, hail and snowfall totals to NWS. And by attending the training, these spotters also formed the foundation of Capital Weather Watchers network to enrich CWG’s reporting of weather information around the region.


Baltimore/Washington National Weather Service warning coordination meteorologist Chris Strong describes how hail forms during the Basics I spotter training at the Washington Post Tuesday evening, October 11. (Ian Livingston)
The evening began with opening remarks by Washington Post Local Editor Vernon Loeb who spoke about the importance of building a community of local weather enthusiasts to engage with the Post’s coverage. He said Capital Weather Watchers can be a model for the Post for crowdsourcing information on important topics.

I then took the stage and let everyone know that they were serving the public good by becoming weather spotters. I said the information weather spotters provide to both NWS and CWG during weather emergencies can help protect life and property. Not only that, by engaging in weather reporting, spotters become trusted sources of information who can reach out to and help family, friends and co-workers. Then, I introduced Chris Strong, warning coordination meteorologist for the Baltimore/Washington NWS, who taught the Basics I class.

CWG live tweeted the event (hashtag #weatherwatchers) and a fun, entertaining Twitter conversation carried on through its duration. A few sample tweets are sprinkled throughout this post (the full stream can be found here)

Never been cooler to be a weather nerd. #weatherwatchers
Oct 11 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

The Basics I class began with an introduction to the National Weather Service, its organization and mission. The bulk of the class focused on identifying and understanding the kinds of inclement weather facing the mid-Atlantic region, covering almost the entire spectrum of weather hazards..

David Current, who writes the blog Open Scientist, published a great summary of some highlights from the Basics I presentation:

We learned the proper way to measure hail (measure the largest hailstone you can find along the longest axis, and describe it in terms of fixed-size objects, not marbles). [Strong] also went into great detail about how tornadoes form and the various thunderstorm phenomena spotters are asked to report on. We also learned about the danger of lightning that kills men (like me!) three times more often than women, and the danger of downdrafts, including dramatic footage of a backyard suddenly ripped apart during a storm. In fact there were many evocative videos included in his slides, such as a funnel cloud over Andrews Air Force Base and a growing flash flood that starts as a trickle and ends up washing away cars in a nearby parking lot.

76% of lightning fatalities are male. #foolhardy. The rubber in your car's tires doesn't protect, it's the metal shell. #weatherwatchers
Oct 11 via Twitter for iPhoneFavoriteRetweetReply

After Strong concluded his presentation by instructing attendees how to report conditions to NWS, I then retook the stage. I briefly talked about the different digital media for engaging with CWG’s coverage from the blog to Facebook, Twitter and photo galleries. I encouraged everyone to comment with storm reports and submit photos and video.


A newly minted spotter and Capital Weather Watcher asks a question following the training. (Ian Livingston)
The evening concluded with brief session in which Chris Strong and I fielded questions from the audience.

Following the main program, an optional Net Control class was held for HAM (amateur) radio operators on reporting weather. 20 folks attended this class. Link: Local HAM radio weather reporting program.

Geographic distribution of attendees (approximate)

DC: 28%, Montgomery co.: 17%, Fairfax co.: 15%, Alexandria: 14%, Arlington: 8%, Falls Church: 5%, Loudoun co. 3%, Anne Arundel co. 3%, Prince George’s co.: 3%, Howard co.: 2%, Manassas: 1%, Others (Charles and Fauquier co.): 1%

Reactions

Open Scientist blogger Current was impressed by the audience’s diversity and the sense of community he instantly felt with fellow weather watchers:

...what intrigued me most were the wide variety of people in the audience. We had young and old, white and black, and just slightly more men (60%) than women. All were quite interesting and fun to talk to.

@capitalweather thanks so much for the Skywarn class last night! I loved it and look forward to reporting weather events to the #DC region!
Oct 12 via webFavoriteRetweetReply

On Facebook, several folks posted nice reviews:

Thanks for organizing the NWS training yesterday; it’s something I’ve always been interested but would have not otherwise pursued if the opportunity didn’t fall into my lap through you guys. - Joseph D’Angelo

It was very cool i hope to learn more about weather and attend future classes - Samuel Jozefacki

Great class. Thanks for organizing. - Bryan Steverson

Facebook fan Kenneth James wants more advanced material!

*very* basic stuff, but great none the less! Anyone know if there will be an advanced skywarn training class in the D.C. Area coming up? [see frequent questions below]

Veronica Everett also said she wants to take the weather training to the next level:

I think Washington readers are pretty savvy, and many of us would enjoy a more meaty training. However this was a great beginning and so nice to meet the CWG. Very appreciative of the outstanding work you all do.
Capital Weather Gang members pose for a group shot following the first Capital Weather Watchers training. Left to right: Brian Jackson, Wes Junker, Justin Grieser, Dan Stillman, Camden Walker, Steve Tracton, Jamie Jones, Jason Samenow. (Ian Livingston)

Frequent questions

Will there be more Spotter training classes so I can become a Capital Weather Watcher? We hope to schedule future trainings. However, as it may be quite a few months before we host another, we encourage you to consider classes offered at other locations. This NWS website lists upcoming trainings offered throughout the region: Skywarn Spotter Training Schedule. After you’ve taken the training, contact us (weather AT washpost.com) to join our Capital Weather Watchers network.

Will there be advanced Spotter training classes? We are considering the possibility of hosting follow-on classes such as winter storms, tropical storms and flash flooding in the future. We will keep you posted. We might also host an occasional seminar on interesting weather topics led by CWG contributors and/or other experts in the community.

Is the Basics I training powerpoint online? Yes. Basics I Powerpoint link.

What’s next for Capital Weather Watchers? All Capital Weather Watchers will earn a commenting badge, a logo designating them as certified spotters when they comment on the CWG blog. They will also receive an official spotter ID number from the NWS via email.

In addition, we will stay in touch with Capital Weather Watchers with a regular newsletter via email (every few months or so) that will contain weather observing tips, links to interesting articles/blogs, and information about upcoming Capital Weather Watcher events. Most importantly, we hope everyone - Capital Weather Watcher or not - will continue engaging in our weather coverage by providing reports, photos, videos, and good conversation...

By  |  11:43 AM ET, 10/12/2011

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